How engaging with unusual actors has helped to better understand and address the socioeconomic reintegration of street youths in Yaoundé

April 17, 2023

UNDP-CMR-The vulnerable youths during an engaging Hangout with the Minister of Youth Affiars, on National TV-2023

Photo: Communication Unit

"Hardship within my family and the death of my parents forced me to join the streets, at the age of 11 years. On the streets, I found another family and felt better. However, the seeming happiness I found became tougher and tougher as time went by. Violence and misery took over the order of my days. Today, after over twenty years on the streets, I have realized that my situation has become one hundred times worse. Today, I have decided to leave the streets; all I want is an opportunity. Unfortunately, society only sees me as a waste, as someone who cannot do anything useful." Says Yaouba, a Yaounde street youth and participant in the UNDP Street Youth Engagement activities.

Like Yaouba, there are over 7,000 children and youths, including girls, with similar stories and mindsets, living in the streets of Yaounde and Douala, the capital and economic capital of Cameroon, respectively. In Yaounde, just like in other cities in the country, life in the streets exposes these vulnerable youths to numerous risks, including banditry, prostitution, and sexual exploitation. Also, some of the youths get exposed to health risks and physical disabilities caused by violence. These result in untimely deaths due to a lack of the minimum means and support to access basic services and needs. Due to existing challenges surrounding their identification and mobilization, they are a rare target group for most development actors. This results in them being generally left behind during several development interventions targeting youth, which is contrary to the LeaveNo One Behind (LNOB) commitment. 

To remedy this challenge in view of promoting inclusive participation for the socio-economic empowerment of youth, the Accelerator Lab explored with the YouthConnekt team in commemoration of the national youth day in Cameroon, the engagement of street youth in civic development initiatives. The aim is to test the “leave no one behind” commitment with such unusual actors, by making them contributors to solutions to their problems. Working with this new and uncommon target was an amazing journey with challenges and learnings. 

The engagement of Yaounde Street Youths as part of the celebration of the 57th National Youth Day in Cameroon

UNDP-CMR-Image captured during the jubilation of a goal in favour of the vulnerable youths against UNDP Staff-2023

Photo: Communication Unit

The celebration of the National Youth Day emphasizes the ability and commitment of the young generation to contribute to the creation of a prosperous and stable future. However, rarely have street youth been mobilized for the celebration of the National Youth Day as was done in this experiment with more than 200 of them. There were about 250 young people (men and women) from different neighbourhoods of Yaounde who were sensitized and fully integrated into the celebration of the National Youth Day. Among key interventions, there were moments of moral and civic rearmament; a gala football match between UNDP staff and the street youth team; a special hangout between Street Youths and some members of the Government and the distribution of empowerment kits to support their socio-economic integration. All this allowed the Accelerator Lab Team to explore the potential for engagement and participation of these young people from various angles. The implementation of these different interventions followed a protocol integrating the reinforcement of social links and self-confidence and their inclusion in the Youth debate. At the end of this experience, we were able to perceive that the young people who were withdrawn during the first visit regained their self-confidence and that, for once, they were actors in development and not just beneficiaries. The opportunity given to them to express their feelings and expectations on how development actors should respond to their socio-economic needs allowed us to better understand their needs and to design appropriate solutions for their economic reintegration.

The enthusiasm generated by this first experience has encouraged the Country Office, Government, media, and other actors to look at this unusual development actor differently as they can contribute significantly to problem-solving if and when given the opportunity to do so.

Some challenges and key learnings

Beyond the enthusiasm and appreciation received, the fact remains that this experience has not been without challenges. The major challenges we faced were mobilization and maintaining order and discipline. Indeed, although organized, this target group is very mobile and increasingly resistant to development initiatives in its favour. Moreover, being used to violence and given their use of drugs, it is difficult to contain them without angry outbursts and violence. Thanks to the involvement of several key stakeholders (former street youth; street leaders; Ministry of Social Affairs supervisors, psychologists, and security) this was possible.

Three main learnings from the exploration 

UNDP-CMR-Three main learnings from the exploration-2023

For UNDP Cameroon in its role as an integrator, the next step of this experience will be to contribute to addressing the issue of street youths by mobilizing more resources. The aim is to dig deep for an understanding of the issue and provide a multidimensional response (social, economic, etc.). This will contribute to furthering engagements with the youths and develop a framework to ease the actions of all actors addressing the street youth phenomenon. 

Call to Action:

All persons, irrespective of gender, ethnic group, or political or social affinities have a right to participate in decisions and actions which shape their lives. Whether he/she considers himself/herself “normal” or “street” youth, they are all youths and deserve a seat at the table to contribute to future development initiatives of their nation.

UNDP-CMR-A cross-section of gender-inclusive football teams, at the start of the friendly match between the street youths and UNDP staff-2023

Photo: Communication Unit