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Sunday
Oct282012

Peace Corps partnership strengthens Breaking Ground

Meet Jessica Veldman, a Peace Corps volunteer who worked with Breaking Ground in Cameroon for about a year and a half, from Jan. 2011 to July 2012. As one of many accomplishments, Jessica played a significant role in Breaking Ground's Women's Entrepreneurial Program in Dschang where she worked with Chymène, the course instructor, and Paul to develop the course. Thank you, Jessica!

How did you spend your time in Cameroon?

I was in Cameroon for 26 months as a community economic development Peace Corps volunteer. Basically I had the freedom to create my own schedule and work with whom I wanted. So I worked a lot with an orphanage in Dschang, a blind center, the prison, and a lot with Breaking Ground.

Describe your work with Breaking Ground.

In terms of teaching, I taught Chymene (the Breaking Ground business class formatrice) the business concepts that she in turn taught all the women in the business classes. I also developed and taught very basic business concepts to mainly illiterate women in the valley of the southwest region of Cameroon.
You taught others and must also have learned a lot yourself.

I learned a lot during the first few months of working with Breaking Ground in terms of how to work in Cameroon. I had to develop a manual on how to train illiterate women basic business concepts and find different games and tools to illustrate everything I said. I also learned a lot about Cameroon's culture. Paul Zangue, Breaking Ground's program director, helped me so much. He also helped me make connections, which was really important to me. I tried to stay away from actually teaching the business classes with GADD. I would go for support, but I mainly wanted Chymene to be able to teach on her own so that the program would carry on when I left.

What are you doing now that you're back in the U.S.?

I am currently getting an International MBA, concentrating on French. I'm also working my way through grad school as a graduate assistant. 

Do you think of Cameroon now that you're back?

I look back on my time in Cameroon quite often. I've only been gone for a couple months, so it's still very fresh in my mind. I think it was a very positive experience for me. I loved everyone I met. I loved the work I did. I highly recommend the Peace Corps to anyone. I am so grateful for the experience and feel as though I am a better person as a result of it.

Why do you think development work is important?

The reason I loved working with Breaking Ground was because the business classes were sustainable. The techniques the women learned made a huge impact on their business practices, which then influenced their own economic situation. The micro loans changed some of these women's lives. I saw firsthand what some of them were able to do with that money. More importantly, I saw their own sense of empowerment. Women in Cameroon usually take the back seat to men. However, during those classes, you could see that they felt more confident in themselves and understood that they could do so much if they wanted. It was amazing to see that change.

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