Young People Changing The World: Christine Michelle, Founder of Merita Movement

Young People Changing The World is a weekly series featuring the world's changemakers. Every Monday, I publish an interview with a young entrepreneur with questions regarding their journey. They tell us their definition of success, their desired impact on the world and share their single most important lesson. 

My goal with this series is to inspire young leaders to take action. Be bold. Go after your dreams. Make a positive change in the world. 

Christine Michelle, Merita Movement

I first came across Christine Michelle and Merita Movement this summer, while attending a meetup in Vancouver. Close to the end of the event, Christine came to the front of the room and spoke to everyone about her organization. With a combination of passion and confidence, she shared her vision of unifying, strengthening and empowering young people in Africa. 

I learnt three things about Christine that night: she's a hairdresser by day, a philanthropist all the time, and is the co-creator of documentary film Our Beloved Land. 

Our Beloved Land tells the true stories of young, passionate leaders in East Africa and those who have relocated around the world. It follows the men and women who encourage peace-building in countries of conflict. 

Christine's early travels brought her to Goma, a city in the Republic of Congo, where she has spent a total of 19 months helping the community. The aim with Our Beloved Land and Merita Movement is to further conversations on peace-building by using art as a platform of healing, expression, and providing entrepreneurial opportunities. 

As an admirer of young people who ignore the norms and create their own path, I was excited to interview Christine for this series. 

Meet Christine.  

I don’t think I can change the world, I quite honestly don’t think any of us can... But I do believe we can each change ourselves.
— Christine Michelle, Merita Movement

What is your name and organization? 

Christine Michelle, Merita Movement.

What are you up to these days?  

Most recently, I've been focused on growing the Merita community to have more of a global voice and a unification between my two worlds.  The last 7 years have been a long journey of discovering purpose, but also learning how to balance my two worlds. The documentary film I have been working on this year is one of a few ways that I am using the art of digital storytelling to bridge the gap between our youth in Africa and our growing community in North America. 

 Where did the idea of your organization come from?  

Life's path found me traveling to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo at age 21. Now, 7 years later my experiences, global perspective and a few key mentors have lead me to an understanding that says, it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or what your history has been; we each have an opportunity to choose a better life by connecting to ourselves, our communities and our individual gifts.

When I was growing up I didn't like school, I didn't have a strong or consistent community outside of my family, and I was not encouraged to know myself well enough to discern what my needs were. I felt out of place a lot and as a result, society taught me I was a 'bad kid' or a 'trouble maker'. I believe that each young person should be encouraged to connect to what they love to do and be provided strong mentorship on a personal level to get there.

When I joined forces with co-founders Silas Balabyekkubo, Mina Tabei Lucas and Vincent Dumoulin, we discovered that this was a similar thread on all of our stories. We had each been doing similar work but in different areas of Africa and Canada and our experiences had all concluded that youth demographics, particularly in marginalized communities, have similar needs. By offering a safe environment in which people can reconnect to themselves and their purpose by using various creative approaches, this awakens their dreams. It restores vision for their life and the impact they would like to make on their community. It brings about a transformative energy in hearts, and redirects the mind to ideas of hope and success. All of these concepts were the foundation in developing the Merita Movement.

How do you define success?  

I work harder now than I ever did in a 'traditional' job but the difference is my hours are now filled with self directed, passion filled moments. Whether it's meeting with great people, writing, editing, putting media together or anything in between, I have joy in everything I do.

Even in the challenges I find constant gratitude because I know what I'm working towards and I know the impact that it is making. Success is loving what you do.

Merita Movement bracelet by Ugandan artist Joel Balimanya

Merita Movement bracelet by Ugandan artist Joel Balimanya

How do you want to make an impact on the world?  

I don't think we can want to make an impact on the world I think we have to choose to. Many people continue through the routines of life saying "I want to do this" or "I wish I could do that" but the fact of the matter is we CAN. I believe in transforming my dreams and desired impact directly into action. I want my legacy to be one that is an example of that to many people.

I think people are more greatly impacted by our actions or lifestyle than our words. I want everyone who crosses my path to see that my faith, creativity and belief in change are the things that have developed my character. I don't think I can change the world, I quite honestly don't think any of us can... But I do believe we can each change ourselves.

