Youth of The Month: Divina Maloum

At Better Breed Cameroon, we propose that youth development can be most sustainablely achieved when led by youths. Hence, we do not believe age is a limiting factor. Our youth of the month, Divina Maloum further confirms this. Divina is an activist who started her journey at the age of 14, below is the conversation we had with her.

Tell us a bit about who you are? 

My name is Divina Maloum. I am a Cameroonian 16-year-old girl and a holder of the GCE Ordinary Level in Sciences. Also, I am a civil society activist, peacebuilding, and human rights practitioner who in 2015 founded and has been leading Children for Peace (C4P). C4P is a child and girl led movement working across Cameroon in complex cultural systems for Children rights, gender equity and peacebuilding.

I am an advocate of inter-generational dialogue and diversity (understood as the acceptation of the interdependence of cultures, religions, and mutual respect). In 2019, I won (along with Greta Thunberg) the 2019 International Children Peace Prize.  That same year, I was classified among the 8 influential Cameroonian women by the Cameroonian Magazine “Economie”. In 2020, I was the youngest laureate of the Africa 35.35 Awards 2020 which recognizes the exceptional contribution of 35 inspiring young personalities aged under 35 in Africa. I have been enrolled in the class 2020 of the program “Women Deliver.

The seed for what is now Children for Peace movement was planted after a 2014 visit you made to the North of Cameroon. Tell us about what you witnessed which had such a profound impact on you.

In 2014, I travelled to the North to provide some social assistance to communities affected by Boko Haram attacks. During the visit, I was shocked to see unspeakable horror inflicted by this terrorist group upon children in general and specifically girls. These acts forced thousands to flee along with their family (when they had) their homes in inhumane conditions. I met with several affected girls. Many told me how children and particularly girls were used as suicide bombers, how they were abducted, and brutalized, tortured, forcibly recruited, and targeted for particularly horrendous abuse. Some children join the group due to financial incentives, peer pressure, familial ties, or ideological reasons.Many girls told me how, with their peers, they were raped, got enrolled into sexual slavery and early marriages (degrading their health) either by Boko Haram members or by their parents to overcome their financial difficulties. Many girls told me they were worried about their future and dreams since many schools were destroyed and the cultural practice of forced marriage augmented in several communities.      

Tell us about the process you went through to start your first campaign at 14 with no prior track record in advocacy.

 After the trip to the North Cameroon, I began my journey in peacebuilding and children mobilization as peacebuilders by:

  • Organizing the “I am standing up for Peace” Campaign. It was a sensitization campaign I carried out alone. It aimed at spreading what I saw in the North as well as stories from victim children.
  • Setting up of the movement children for peace (C4P). I started the movement with 4 children (3 girls and one boy) I had sensitized and who shared my view and decided to be voluntarily engaged to increase the number of children in peacebuilding. The more we implemented activities in schools, streets, mosques, churches markets place, villages (including in areas affected by war), the more children and parents were interested in our message. Today, we have more than 100 active members across the country.

What specific challenges did you face in running the “I am standing up for Peace” campaign?

While running the “I am standing up for Peace” campaign, specific challenges I faced were related to the organization. It was my first project, and I was alone when I began. I needed to have a team of children with whom I would work. For that I needed to make them first understand the project I wanted to implement along with them, its background and it benefits for the communities. They were reluctant at the beginning because they did not have their parent’s authorization. In fact, in our society, many persons do not believe in the capacity of children to carry out impactful activities. There is a social presumption of children’s incapacity that sometimes constitutes a barrier to children’s actions. People say that children’s social engagement would take away their childhood and that; children must be secured, not exposed. Despite the refusal of the parents of those I have contacted, as I was determined to do something, I have managed to launch the campaign in schools and neighborhood with my own means, resources, and skills.

Tell us about the work done at Children for Peace and the objectives of the major projects carried out there.

Today, Children for Peace works at the front-line of human rights work in conditions hostile to fundamental human rights in risky conditions and environments “defying” the patriarchal system to mobilize children in/from complex cultural and religious background and affected areas by war to define and implement actions plans and several local and nation-wide activities/projects, among others: Advocacies towards governments and local authorities for the respect of UN Convention on Child Rights, Convention against Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),UNSCR 1325 and 2250; Elaboration and implementation of Children declaration against violent extremism and radicalisation; Planning and organisation of C4P’s field activities in coordination with the regional focal points and members and mobilization of children for peace and their rights; Organisation of United for peace campaign in affected areas by war; drafting of children declaration against violent extremism and radicalization; Awareness raising campaigns for children and girls’ rights and peacebuilding in schools, market places; Awareness raising campaigns against early marriage; Creation/production and distribution of Children Peace Cartoons; Organisation of children capacity building workshops; Creation and operationalization of children peace clubs in schools, mosques and communities; Realization of documentaries on peacebuilding and children/girls’ rights; Organization/coordination of several community Children Peace Camps in affected areas by war;  Life skills/values and social/moral support to affected girls and children in conflictual/returnee and host communities.

