It all began on Sunday 26th August when droves of participants ––– from across the national territory ––– headed to Government Technical High School, Nkolbisong, Yaoundé ––– host venue of the event.
Group photo with US Ambassador to Cameroon, Peter H. Barlerin.
At the official opening ceremony, Tembi Mavis Yeluma (president of the implementing entity, YALI West Africa Alumni Association-Cameroon (YALI WA AAC)) gave her vote of welcome and appreciation, and hoped that all would cooperate towards the success of the holiday camp. After presenting the goal of the camp, she urged the orphans (preferably-referred herein as mentees) to grasp the most from it, as they would have to serve as YALI Peace Ambassadors in their respective communities henceforth.
On the same occasion, Mrs. Stella Nange (a guardian of orphans from Mountain Kids Orphanage, Buea) sounded upbeat, and admonished the mentees to be disciplined, attentive and engaged in the activities, so as to optimize the lessons taught.
Groups of delegations (of mentees, guardians and mentors from the different Regions in Cameroon).
The 5-day event captioned, ‘My YALI Family Holiday Camp’, had as prime intent ‘to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable youths to radicalization and violent extremism, through positive mind-development and mentorship.’’ Building one’s self-confidence and self-esteem, techniques to leading a healthy life and maintaining a fruitful relationship with others, career development, gender equality, having a purpose beyond survival that seeks to satisfy communal interests, enrichment of entrepreneurial skills and talents, servant leadership, self-care and basic First Aid, team-building, dangers of narcotics, building inner peace and social cohesion, peace communication through effective use of social media and ICT, religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue, sexual and reproductive health tips, inspirational talks, were among some of the issues handled.
Hands-on talents and skills enrichment of participants (in making beads and biodegradable paper bags — courtesy of Nyuydze Elizabeth and Ngang Ernest respectively).
With different categories of persons convened from the different Regions of Cameroon, the boot camp which turned out to be a veritable coat-of-many-colours ––– used sports, role-plays and breakouts, cultural sessions (including artistry, music, dancing, movies, fashion shows, poetry, comedy, and storytelling, etc) and other value-driven activities to instill, engage, and foster social responsibility in its target population of 50 orphans/mentees. This was in the company of the mentees’ guardians, and mentors (who are themselves Alumni fellows of YALI RLC and MWF in Cameroon).
Back-staging, birthday celebrations, musical and theatrical performances made the camp not only fulfilled, but also fun-filled.
In the spirit of the African culture of Big Sisters-Small Sisters and Big Brothers-Small Brothers, the first phase of the project ended on Friday 30th with the pairing of each mentee with a mentor (preferably from same Region (for reasons of closeness in space and time)). Up till the end of December 2018 (when the 2nd and final phase of the project is expected to end), the mentees will go through their corresponding mentors’ tutelage ––– with at least two of these mentorship sessions expected to be held one-on-one, in physical proximity.
The mentor-mentee relationship extended even to the refectory during the wining and dining sessions.
To mark the closing ceremony was the conspicuous presence of US Ambassador Peter H. Barlerin, who responded to some questions from the kids, and personally handed them their certificates of participation, and a hand bag of schools-reopening stationery. He encouraged the children, disclosing to them that irrespective of their status and age, they too had the capacity and equal opportunity to become leaders and change agents.
Highlights of the US Diplomat’s visit to the camp: he was visibly-mesmerized by what his eyes saw, his ears heard, and his mind felt.
Keju Cynthia, a mentee from Buea indicated that it was a privilege not only to be in Yaoundé, but to be able to make new friends, families, and amazing mentors ––– who had gathered to educate, empower, and encourage them.
Schools-reopening packs and certificates of participation handed to mentees by Barlerin.
Doudou Hassana (a mentee from Belle Etoile Orphanage, Garoua, North Region), indicated that the holiday camp was great. ‘We were heartily-welcomed…. Truly, I appreciate YALI, Belle Etoile Orphanage, and the US ambassador’, she acknowledged. Quizzed on what her take home message was, she said, hers was: the motivation for orphans to remain hopeful even after losing one’s parent(s), to take education seriously, to shun bad companionship, and to heed to the wise counsels of the elderly.
First Aid tips — spearheaded by Hilary Chin and Michel Mbouakam.
Suffice it to emphasize that Cameroon’s present state of insecurity leaves much to be desired. Given the civic unrest and insurgency rocking the socioeconomic and political fabric of the country, especially in the Grand North, East, South West, and North West Regions: the peace, unity, and social cohesion which were once very alive in Cameroon and celebrated across borders, now needs emergency resuscitation to put the country, its leaders and citizens in common accord, should any long-lasting peace be desired. Besides, perhaps the holiday camp couldn’t have been more timely now, since the target group for the current project (i.e. orphaned youngsters aged 15 – 20) falls around Cameroon’s median age, made up of those who are not only getting into the outer world of life, but are often very eager to engage in new adventures, at times without a second thought. As such, could fall prey to the enticement of subscribing into violent or extremist views ––– thus posing a veritable threat to themselves and their entourage.
Keep-fit exercises was an integral part and a typical starter of each day at the camp. The different sessions were often led by Nkemcha Martin Tiku, Hilary Chin, and Ajamah Gaius, and more.
It was thanks to funding from the US Department of States in Washington, through the US Embassy in Cameroon, that this remarkable holiday jamboree was made possible.
The selfies were aplenty, especially prior to departure, as the nostalgia became more intense. It became evident how difficult it was to part company: but life’s about meeting and parting.
It should also be noted that the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was launched in 2010 is by Barack Obama, as a flagship programme to train emerging Young African Leaders in 3 key areas, viz ––– civic leadership, public management, and business and entrepreneurship. Since 2014 when the programme started gaining grounds in Cameroon, over 72 Cameroonians have benefited from this largesse through the Mandela Washington Fellowship (which brings together Young African Leaders in the US for a 6-week Fellowship). Besides, more than 200 young Cameroonians have also undergone on-campus trainings in the different Regional Leadership Centres of Accra Ghana, Lagos Nigeria, and Dakar Senegal; with several others having completed trainings through the YALI Network Online Portal.
Photo credits: Alumni of YALI RLC and MWF