I grew up in an environment where violent extremism was the norm which had disastrous effects on youth, whom we called the hope of the future” Christian Achaleke the 30-year-old laureate of the best youth initiative in the COVID 19 Response in Cameroon reminisced as he recounted the roots of his journey. “And when I came out of that environment, bringing more youths to the path of peacebuilding and transforming them to change agents became my greatest passion.
Born and raised in Fiango, one of the most notorious neighborhoods of Kumba, in South West Cameroon, Christian‘s success in the humanitarian field is a sharp contrast to his childhood and teenage years which were marked by the town renowned for the turbulence and violence of its youth.
“When my parents decided to send me out of Kumba to Buea for high school it contributed to my change in perception about life because where I grew up from forgiveness was not very common,” the young leader recounted.
I began to see the crucial need for stability and purpose in the youths in order to initiate change for a better future. That is how I started volunteering for Local Youth Corner (LOYOC) in 2007 when I saw the association working towards this vision.
Little did he know that he was preparing for a lifetime of frontline youth-leadership to combat the multiple crises which were looming over the near future of his country Cameroon.
The COVID-19 pandemic which hit the world earlier this year 2020, did not spare Cameroon, a country which was already limping from crises linked to three complex humanitarian crises. The Boko Haram insurgencies in the Far North, the CAR crisis which greatly affected the East Region, and the Anglophone crisis which hit the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In March 2020, the first COVID case was discovered in Yaoundé; the capital city in the Centre Region after which it began spreading like wildfire, massively impacting many sectors that had previously stood as the pillars of Cameroon’s economy.
Passionate about preventing youths from resorting to violence and crime as a way to survive through the crisis; Christian Achaleke, the National Coordinator of the youth-led peace building civil society organization Local Youth Corner (LOYOC), partnered with UNESCO Central Africa to support LOYOC’s peacebuilding efforts under the PBF (PeaceBuilding Fund) project, to reduce the impact of the COVID pandemic on youth employability in Cameroon.
In July 2020, UNESCO organized a webinar to commemorate the World Youth Competence Day that gathered hundreds of articulate youth panelists and participants who brainstormed on, and assessed the state of youth competence and employability in Cameroon during the pandemic. Christian Achaleke, as frontline youth leader joined the former Minister of Arts and Culture Ama Tutu Muna, UNESCO Regional Director for Central Africa Salah Khaled and the Minister of Youth Affairs and Civic Education, Mr Mounouna Foutsou on the panel to share perspectives on how to reduce the impact of COVID 19 on youth employment in Cameroon.
During the webinar, Christian brought up the talented fashion designer Michael to share his story and inspire young people of his journey from a 16-year conviction to a peace ambassador and business owner through LOYOC’s Prisonpreneur skills training workshops in prisons in collaboration with UNESCO. To Michael the 16 years in prison did not break him but he learnt skills, which have helped him to set up his own vocational training center with three apprentices so far.
"Today with my hands and the skills I have, I can produce virtually everything, from bags to shoes, I feel so happy" Said Michael.
My wish is that my vocational training center will provide skills to young people so that they should not give up or involve in crime
Christian receives award for Youth-led COVID-19 Response
With the outbreak of the pandemic, Christian led his peacebuilding organization to double efforts in public assistance by the production of 100,000 bottles of hand sanitizers to be distributed freely in the most vulnerable localities. The organization also set up a center of a toll-free call service to bring psychological assistance to people going through the traumatic side effects of the pandemic such as loss of loved ones, education, businesses and career opportunities.
These efforts earned the state recognition on August 12 2020 during the official ceremony commemorating the World Youth Day in Cameroon organized by the United Nations and presided by the Minister of Youth Affairs and Civic Education, Mr. Mounouna Foutsou. After UNESCO’s representative read the Director General’s message to youths, then came the time to award three youth-led initiatives among the nine that championed the fight against the COVID pandemic in Cameroon.
At the point of calling the 1st Prize; almost all eyes turned to Christian, giving an unsaid unanimous affirmation from the knowing public to whom LOYOC’s initiatives have been of immense support. The expectation was not disappointed, because indeed, the announcement came: “Local Youth Corner wins the 1st prize of the best youth initiative in the COVID 19 Response!”
The announcement met with a thunderous acclamation from the public including all other laureates. As the Minister stood up to hand over the award, he commented with a proud smile, “Christian again!”
Christian’s humanitarian, development and youth leadership has received multiple global recognitions. Among his several recognitions, in 2020 he was awarded "Black World" award in Spain, 2019 recognized among 35 Chevening Changemakers in the world, in 2018 he was awarded the Luxemburg Peace Prize Outstanding youth peace maker 2017 and in 2016 he featured among the 100 Most Influential Young Africans. Same year he was recognized by HM Queen Elizabeth as the Commonwealth Young person of the year and winner of the Commonwealth Youth Award of Excellence in Development Work.
Today as National Coordinator of the association, Christian is a key partner in UNESCO youth led programmes and activities. In partnership with LOYOC, UNESCO is currently carrying out a survey as the first phase of its research on youth employability before and after the pandemic. The survey is expected to provide a roadmap for UNESCO in collaboration with the Government, to develop lasting solutions for youth unemployment worsened by the COVID pandemic.
During the World Youth Competence day, Mr Salah Khaled UNESCO Regional Director reiterated UNESCO’s support to youths in this process.
Young people make up more than 60% of the population. They are the leaders of tomorrow. We UNESCO commit ourselves to support this youth skills building and employment process that is starting with the youth, by the youth and for the youth of Cameroon.
Christian’s story is inspiring but to him, the success of his mission comes with an even greater challenge. Amidst the Anglophone crisis, while running the risk of being accused of impartiality by non-state armed groups who usually sanction by gruesome assaults or executions, Christian is determined to promote peace and roll back the impact of COVID-19 with his formidable team of the LOYOC association.
UNESCO Yaounde remains committed to supporting young humanitarians like Christian championing the cause of peace and development in the region.