Before directing the Bimbo youth centre, Véronique Mbesse-Dmjeby worked in several other youth centres in the capital, Bangui. According to her experience, youth activities are difficult to implement: most youth centres do not receive any material or financial support and lack technical support to offer more attractive activities.
By supporting youth institutions and youth centres across the country, the project "Jeunesse, espoir de la Centrafrique : Masséka békou ti Bé-Afrika" of the Bêkou Fund, from which the youth centre has benefited since 2021, contributes to the emancipation of young people (78% of the Central African population) and allows them to become actors of peace and recovery in the country.
A difficult neighbourhood
The district of Bimbo where Véronique now works is vast and extremely populated. Its youth centre attracts a lot of members (on average 100 to 150 young people per week), because in the surrounding neighbourhoods there are no other houses or spaces dedicated to young people.
The director deplores the security context: "Here, the situation is not easy. There is a security problem: robberies are quite frequent and we have to intervene with young people to try to improve the situation."
For Véronique, the youth centre plays an important role by organising "awareness-raising on civics and citizenship to raise awareness among young people on the theme of security and try to make improvements to the situation in the area".
Improving the range of activities
Before the Bêkou project, Veronique's youth centre offered only a few educational talks to raise members' awareness of social issues and provided a small library.
Now, thanks to the training received and the continuous coaching of two outreach agents from COOPI, the NGO that implements this project, an action plan has been adopted. The offer of activities has expanded and the quality has improved: « The work is easier, I feel more confident and I know I have the ability to understand the needs of the community of our young people here and organise more specific activities for them," she says.The result was soon observed: "We also noticed a more participatory approach either on the part of the staff or young people."
Integrating the most vulnerable through literacy activities
Véronique regrets that there are not many young girls joining the activities organised by her youth center. The reason, according to her, is also the language barrier because they think that in youth centres, only French is spoken, and they are ashamed to participate for fear of not understanding.
Véronique's goal is to put them at ease: "We're going to start with literacy classes. Afterwards, we would also like to set up activities for the girl-mothers who are rather numerous in the area".
Octavie, who attends another youth centre supported by the project, says literacy classes have changed her life. She is already planning for the future: "I left school when my father died.[...] Today I can read and write, and I get 10/10 in dictation. I would not like to see that learning stop here. I would like to continue and follow a specialised training. Maybe I'd become a midwife, or work in either hospitality or sewing to have a better future."
It is also the case for Dorcas Bakongo, a young woman from Bossangoa. Dorcas went to school, but then she had to drop out early, after becoming pregnant. She is happy with this new opportunity to learn to read, write and calculate. This, she says, "will help me better manage my income after selling cassava."
Damos Gildas, who also frequently visits the youth centre also expresses his joy: "Before benefitting from this literacy class, I did not know the youth centre or how to hold a pen. I was informed by one of my classmates that a call for expressions of interest was being launched at the youth centre for those who wanted to attend literacy classes[…] Fortunately I am one of those who have been selected. Although I have never been to school, thanks to this support, I can now read and write like other young people."
About the project
In 2019, there were 2.5 million young Central Africans aged between 10 and 34, nearly half of the population. Many young Central Africans have either dropped out of school or never attended one. After the political-military events that swept through the country, infrastructures such as youth centres were looted of their resources. The weakness of the education system, the lack of activities for young people and a deteriorating socio-economic situation directly affect these young people who lack prospects.
Through its project "Youth, hope of the Central African Republic: Masséka békou ti Bé-Afrika", the EU's Bêkou Fund supports 17 youth centers (soon 18) and the main institutions in charge of youth since 2021. As Mr. Iddo Malessembe, the sub-prefect of Bossangoa affirms, thanks to the project, the Youth Center of Bossangoa is "reviving". In addition to this sub-prefecture, the project is implemented in the north (Paoua, Bozoum) but also in the capital Bangui and its outskirts, as well as in the center (Bambari, Bria and Sibut).