By Tilal Ahmed*
With a big smile, Bakhet Ibrahim entered the field office of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), in East Darfur State, Sudan, greeting the staff. Bakhet is a community mobilizer and a member of Youth Bank in East Darfur—and most of the staff knows him.
“I was very happy when the community recommended me for this project,” said Bakhet, 23, a resident of El Neem, a camp for internally displaced persons. Over the course of his participation, he and the 11 other members of the local chapter have learned, grown and made a difference in their communities.
Umelhassan, also from El Neem, said Youth Bank gave her the opportunity to meet and work with new people. “For me, it was something new to work alongside men,” she added, given the strict gender roles and cultural expectations of Sudan.
Headquartered in Ireland, Youth Bank is an international network run by and for young people. Local chapters around the world, like the one in East Darfur, identify projects they consider meaningful for young people in their local communities, and seek to support them.
The chapters raise or solicit funds, review proposals, award grants, and monitor progress. Each project they fund aims to “build young people's self-esteem and confidence and provide them opportunities to learn new skills” such as leadership and team work, according to the organization’s web site.
In East Darfur State, the Youth Bank received financial support from Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio for its grant awards. UMCOR provided the chapter training in grant-making and other skills.
Over a period of months, Youth Bank members surveyed needs in communities around the state capital, El Daein, and awarded five grants for sports and environmental-health projects.
Building rapport, fostering peace
Bakhet said he was particularly happy to see young people from different tribes come together as project implementers, since intertribal tensions are a source of violence throughout the Darfur Region.
Youth Bank participation builds rapport among its diverse members. It gives young people space in which to work together for the good of all their communities. And while it fosters peace, it also helps youths build self-confidence.
“One of the projects was a football [soccer] competition. It gave me the opportunity to communicate with officials and become known in the town,” Bakhet said. “I shared with the Youth and Sport minister, the football association—and even the governor—all of our success with the competition!”
Reem, who, at 21, is the youngest member of the East Darfur chapter, also found participation in the Youth Bank empowering. Though born with a shorter right leg, Reem moved deftly from house to house, talking with families and mobilizing her peers to participate in neighborhood cleanup days.
“I am proud of what I did,” she said. “And I’m happy that I showed people that having a disability is no impediment to being active and of value in any community.”
Youth Bank in East Darfur now has a firm foundation. It is bringing youths together, and all—whatever their tribe, both young men and young women—are working as one.
Your support for UMCOR Sudan Development, Advance #184385, supports projects like this one that promote peace and development in Sudan.
*Tilal Ahmed oversees UMCOR’s peace building work in Sudan.