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Cameroonian Youth Address Internal Displacement Through Sport

FILE - Participants of the Sports Jamboree hosted by the Loyal Youth Corner pose for a picture, Yaoundé, July 1, 2023

WASHINGTON — Local Youth Corner, a youth-led organization in Cameroon, working to address violent extremism across the Central African nation, entered its fourth week of its annual "NA WE WE Sports Jamboree," geared at promoting peace and healthy living.

The jamboree, an initiative pioneered by the youth group in partnership with several international embassies, United Nations organizations and local agencies, runs until August 30, in the capital, Yaoundé, targeting thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, as beneficiaries.

The program, the organization says, uses sports "as a tool to build social cohesion, promote peace and healthy living between and among IDPs from the North-West and South-West regions and host communities in Cameroon."

Achaleke Christian Leke, Local Youth Corner executive director, told VOA the "NA WE WE Sports Jamboree" equips IDPs with the appropriate skills to better address displacement.

The participants are provided with a range of free services, among them basic medical support, health tests and consultations with practitioners.

Since 2017 Cameroon's military has battled separatists who declared an English-speaking state of "Ambazonia," in the country's North-West and South-West regions.

The ongoing conflict has led to clashes between separatists and security forces resulting in widespread atrocities and the displacement of locals, according to human rights organizations.

A 2023 Human Rights Watch report noted a surge in human rights abuses, including unlawful killings across the regions. HRW said 598,000 people have experienced displacement in Cameroon since August 2022, and at least 2 million people need humanitarian aid in the areas targeted by the sports jamboree.

Leke also noted the surge in violent extremism across Cameroon, which the organization believes can be addressed through peaceful initiatives.

"Through the recreational nature of the jamboree, it is helping respond to mental health and psychosocial issues that these groups of persons (IDPs) are facing because of the realities of either running away from conflict and some of the challenging things they have experienced," said Leke, who is also an African Union youth ambassador.

Fonyuy Leonard Nsohburinka, a 32-year-old award-winning Cameroonian musician, popularly known as Mr. Leo, is an IDP who participated in the first jamboree.

Mr. Leo said the event is uplifting the lives of many IDPs.

"Most of the people that took part in that tournament are IDPs and because of the war that has been happening in Cameroon for the past five years, I have not been able to go to my village," Mr. Leo said. "These people, because of the war, most of them lost everything, so they find themselves in an environment where they can barely cope and a lot of them are going through depression because of what is happening,"

Lorraine Anderson, Canada's High Commissioner to Cameroon, attended the launch of the sports jamboree said it was important to utilize all mechanisms that can promote peace and cohesion.

"It's clear that the collaboration, the fun and communication that’s needed for a team sport is also needed for social cohesion," Anderson said.

Phillip Van Damme, the European Union ambassador to Cameroon and a participant of the games presented by the sports jamboree, said lessons taken from the youth-led program should be promoted all-year round.

"Sport can unite and regardless of our background, linguistic, ethnic, religious or whatever, we can play together, we can live together, we can work together, we can build a nation together," Van Damme said.