The Pan-Africa Youth Leadership Program is an exchange program of the U.S. Department of State, implemented by Meridian International Center since 2013. PAYLP Alumni activities are funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State under the authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, as amended. Meridian is proud to support our young alumni, as we work daily to strengthen engagement between the United States and the world through global leadership and international exchange. Sustaining these networks of young leaders is important now more than ever, as it will require hard work by all to combat this global pandemic.
Following their participation in the Pan-Africa Youth Leadership Program’s (PAYLP) Summer 2019 cohort, Fatoumata and Abigael returned to their communities in Guinea empowered to make a change. While in the United States, they developed PAYLP Community Action Plan Projects to fight against gender-based violence, specifically early and forced marriages for the young girls in their communities. Upon returning home, they applied for the PAYLP Alumni Mini-Grant opportunity, which provides recently returned program participants with seed funding to assist in the implementation of the projects they developed over the course of the program and use their new leadership and problem-solving skills to catalyze civic engagement among youth.
After reassessing their communities’ needs, they proposed and were awarded mini-grant funding for community-based programming that sought to combat early and forced marriages by training young boys and girls on the women’s rights and raising awareness in the general population of the importance of girls’ education. To implement this project, they worked with Peace Corps volunteers serving in their areas and collaborated with their fellow emerging leaders from the Association des Jeunes pour la Défense des Droits des Enfants – AJDE (The Youth Association for the Defense of the Rights of Children). AJDE seeks to create a more just Guinea by developing a network of ethical young leaders (inclusive of both girls and boys) who defend and promote the rights of children through leadership and technology training and mentorship programs.
Fatoumata and Abigael’s PAYLP-sponsored activities included raising awareness of gender-based violence among families door to door, conducting trainings on sexual and reproductive health at schools, spreading awareness in neighboring villages, and holding a community celebration in Koumbia for International Women’s Day on March 8, which reinforced the importance of girls’ education. “Thanks to the PAYLP program, leadership training, and experience of traveling to the United States, I have confidence in myself and confidence to empower others,” said Abigael.
When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Guinea, the young women sought to re-engage their peers and independently keep their efforts going. Abigael also added that, “PAYLP taught me to be a leader who seeks to help her community, her family and people around the world. Because of this, I must help my community today.”
Together with their peers, Abigael and Fatoumata adapted their association’s model of advocacy to additionally promote key public health messages, such as the importance of hand-washing and wearing face coverings and raising awareness of symptoms of COVID-19. Fatoumata in Koumbia and Abigael in Kissidougou, respectively, distributed hygiene supplies and masks, led workshops on hand-washing techniques, and created informational banners for public areas to keep the community apprised of key actions to take to combat the spread of this disease. Their youth engagement efforts attracted the attention of the local authorities of Kissidougou, who have now forged a partnership with ADJE and invited Abigael to participate in their COVID-19 task force meetings.
As of June 2020, their efforts have reached over 500 people in the towns of Kissidougou and Koumbia, as well as in surrounding villages. More activities are being planned by members of their network in other communities in Guinea. Abigael remarked, “[This experience] influenced us, because as a young person today we are the future of tomorrow. We are at the heart of society. We care and we see the potential to have young people involved in our community and in our future.”
Written by Katie Conti, Program Coordinator for the Pan-Africa Youth Leadership Program at Meridian International Center.