Gwenelyne Frinwi Achu: Law grad determined to protecting the youngest

Gwenelyne Frinwi Achu, 24, Cameroon

I am Gwenelyne Frinwi Achu, a 24-year-old Cameroonian from the Northwest Region of Cameroon. I have a bachelor and master’s degree in Law, specialized in International law and International Business Transactions. My desire is to see a world with equitable social inclusion and respect of the rule of law as it interferes with everyday life. I believe that everyone, no matter the social status at birth has something to offer if given the chance.

My motivation to study law came from my high school days when I was a member of the vocations club of my school. One of the activities of this club was to organize outreach events. During one of such events, we visited a hospital, specifically the section where HIV/AIDS patients were admitted. I was struck to see that some of these patients, especially the children born with AIDS had been abandoned by their families, who alluded their state of health to witchcraft and were adopted by orphanages. In most cases, the orphanages lacked the means to provide adequate care for these children as these orphanages survive solely on good will donations from various individuals and community groups. From this, I was determined to protect the rights of the minority and vulnerable children in the society.

After my undergraduate studies, I worked at a law firm specialized in civil rights litigation amongst others and provided pro bono services to people. Looking at the recurrences of crimes and the poor rendition of Justice by judicial officers due to the lack of “social status”, it became obvious to me that giving assistance to poor people is helping them in poverty and does not really create an impact because they remain in the same state. But giving them an opportunity and investing in their skills and abilities is helping them out of poverty, which is more beneficial.

In 2013, my friends and I visited an orphanage (Misspa Orphanage Nkwen) to celebrate Christmas with the children. We were captivated by the lively spirit of the children but were stunned by the depth of poverty that surrounded them. After talking with the orphans, we were elated by the energy and “big dreams” these children had for their lives. But these were only fairytales as most of them never believed these dreams were achievable in the orphanage. Some of those born with HIV/AIDS and other diseases saw this as a reason not to desire any life dream.

In 2016, we envisaged a project on how to help the orphans achieve their dreams. It started off with needs assessment of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Evidently, most OVC receive help in terms of food and clothes which is very necessary but still leaves them in poverty. What they desire most is to be well educated like other children, find jobs, live independent lives and integrate properly into society but unfortunately it is far from what is made available to them. We therefore introduced a project “Connecting Orphans: From Rice to Light,” now translated to a nonprofit organization called HELPOUT, aimed at providing solutions to poverty by giving a platform for OVC to live healthy and acquire proper tertiary education or engage in vocational training in order to pursue good professions, become self-reliant and live up to their life dreams.

In the pilot phase of the project, we were able to cover the tuition for five orphans in University, the cost of a bone surgery for one of the kids who was born with HIV/AIDS and provided constant first aid treatment to the children. In the next phase of this project, we envision working with more orphanages around the country, to support OVC achieve their professional aspirations, provide them with better access to healthcare by creating partnerships with health care institutions for regular checkup and readily available first aid medications. We believe in the power of nonprofit intervention to transform lives.

As a legal practitioner and future PhD scholar, my goal is to improve the rule of law affecting OVC through research and policy analysis, especially for those living with HIV/AIDS and other terminal diseases which have been alluded to witchcraft as per African Traditional Beliefs. Participating in the Youth Assembly at the United Nations will give me a platform to meet other young leaders and exchange ideas especially on the role of non-profit organizations in achieving sustainable development goals, with particular emphasis to poverty alleviation, good health and quality education.