The youth of today face a tremendous array of challenges, from global health crises like HIV/Aids and famine, to rising crime due to gangs, government corruption and criminal impunity. While many adults struggle to see a peaceful path forward, young men and women refuse to let go of their dreams of making their communities better… here’s a few stories of youth change makers:
Young Change Maker in Bujumbura
Dr. Alexis Nizigiyimana grew up in Bujumbura, Burundi, the capital city of one of Africa’s poorest countries. He witnessed tremendous political upheavals and the AIDS crisis firsthand. However, it was during these times of struggle, he says, that he truly discovered his passion for community empowerment and for medicine. After working for years as a health advocate in Bujumbura, in 2012 Alexis partnered with a friend to start a small non-profit called Village Health Action.
In five short years, his organization has worked with more than 1500 young Burundians, offering health workshops, English education classes, community development trainings and youth entrepreneurship courses. He says his work in the community has shown him that there is a new path forward for Burundi. And he has never stopped educating himself to be a catalyst for change.
Selected as a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow, a program supported by Counterpart International and implemented by our partner, IREX, he explained the importance of continuing his work,
“Young kids in my country have big dreams. They want to be healthy, to make money, and to have safer and more peaceful communities. So we have to empower each of them with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their full potential. I know if we give them the tools, they can do anything. Just look at me, I’m a Young African Leadership fellow today.”
Alexis says he will to continue to support the next generation of young Burundian change makers. Heis dedicated to stepping forward as a leader to make a positive difference for the future of his country.
Building Peace & Prosperity in Guatemala City
Eight thousand miles away, on a busy street just outside the historical center of Guatemala City, Eleonora Muralles Pineda rents a small office. This city is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Eleonora knows this all too personally. In the mid-1990s, two of her close relatives were abducted. Despite fearing for her safety, Eleonora decided not to retreat, but to step up and become a young community change maker.
Together with relatives and friends, Eleonora organized a march to raise awareness about the need to tackle crime that often goes unpunished due to corruption and criminal impunity. Attended by hundreds of area citizens, the march was featured in both the local and national press. And that was just the beginning. Eleonora then created the Familiares y Amigos Contra la Delincuencia y el Secuestro (FADS) organization (Relatives and Friends Against Crime and Abduction).
Since 1996, FADS has grown and transformed, in partnership with other local CSOs, to ensure the implementation of initiatives to counter crime, impunity and corruption. Part citizen advocacy, part legal research group, FADS educates and informs Guatemalan citizens about their legal rights while advocating for good governance and the establishment of the rule of law. While already making a positive difference in her community, Eleonora, like Alexis in Burundi, is committed to strengthening herself and her organization, to make a larger impact.
Earlier this year, FADS partnered with the Participación Cívica project, implemented by Counterpart International, to conduct an organizational assessment to identify areas in need of improvement. Staff were then trained on how to make organizational changes so FADS could improve its reach and effectiveness with communities and the government.
Eleonora emphasizes the value of this organizational capacity building,
“By working with the Participación Cívica project we have seen an organizational rebirth. With the training and assistance given to us by Counterpart International, we now have more effective organizational management that empowers our efforts to create more civil society research and awareness projects.”
Stronger and more united around their organizational identity, FADS members have now begun engaging more citizens to fight against crime and criminal impunity. Eleonora will tell you that, “Together, we are the future of Guatemala. And we must all work to create a more peaceful country that is defined by the rule of law.”
Youth Leaders Building Peace
Our work around the world shows us that today, young men and women are stepping forward and creating positive change to build more peaceful and stable communities. Counterpart International remains committed to empowering these young change makers from Bujumbura and Guatemala City, to Khartoum and Kabul. And although global challenges remain, as Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”