Saturday 28 January 2012

First Aid Seminar with Cameroon's Red Cross

A secondary project I took on was organizing a two-part community health series for illiterate women in conjunction with the local chapter of Cameroon's Red Cross.

The Red Cross Ngaoundere chapter is full of dynamic staff and volunteers and they were more than open to extend their services. Their usual local development work includes organizing high school Red Cross clubs, providing first aid trainings and assistance, and sensitizing the community on physical health issues.

For our training series, a new population was targeted: illiterate mothers that spend the majority of the day in the household. They're the caretakers of their children and the whole neighborhood's children. They're the ones that will be teaching their treatments to others because let's face it, you eat chicken soup when you're sick because that's what your mother fed you as a child; you put aloe vera on burns because you had an aloe plant in your house growing up.

Today was our Basic First Aid session tailored specifically for everyday situations. The Red Cross holds a 5.000CFA ($10US) intensive month-long course, but everything was simplified into a 500CFA ($1US) one-day course of the need-to-know basics.

As most women were illiterate, the class was highly interactive and required no note-taking. We covered common problems such as motorbike burns (motobike is the main means transport in the city), tree falls (as children climb during mango season), and kitchen cuts (women spend hours in traditional kitchens).

The Red Cross members translated from French into the local language of Fulfulde and we discussed when individuals could handle accidents by themselves, when it would be appropriate to visit a traditional medicine man, and when it would be necessary to go to the hospital. Very culturally appropriate and the women loved it!

LinkBasic First Aid training with Ngaoundere's Red Cross chapter and local women

For more health-related workshop projects, please see my post on the Peace Corps Life Skills curriculum.

Sunday 22 January 2012

A2Empowerment Calabash Project with Teenage Girls

Last year, a primary school teacher named Esther found me and stated that she needed help: former female students and their friends kept dropping out of school due to pregnancy or poverty.

What first struck me about Esther is that she didn't ask for any kind of funding (which is usually expected when people find out that I'm here for development projects). I want to know if you have any kind of projects that can help these girls either get back in school or support their families. I don't want a handout for them; I want them have something more in their lives than nothing, she said. What further amazed me about Esther is that though she works six days a week as a teacher, she meets with the girls monthly to discuss everything from how to care for their children to how to make healthy choices in life.

Not soon after we met, I applied for a $200US pilot micro-loan project from the founders of A2Empowerment, a nonprofit designed to provide young women with tuition scholarships to complete high school (in Cameroon, students have to pay for tuition and uniforms on top of materials). The project would provide 10 girls with lessons and materials to learn how to design and carve calabashes as an income-generating activity. Ideally, the girls would reimburse the loan and then either save money for school and/or have money to support their families.

Fortunately, the project was approved and today was the first day of classes! All 10 girls showed up on time and a previous student during my tenure in Ngaoundere is teaching in the local language. Let's do this!

The 10 recipients of the A2Empowerment pilot micro-loan project learn how to design and carve calabashes
On an unrelated note, here is the Secretary of one of my VSLA groups, Hadidja! People love Obama here and they're always sporting his t-shirts!

Everybody has an Obama shirt here!

*As of July 2012, the original loan has been reimbursed and reinvested back into the calabash project and into A2Empowerment's scholarship program.  Four of the girls (including two young mothers) will be returning to high school in the 2012-2012 school year.  Nine girls have made the choice to continue the project.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Why Bring Goods to Market When You Can Bring the Market to the Goods? Peace Corps PACA Project Time!

In the outskirts of Ngaoundere, Cameroon lies the highly impoverished neighborhood of Mbideng, population 8,000 (estimation by community members). If anyone wants to buy goods, he or she has to motobike into town or to neighboring markets. However, what is paid for in transportation could buy a dozen tomatoes or a kilogram of rice each day!

Community members have wanted a market for 20 years and no one really knows why there hasn't been one. Thus, the traditional neighborhood chief, his wife, and I gathered with local leaders and organized a 10-person project management committee to lead the process of creating a community market.

In a previous meeting, I explained Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA), a community mobilization tool that has been utilized around the world. The PACA tools allow communities to target specific problems based on their qualifying needs. Thus, during a planning meeting, we created the Agenda for a large community meeting with PACA tools. As the meeting would be spoken mostly in Fulfulde, it was necessary that I spoke as little as possible! Without my knowledge, the committee members actually held another meeting to “practice” public speaking in front of everyone.

With the management committee for the Mbideng Market

Today was the awaited town hall meeting. At 7:30AM, I showed up and only 30 men were in the school room (this was after they told everyone to show up at 6:30AM/7AM and don’t be late!). Thank goodness, it was only "African time" and by 8:15AM, we were ready to go with over 150 attendees.

The schoolhouse was completely packed for the town hall

After the normal prayer and introductions, the project leader asked, "Why Are You Here?" to begin a dialogue. Community members agreed on the same reasons: waste of money to take transportation, tired of treking so far for basic foods, want of making their community great like the other communities, etc.

The first activity was Community Mapping in which the community members would draw a map of their neighborhood. Groups were split into Men, Women, and two groups of Young People (ones who worked and ones that went to school). The individual groups first drew a map with important landmarks such as schools, water sources, empty spaces, etc. before choosing the three best places for the market. After we reunited, each group explained their map and why they chose what they did.

The "Young People" group mapping out the community

Mariamou Souley, one of the projects secretary, taking attendance

The groups were separated again for the Daily Calender activity. Each group reflected and wrote down their activities throughout the day including prayer, school, work, market shopping, etc. Then they had to pick one day for the market (the market would be every day, but there is always one traditional large day). When we came back together, the women and two groups of young people had picked Wednesday, while the men had picked Monday. When asked what day would be best for the community, each group tried explaining again why they picked the day that they did. I finally stood up and said, "Let's try this again!" as everyone seemed to miss the obvious.

Me: What day does this group want (pointing at men's map)?

Community: Monday!

Me: And this group?

Community: Wednesday!

Me: And this group?

Community: Wednesday!

Me: And this group?

Community: Wednesday!

Me: So what's the best day for the market?

Community: Wednesday (laughter)!

Traditionally, men usually make all the decisions, but the men couldn’t say much after they were the only ones that wanted market day to be Monday and the other three groups chose Wednesday! The activities worked well as the community saw that women and youth were the ones most likely to go to the market, so they needed to have priority in choosing the location and day(s) for the market. There was also much debate, but at last, we were able to choose the top four spaces for the community with the women having priority in picking the space.

The community of Mbideng

A board member has already offered up his own land for a smaller market until the larger official space is acquired. Thus, there is currently a "petit marche" with women selling vegetables while the project committee is negotiating with landlords for the market spaces. Really great to see the community working together!

Friday 13 January 2012

Just Another Peace Corps Project

Woohoo! One of the first VSLA groups that I organized as a Peace Corps Volunteer finished their first cycle. The result? The women received a return on investment of over 15% on their savings on top of receiving small business loans and becoming unified as a group over the course of a year.

Over 80% of the 30 group members are illiterate and as 100% of the members do not have bank accounts, the micro-credit cooperative served as their only source of savings and access to capital. Good work, ladies!

Pauline was quite happy to give everybody their money

Plantains and fish to celebrate the year anniversary

Cameroonians like to call this the "family photo"