How do you come up with ideas?  

I am very blessed to be constantly surrounded by two key ingredients to great ideas:

  1. Problems that need solving
  2. An unlimited supply of creative minds.

Whether in East Africa or here in Vancouver there are constant challenges that come up as a result of our environment. In Africa they might be more blatant things like war, disease, lack of opportunity, infrastructure, social justice and so on. In Vancouver, we are faced with more subtle challenges like boredom, complacency, comfortability, ignorance and over-access. My mantra is 'for every problem there is a peaceful and sustainable solution' which is where the ideas are seeded. It is within the abundance of creative young people we have the privilege to work with that these ideas come to life.   

How do you keep yourself aligned to your goals?  

I only make commitments I know I can keep and I only commit to things I'm passionate about. Every year I desire to see these young people I love, people I love on the other side heard and connected to supportive communities out here in Vancouver. My goals stay aligned because my kids over there have forever shifted my life; their resilience, commitment and willingness to work towards change leaves me no excuse to do anything different. 

List three people you admire, and why?  

Judy Anderson, my grandmother, and Lyn Lusi.

They are all incredibly strong and unwavering, committed women.

Judy Anderson is one of my mentors and a woman who holds many values, perspectives and understanding about life, faith and the world that very much align with my spirit. She is patient and humble yet wise and discerning. The amount she has taught me about holistic development, approach, belief and action has not only been words from her mouth but a lifestyle that breathes it.

My grandmother has made many sacrifices for our family. Her work ethic and dedication inspires me greatly. She was a pioneering women in the business world here in Vancouver but she's very quiet about her work, was never interested in receiving credit for her accomplishments (which are many) and has always done what is right for herself. She's going on 75 years young and she still won't retire... I like that.

Lyn Lusi was our Congo mom and an inspiration to many. Last year we lost her and the angels received her but not a day goes by where I don't reflect on the impact she had on my life. A woman who spoke several languages, was the vision behind HEAL Africa and lived her life for the betterment of others. Google her. I dare you.

Name one strength and one weakness. 

Strength: I love hard
Weakness: I love hard

As a young leader, what is the single activity or habit you do, that you recommend everyone else does?

Conversation. A lot of people only make time to converse with another individual they think they can get something from or can be of mutual benefit. Sometimes a word you share with another human being has a far greater impact than you'll ever know... And sometimes taking the time for a little human connection goes a long way. Give for the sake of giving, do not give to receive. 

Christine filming in Uganda

Christine filming in Uganda

Which tools, apps or resources do you live by?  

My favorite tool or form of communication is digital storytelling. I love to get other peoples stories on camera, or at least photographed and written.

Apps.. I'm an Instagram junky.. I don't think that it actually helps me in any way but it's a good creative outlet on those days I'm too busy to get into a real creative project. 

What is the strangest thing about you?  

I never book an accommodation, transportation or do background research before traveling to a new country or city.. I guess that's the adventurer in me - I enjoy landing in a new place and just figuring it out - I like the unknown.   

What is the single most important lesson you can share with our readers?  

It's my favorite quote and I remind myself of it everyday because I think it applies to everything; “Peace, not war. Generosity, not greed. Empathy, not hate. Creativity, not destruction. Everybody, not just us.”

How can people get in touch with you?
@chrstnemchelle on Instagram and Twitter
@meritamovement on Instagram and Twitter

Vancouver readers! 

Christine is hosting a VIP film screening of her documentary, Our Beloved Land on Thursday, October 3rd. You're invited to attend a night of spoken word, music, dance, and an advanced screening. Here's Christine's invitation to you to her Merita Movement VIP Access to Documentary Screening & Art Exhibition

The Young People Changing The World series asks young entrepreneurs to share their definitions of success, desired impact on the world and share their single most important lesson. 

My goal with this series is to inspire young leaders and entrepreneurs to take action. Be bold. Go after your dreams. Make a positive change in the world. 

Every Monday, I'll feature a new guest and their story. Have someone you'd love to see featured or have suggestions on questions I should ask? Send me an email.