Joel Baraka, 19, was among the lucky 60 individuals from Commonwealth countries that received the Queen’s Young Leaders award on June 29, in London.
The award celebrates inspiring young people aged between 18 and 29 from common wealth countries who are dedicated to driving change in their communities and transforming people’s lives. He was the youngest among those who were awarded.
Baraka was born on August 23, 1997 but three months later they were displaced from DRCongo. With his six siblings they fled to seek refuge in Uganda.
Since then, Baraka together with his parents has lived in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp which about 80kilometres away from Hoima town.
He grew up in Kyangwali Refugee camp and at the age of 14 he observed that the high prevalence of teenage pregnancies and early marriages led to rampant school dropout of students in the refugee camp.
As a counter measure to the vice, Baraka started sports programmes to rally communities to appreciate the challenges faced by children and youth.
Although faced with limited resources, he saved little money and motivated 15 other youths to work on peoples’ plantations to raise funds to purchase two footballs which he used to gather 17 more youths to play football.
Before competing, Baraka would spare time to sensitise youth and communities about the dangers of early marriages in the community.
“I’m happy that my intervention drastically reduced early marriages and gave opportunity to the young people to attain education and pursue their dreams” Baraka says.
After his primary education, Baraka in 2010 enrolled for secondary education Mandela SS where he completed O’ level in 2014.
Despite his humble background, Baraka was an obedient and exceptionally hardworking young man. He always wanted to discover innovations.
“Baraka scored Aggregate 11 and he was the best at our school that year,” says Tonny Butali, former resident director. He got a full bursary for his A’ level but while in Senior Five third term, September 2015, he won a two-year scholarship at African Leadership Academy in South Africa, a school with a mission of developing the next generation of African leaders. During his course of study he was one of the five students that represented African Leadership Academy at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado from June to July 2016.
Six months later, they were able to plan for and deliver the South African Ideas Festival (SAIF); a leadership platform that centred on self-leadership for 2017 and was able to engage 40 youth people aged between 16 – 21 from Nigeria, Lesotho and South Africa.
Knowing about the award
While studying at the African Leadership Academy, Baraka met another student from Malawi who had won the same award and he encouraged him to apply.
“I applied in August and in October I was contacted for Skype interviews which I did and was asked for recommendations from people who knew me well. One of my teachers from Botswana recommended me and in November 2016, I received a call congratulating me upon the reception of the award,” Baraka says.
Asked how he feels after winning the award, Baraka says it is extraordinary. “Growing up in a refugee camp, I constantly felt that as a refugee child I was not meant to achieve much. This award has assured me that every child is born with potential to reach for the stars no matter the circumstances,” he says. He says every child needs a platform from which he or she can be able to harness their potential and education. After realising the changing fortunes of his life out of education, he is helping educate his peers in Kyangwali Refugee camp.
“I’m working on a simple educational game that will make learning more fun for my peers that will as well help in solving the problem of limited learning resources that we constantly face in the camp,” says Baraka.
His joy is to see all the refugee children educated to enable them attain knowledge and skills.
They (refugee children) have got the brains to do great things but they lack a champion to motivate and inspire them. I want to be this person by using games because they are fun and every child would love to have fun,” he says.
After receiving the award at Buckingham palace, Baraka together with other winners took part in master classes at the BBC World Service and at the Facebook UK headquarters.
Besides Baraka, Favourite Driciru, 27, and Ruth Nabembezi, 21, also got the Queen’s Award.
The Queen’s memorable words
Joel Baraka excitedly recalls shaking hands with the Queen who reportedly told him “I’m proud of you and so is the Commonwealth. Your life trajectory is leading the right path. Keep up the good work. Congratulations!”
The winners also met the Commonwealth secretary general, attended workshop at the University of Cambridge and met some senior executives in UK.
Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, CEO Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust said the Queen’s Young Leaders Award is designed to inspire and nurture talent of exceptional young people from all over the Commonwealth so that they can create and lead others towards securing positive changes in communities.
“The work being done by the cohort of the Queen’s Young leaders is addressing some of the most crucial issues facing the commonwealth today. We cannot wait to see how impressive endeavours grow and develop over the years to come and beyond,” said Bonfield.