|A Chance for all: How one Foundation is Empowering Young People|
|Written by The Standard Tribune|
|Tuesday, 15 February 2011 13:04|
An interview with Kwalar Emmanuel Bongnjo, Executive Director of Bongnjo Foundation and CEO of Savanna Woods
What is Bongnjo Foundation?
Bongnjo Foundations is a non-profit, non-governmental and politically neutral organisation run mostly by young people. The foundation was established to raise awareness, create opportunities, and provide support for the self-development of mostly underprivileged young people. It is our belief that if young people are given a chance and just a little push, they can be better people and make a huge contribution to the development of their communities. We seek to give them opportunities to stay away from crime and other delinquent behaviours, which they engage in, often as an easy means of survival.
What kinds of activities do you carry out?
For the past three years, we have been running a project in Ndu sub-division with the intension of using football to transform lives. The Bongnjo Football Tournament mobilises more than 3000 young football talents and fans for several months every year. We give these young men a chance to showcase and improve their talents. We have seen the young men develop tremendously after the first two editions of the tournament. And they have begun talking about the possibility of formoing a professional football team. This year, we have decentralised the first lap of the tournament across four playoff zones so that we can achieve even greater impact and reach more young people. In addition to trophies, they are cash prizes amounting to more than half a million CFA.
Since the tournament draws a large crowd, we take the opportunity to embark on an HIV/AIDS education and reproductive health campaign around the tournament. We send people to the sidelines of games and into worship houses to talk about HIV and actions young people can take to prevent contracting the virus. Last year, we organised voluntary testing for HIV and were stunned by the outcome. The prevalence among those who came was so high that we believe this is an area that requires more intense work. We are monitoring those who were diagnosed with the virus and helping them live normal healthy lives.
What else are you doing?
This year, we are expanding by introducing new programmes. Within the framework of the Youth Week, we are co-organising a seminar on Youth Civic Responsibilities, with the local branch of the Cameroon Youth Council. The intention is to raise awareness among young people about their rights, duties and the power they have to cause change in their communities and nation. This year would be an election year, so we would be focussing on why their vote counts. We will invite people to talk to them on how to register for elections, how to obtain national identity cards and how to ensure that they get a chance to vote.
We have also planned something with commercial motorbike riders, who are an important component of the economic life of Ndu. We would be donating helmets to the riders’ union as a way of highlighting and supporting the need for safety. We also plan to engage the riders to stop work for a few hours during this week and engage in community service. The plan is to have them participate in a clean-up campaign around major public places like hospitals, the city hall and administrative offices. We would use both events to again highlight our anti-AIDS message.
Later this year, we would announce a new scholarship scheme. We are still working on the fine details of the initiative. But the intension is to give brilliant but poor students a chance to further their education.
Why the focus on motorbike riders?
We had to start from somewhere. Like I said earlier, these young men are the backbone of the economy of the Ndu municipality. In the absence of any taxis, they are the major providers of transport services – taking people to work, business places and even farms. We have other programmes for park attendants, sha (a corn brew) clubs and mechanics. The young people who take part in our football tournaments also come from all walks of life.
Our ambition this year is to fully involvednon-school going young people in the Youth Week. We want to let them understand that they are part and parcel of the Cameroonian youth and that the future of the country depends on them as much as it depends on their counterparts in schools. This is unlike the traditional thing, which pays so much attention on school going youths and ignores the multitudes of young commercial bike riders, mechanics, tailors, shop attendants.
How do you fund these activities?
Right now our major source of income is from members’ contributions. I am also the Chief Executive Officer of Savanna Woods and we make a huge contribution to BF as a way of giving back to the communities that have given to us. We recruit nearly a hundred young people from Ndu alone. But we can transform the lives of many more people through the activities of the Foundation. So in a way, BF is the corporate citizenship arm of Savanna woods.
What inspired you to create this foundation?
I grew up in Ndu. When I return there these days, I realise how much I have been blessed. I realised I have succeeded because not very much because I was in a very special situation but because of the opportunities that knowledge has helped me see. Young people have many difficulties but all they need is someone to open their eyes and give them a push. I hope I can do this for them through Bongjo foundation.
We have a programme on youth entrepreneurship through which we plan to provide young people with basic skills in starting, managing, sustaining and growing a small business. As a businessman I know that every commercial activity has the potential to grow, no matter how small the start is. What is important is how to harness this potential.
You recently won a young entrepreneur of the year award. With all you have been doing, did you expect it?
I never realised that what we were doing at Savanna Woods, in terms of job creation and providing opportunities through Bongnjo Foundation was being noticed. We were pleasantly surprised by my nomination for this award and for finally winning it. I am very grateful to the officials of The Guardian Post Achievement Awards.
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