We make and help children, teenagers and communities understanding human rights challenges, the importance of diversity, intergenerational and intercultural dialogue (not only locally, nationally, and regionally but also internationally) to solve issues undermining peace, children’s and girls’ rights and thence, the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Locally, Children for Peace has constituted a network with some religious, traditional leaders and local authorities and civil society in several affected areas engaging them to work with children against identity-based differences; mobilizing them in community-based activities to find gender sensitive approaches to dealing both with conflict and pandemics such as COVID 19.

 At regional level, Children for Peace is working closely at regional level with some regional organizations as African Network of Young Leaders for Peace and Sustainable Development (ANYL4PSD) to mobilize youth and women to implement innovative initiatives to address security crises and contribute to the mitigation of the impacts of pandemics through One Health and Eco-Health for all. They have been strengthening collaborations in the implementation of some projects such as:

  • the development of the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Technology for ex child soldiers (DDR-Tech) which is an application that will contribute in Cameroon to reduce by 25% incidents caused by weapons; increase community confidence; the resettlement by 20% of abandoned communities; the relaunch of informal trade and production activities; reintegration of 1000 children and youths; revive political activities; reduce by 25% risk of conflicts in sensitive areas.
  • the implementation of the African Youth Resilience Initiatives Against COVID19 and Pandemics project which is a regional project which aims at federating children, youth, women, and civil society organisations around a regional policy framework understood as a strategy and advocacy document to overcome COVID 19 implications for a green growth recovery in Africa and in the world.  

At global level children for peace is working with international organizations as Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), UNFOLD ZERO, abolition 2000 and Move the Nuclear Money Campaign for the implementation of the United Nations Secretary General Global Ceasefire. They have participated and contributed to several projects such as the memes and Youth voices video projects for the Climate, Peace and Nuclear Disarmament. We have endorsed with 250 women from across the world, the Global Appeal: Human Security for Public Peace, environment and sustainable development and are encouraging other women to do so.

In addition to being the founder of Children for Peace, you founded Art for Peace. What is/are your main objective(s) behind these initiatives?

Art for Peace is justified by the concern to address language barrier which are an issue when it comes to spreading a national message of peace in Cameroon, Central and West Africa regions which are home to a diverse mix of cultures, languages, and dialects. So, Art for Peace’s overall objective is to support the achievement of Children for Peace’s vision.  Art for Peace’s specific objective are (1) to increase the number of children cartoonist for peace and children rights by giving them appropriate training and secondly, and (2) to augment the number of people understanding the message spread by Children for Peace during various activities and projects mostly in remote areas.

How do you balance your commitments to school, Children for Peace and Art for Peace?

As leader of Children for Peace, my role is to mobilize my mates to define and implement action plans, projects and activities to reach our vision. Our action plan is subdivided per month to enable us to better implement and follow up the activities. We have every week a meeting to evaluate and to plan and prepare next activities. So, every month, I elaborate my personal agenda (including school and church commitments), based Children for Peace and Art for Peace planning of activities.  I work with my team made up of staff and focal points who play a great role in the achievement of our common goals. I maintain the communication via telephone and social media. 

What should we look out for from Children for Peace and Art for Peace in the future?

C4P and Art for Peace plans in 5 and 10 years to be a worldwide organization that more effectively:

  • Contributes to the creation of children parliaments.
  • Influences more effectively the internalization of the UN convention on children Rights and others ratified conventions.
  • Improves people understanding (especially vulnerable/marginalized children) on Children rights, SDGs, and their challenges.
  • Increases children and countries engagement for Children rights, peacebuilding, gender equity and SDGs.
  • Influences policies and contributes to the improved living conditions of children and their family especially vulnerable/minority children;
  • Mitigates, adapts to, and manages the effects of drought and climate change to enhance resilience of vulnerable children.
  • Generates global environmental and health benefits through effective implementation of UN Convention ratified for children’s sake.
  • Contributes to the set up and implementation of a joint implementation of Life Skill Education and Psychosocial Support to children victim of disasters and violent extremism.
  • Mobilizes substantial and additional financial and non-financial resources to support the implementation of united conventions by building effective partnerships at global and national level for children’s sake.
  • Raise its voice to (1) make migration a tool for countries development, (2) achieve gender equity, disaster risk reduction, desertification, land degradation neutrality, (3) end poverty, early marriage, and children trafficking. 
  • Influences the removal of existing barriers to family reunification, considering their compatibility with the principle of the best interests of the child.
  • Influence the elaboration/adoption and operationalization of local strategies for peacebuilding and to reduce children rights violation.
  • Influence disinvestment from nuclear weapons and killing technologies for the investment in SDGs.

