The Youth Development Committee hosted its 4th annual “Youth Leadership and Active Citizenship Conference” on March 23rd- 26th in Garango, Burkina Faso. Organized by Natalie Moore and Emily Hilton, the four-day event promoted positive leadership, active community participation, and volunteerism. Eighteen Peace Corps Volunteers, 10 host country nationals, and 35 youth, between the ages of 17 and 23 including youth with disabilities, participated in the event. The Youth Development Committee’s Grant Fund and RBCAH (Réadaptation à Base Communautaire des Aveugles et Autre Handicapés), a local organization that works with people with disabilities, funded the project.
Volunteers and host country nationals led sessions on leadership, goal setting, gender norms, how to evaluate the needs of a community, professionalism, creative thinking, identifying community resources, and several health talks on topics like family planning and HIV/AIDS. There were also lessons on the importance of inclusive education for people with disabilities as well as two amazing motivational speakers, both handicapped, who talked about their lives and the work they do to make Burkina more handicap accessible. The conference included field trips into the community to meet with local NGOs and night activities. We also had a remarkable signer who translated the conference in sign language for the 5 youth participants who were deaf.
The conference ended with a pep talk to motivate the youth to “take action now!” Youth were encouraged to collaborate with their Peace Corps Volunteer to bring change to their community. They read stories about youth from around the world who are currently working to better their communities. The participants then worked with their volunteer to write up a project plan that will be implemented in their village in coming months. The group of deaf students mentioned that this conference was the first time they ever participated in a HIV/AIDS discussion because deaf people are not usually trained on these types of issues. They decided that for their project, they want to bring more talks on this subject to the deaf community. Other project ideas included theater groups to talk about malaria, a summer reading camp, tofu making demonstrations, and school gardens. Volunteers and counterparts left motivated and ready to find solutions to problems that affect their villages. It will be exciting to see how their projects turn out!