From Vulnerable Child to Child Advocate
Before Divine Usabase was welcomed into her SOS family in Burundi, she lived in a former refugee camp with her single mother and four siblings. Divine’s mother suffered from depression and mental illness and was unable to provide a stable home for her children.
This experience motivated Divine to become a youth advocate and a champion for mental health. In February, she had an opportunity to share her story and participate at the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, an event organized by the United Nations that facilitates the involvement of youth in shaping government policies on social, economic and environmental issues.
“I want to make sure that all young people’s voices from all backgrounds are heard, especially those who are forgotten,” said Divine in a blog post for the MasterCard Foundation, which provides her a scholarship to study at McGill University. “These include young people without parental care or at risk of losing parents; indigenous youth all over the world; those with mental or physical disabilities; and more close to home for me personally, young people in conflict-affected countries such as Nigeria, Syria, and Burundi.”
After arriving to the SOS Village, Divine exceled academically and was admitted to a prestigious preparatory school run by SOS Children’s Villages in Ghana when she was 14. After graduating with high marks, she was selected for the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship to study at McGill University, where she is pursuing a degree in development and the environment.
When she arrived to Canada in 2015, she connected with SOS Children’s Villages Canada, where she volunteers as an intern who focuses on community engagement. During her first summer in the country, she helped launch and implement an advocacy campaign with SOS Canada that aims to involve youth across Canada in the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a comprehensive roadmap to end global poverty and inequality by 2030.
“SOS Children’s Villages considers that youth participation is essential for the success of its own work but also for the success of the international community to achieve the SDGs,” said Sofia Garcia, SOS Representative to the United Nations. “It is not only their right, but young people are also a source of innovation, ideas and transformative opinions that can be key in achieving the most difficult parts of this ambitious agenda.”
Divine already has plans for her next summer project, for which she will focus on providing mental health education to Burundian refugees in Rwanda. She believes that decades-long violence in Burundi is rooted in untreated mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, grief and a lack of empathy.