ZAMAI, CAMEROON - Cameroonian Yeguie Issa says he has not seen his only brother since they were contacted a year ago by visitors to their village and were offered $500 per month to join Boko Haram.
Issa, 29, did not accept the offer and now takes care of his poultry farm in Cameroon's Zamai village, near the northern town of Mokollo. He got started with the help of chickens provided by the government and farming advice from U.N. staff.
As a result, Issa said, he is financially and physically more stable, and he can provide for his wife, three children and 72-year-old mother — and peers no longer jeer at him for being unable to take care of his family.
Issa is one of several hundred people who have benefited from the U.N. initiative to steer youths away from Boko Haram, which has frequently attacked northern Cameroon over the past three years.
The coordinator of the U.N. system in Cameroon, Najad Rochdi, said the goal of the initiative is help the area's economy grow despite the continued violence.
"Because the region was tragically and dramatically impacted by insecurity on the one hand and extreme violence on the other hand, it was very important to provide the enabling environment for the revival of the local economy, capitalizing on the know-how of the people in the region," Rochdi said. "Obviously, the know-how here is about agriculture, handicraft, agropastoral activities."
Cameroon has provided $4 million in emergency funds to create jobs for youths on its northern border with Nigeria, where the unemployment rate is over 90 percent. Japan has contributed $2 million to the U.N. for the second phase of the project, focused on the entire conflict zone in Cameroon.
Ibrahim Hamaoua, traditional ruler of Zamai, said the assistance has reduced delinquency among the 30,000 people he leads.
Hamaoua said he was grateful to the U.N. Development Program and the government of Cameroon for initiating the resilience project and constructing a livestock market to supply protein to both internally displaced persons and refugees. The project has boosted the local economy and improved the living conditions of the population that grow livestock, he said.
About a hundred meters from Issa's poultry farm, Hamza Falama waters his one-hectare garden. He said the produce villagers grow — maize and sorghum during the rainy season, carrots and cabbages during the dry season — enables them to send their children to school, take care of their health needs, feed their families and save for difficult moments.
Cameroon hopes to see more gardens grow, and fewer difficult moments in the north, in order to weaken Boko Haram.