In 2018, the BeGOOD project, in conjunction with NCD Child, convened a global network of Young Leaders to form a Youth Campaign for the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health. In the intervening time, the team has driven forward both local and international projects, making sure that young people have a voice on mental health issues that matter most to them, speaking on multiple world stages including the WHO Special Initiative on Mental Health, and the Royal African Society’s Mental Health in Africa conference. Here, one of the Young Leaders, David Karorero, outlines some of his advocacy and activism work.
What is your role as part of the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health?
I am a Young Leader within the youth campaign team – a global campaign to disseminate the findings of The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development to young people worldwide. My role is to make sure that the voices of child and young refugees are heard by explaining, describing and sharing their experiences with those in power. In doing so, I am working to put the refugee crisis at the centre of the discussion, and pushing for measurable solutions rather than platitudes. In addition, I work to exchange with other young people skills and inspirations that can be helpful in boosting my work as a Global Refugee Advocate.
Can you tell us about your wider work with refugees?
I have a mentoring program that offers young refugees (mostly from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Denmark), a mentoring program that builds their skill-sets, and develops in them the self-confidence needed to believe in themselves. I also work to support a program helping refugees in Kenya and Uganda to learn English: it can be really difficult for Burundian to shift from French to English when it’s time to attend school, or on the job market, and this can severely hamper their opportunities and quality of life. By partnering with a radio station in Rwanda, we are providing young refugees and children an opportunity to be trained in journalism, public speaking training, and wider communication skills. In Denmark, I have been advocating for the right to education and mental health support in asylum contexts. After a series of high-level meetings, I was able to implement a project to integrate mental health services provision into asylum centres with preventive care support through capacity building, sports activities and entertainment. Finally, as a Country Coordinator of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning, I supported a project that helps asylum seekers understand sexual reproductive health and rights.
What has been your inspiration for undertaking this work?
Children and Youth Refugee rights are really under-recognised and I wanted to put a special accent on this issue to let the world be aware of what is going on, and to challenge global leaders to generate solutions.
What has the greatest challenge you’ve faced been along this journey?
My fragile legal and financial status in the country of asylum in Denmark has made my work challenging. It’s really hard to have asylum seeker status in Denmark — you are not permitted to do any work beyond voluntary appointments, and cannot travel — this has made it much more difficult for me to continue to advocate for the cause of refugees worldwide, but I haven’t lost my passion yet!
Which of your accomplishments do you feel has been most impactful?
Being selected to join the WHO INNOVATION LAB, which really allowed me to further boost my advocacy. Alongside other young talents in the lab, I developed a mental health screening tool for humanitarian settings, and thereafter spoke at several high-level conferences in the presence of world leaders. But the most appreciated accomplishments were the successful implementation of projects in five countries to support refugees, asylum seekers and IDP’s for mental health, sexual reproductive health and rights and mentorship program