In 2019, you won the fifteenth International Children’s Peace Prize. How did the exposure and information gained from this award impact the work you do?

The award has given my organization more content and visibility in the cause we defend.  It helps us to be and amplify the voices of the voiceless children. Prior to the award ceremony, I received a media and communication training by Kids Rights Foundation. This training enabled me to reinforce my skills in public speaking and communication, thereby impacting my future work both in physical activities and online activities. During the ceremony, I was in touch with several local and international media for interview. They reported the award and the work of Children for Peace worldwide via internet and have been relayed by other channels.   This prize has enabled Children for Peace to establish and strengthen relationships with certain local associations, local and international NGOs, certain States such as South Korea as well as the United Nations system. Following this award, Children for Peace has been requested and involved in several local, regional and international projects, as well as webinars on several topics related to children rights, girls and women issues, democracy and political participation, the fight against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, nuclear divestment, violent extremism, religion and radicalization, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration child soldiers and the COVID19 pandemic. We have signed the World Declaration of Women for the Observance of the United Nations Secretary General’s Appeal for a Ceasefire.

What current plans/projects are you involved in which our readers should be aware of?

Currently, Children for Peace is:

  • Working with African Network of Young Leaders for Peace and Sustainable Development (ANYL4PSD) in the development of the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Technology for ex child soldiers called DDR-Tech aiming to fight against enrolment of Children in armed groups and contributing to the restoration of security by disarming ex- child soldiers and providing them with viable socio-economic reintegration opportunities in civilian life.
  • Involved with the Iranian organization Khaneh Sarbaz Solh Iran Sister for the implementation of the projects Cities of Peace for Children which aims to make and promote peace for the children and the parents, strengthen the capacities for peace for children and their parents and to promote the culture of peace in family and enhance safety, prosperity, and quality of life.
  • Working in the development of a comic strip entitled “Guide of a repentant extremist”. It is the story of Zeynabou ex-extremist. It will explain the process of her recruitment, how the missions and living conditions with the extremists were, her encounters and her feelings after each mission she was assigned. It will also give detailed information related to the encounter that changed her life and contributed greatly to her repentance, as well as the support she received.

Tell us about some of the achievements you have had with Children for Peace and as an individual which you are most proud of.

So far, with Children for Peace, we have produced and distributed over 5,000 cartoons, drawings, and paintings, using them as meaningful tools to communicate our message in several communities (given that we are working in multicultural and multilingual milieus). Over 40, 000 children and teenagers have been taught how to be gender equality sensitive/supportive, fight against pandemics and build a lasting peace. Over 3,000 children have been fruitfully directly engaged in peacebuilding and gender equality through local and nation-wide activities and through our 40 children peace clubs led by girls. The initiatives implemented in the frame of the fight against COVID-19 have offered digitalized platforms (YouTube, twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp…) to girls and youth to share their stories about how COVID-19, pandemics affects their life/communities and their initiatives to sustainably tackle COVID-19. Around 700 youth/girls have been trained, accompanied, and mentored to tailor and implement awareness initiatives and programs (focusing the intersection between pandemics, nature conservation/degradation and the emergency of the ceasefire) targeting and involving children, community leaders, civil society, private sector, governments to address durably the pandemic impacts.

We have implemented the integrated project Silence the Guns which aimed at democratizing and reshaping the local governance and management of conflicts, thereby liberating endogenous approaches and innovative solutions to build peace and improve children rights in affected areas by war. Some key results of that project are as follows:

  • children rights, demobilization reintegration and disarmament of youth/teenagers ex-combatants; (2) Kids Rights; (3) the implementation of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child and the UNSCR 2250 and 1325 (relating to youth and children participation in peacebuilding) and the fully implication of children in peacebuilding (4) fight against early and forced marriages; (5) the importance of mobilizing all stakeholders, including private sector and multi-nationals, to invest in girls’ and children’s education and youth employment; (6) the importance of fighting against the illicit proliferation of weapons; (7) fighting child trafficking, (sexual) exploitation during conflictual and post-conflictual period.
  • 500 children; 50 local authorities and 300 community members directly involved in children rights disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-child/youth combatants as well as in the fight against violent extremism, radicalization, proliferation of weapons through the project. 

As individual, I am proud to have followed my vision thus far without being desponded by the challenges I encountered at the beginning of my journey as activist. Seeing many children, I have mobilized being engaged by my side (despite some persisting sociocultural, religious, and financial challenges), and leading the change in their communities is a great joy.

What are your ambitions?

I envision Children for Peace and Art for Peace working at global level to mobilize, mentor and accompany children to tailor and implement local, and regional initiatives (outreach, campaigns, mentoring, capacity building, painting, advocacies, studies, documentaries, data disaggregation/analysis, policies follow up) using in an innovative way technology, the digital and their networks to mobilize/engage stakeholders for the global ceasefire, gender equality and the achievement of sustainable development goals.

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