IVLP Impact Awards Perspectives: Stories of Inclusion Part II


Awiye Sharon Serkwem Evanjo  is an alumna of the International Visitor Leadership Program and a 2023 recipient of the IVLP Impact Awards for her project Rebuilding Hopes and Dreams of Internally Displaced Women. Meridian International Center, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, implements the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative. IVLP Impact Awardees from across the world administer community impact projects that build on their experiences and promote innovative solutions to shared challenges. The IVLP Impact Awards Initiative aims to engage alumni, strengthen global networks, and support lasting community impact.

Inclusive Leadership and Inspiration

I am an information expert from Cameroon. Currently, I work at the National School of Local Administration and am carrying out PhD research on “Digital Information Services and the Effective Use of Academic Libraries during the Covid-19 Pandemic in Anglo-Saxon State Universities in Cameroon”.

I was chosen for the 2021 IVLP exchange project “A Global Moment in Time: Reflections on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility.” I was a part of this program at a time when I felt I needed answers to questions because my country was going through DEIA related instability.

The virtual component of the program gave me the opportunity to ask questions and learn from renowned experts and colleagues about similar challenges. Traveling to the U.S. with IVLP was the first time I travelled outside of my country. While in the U.S., I visited DC, Florida, and San Francisco. From the sessions on inclusive leadership, I began to visualize how I could put my leadership skills together to spread hope in my community. My experience in Florida and exposure to strategies and programs to promote inclusion at Valencia College Peace and Justice Institute (PJI) and Parramore Kids Zone (PKZ) inspired me to take similar steps to ensure more inclusion in my community. I came to understand that there are no limits to what we can do if we set our minds to it during our tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and took inspiration from the engineers’ and astronauts’ patience and tenacity. In San Francisco, I was reminded of how effective and active listening can foster a sense of belonging. My exposure to various persons, professionals, institutions, and sights kept my mind active throughout, and I came away inspired to do something for my community.

Empowering Internally Displaced Women

I was inspired to create my IVLP Impact Award project, Rebuilding Hopes and Dreams of Internally Displaced Women. Being a victim of the crisis, I realized how difficult it is to move on psychologically and economically.  My project focused on providing psychological support, health sensitization and economic empowerment to internally displaced women. I organized 3 workshops that enabled 90 participants with trauma to understand Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how to deal with it, maintain proper health amidst the ongoing crisis and explore mushroom farming, snail farming, pastry making and soap making. I made sure all beneficiaries of my project were given an opportunity to be heard during the cultural exchange circle and throughout the project. This gave them a sense of purpose and let them understand that despite their hardships, they could contribute to the reconstruction of society.

Promoting Inclusion and Accessibility

In my community, there is limited knowledge about the importance of inclusion and accessibility, making it challenging to educate people about its significance to community development. Additionally, insecurity, language barriers, and internal bottlenecks pose significant challenges to advocating for inclusion and carrying out projects in certain communities. The majority of Cameroon’s population is under 24 years old, which presents an opportunity for new ideas on inclusion and accessibility to be embraced. Additionally, the diversity of cultural backgrounds and open-mindedness of community leaders makes it a fertile ground for efforts towards increasing inclusion and accessibility for meaningful and sustainable development.

My project has realized meaningful impact not just for internally displaced women but other members within the community. There has been improvement in the mental health of project participants and their families as many of them continue to share their gained knowledge. The financial stability of the women who participated in my project has also improved as many now participate in income-generating activities to support their needs. By passing on their newly acquired skills to their children and community, the women will continue to empower others and make a lasting impact.

Awiye Sharon Serkwem Evanjo was a participant on the IVLP Project A Global Moment in Time – Reflections on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility, organized by the U.S. Department of State and Meridian International Center.