Not every journey has a clear path, and Joel Baraka feels this applies to his own journey, but he knows he wants to give 100 percent to each step he takes. And that’s the attitude that helped plot his journey, from the Kyangwali refugee settlement in West Uganda, to meeting Queen Elizabeth II as a recipient of her Young Leaders’ Awards on the 29th of June.
The Queen’s Young Leaders Award is an award that recognizes and celebrates exceptional young people between the ages of 18 and 29 in Common Wealth countries that are driving change in their communities. Joel was recognized for his contribution to the challenges that youth face growing up in settlements like his own. At age 14, he set up a sports program to promote physical fitness and social community-building by tackling problems such as gangs, early marriages and teenage pregnancies, all of which led to increased school dropout rates. Joel’s objective was to hold post-match discussions that allowed the youth to be heard and envision better futures for themselves. But despite the program’s popularity, many of the students were still performing poorly at school. That’s when he came up with the idea of creating educational games which would allow children to learn the curriculum through play. “Kids love to play, to me it seemed like the most natural thing to try and make use of,” he says. Joel is currently developing the games but the idea alone has earned him several honors including attending the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado as a Bezos Scholar and being a first place winner of the Allan Gray Entrepreneurial Thinking Award.
Joel, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to ALA in 2015, following in his brother, Joseph Munyambanza’s footsteps who graduated from ALA in 2010. “Education was the only option we had,” he says, “and it was free”. He attributes his motivation to his mother, the poverty he witnessed around him, and the few success stories that filtered back to them. Joel’s modesty prevents him from thinking he is now a success story as well, “There’s still so much more I need to do before I can consider myself anything close to a success.”
Joel is a recent ALA graduate, he will be attending the University of Wisconsin under the King Mogridge Scholarship program. He will be studying Engineering, a profession inspired by the very first time he saw a building in 2008, during a visit to the capital city of Uganda. “’I’m not yet sure what type of engineering I want to specialize in ,” he says, “but I know I want to stay involved in education for as long as I can so more young Africans can have the opportunities I did”.