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Wednesday
May042011

Celebrating Cameroonian Mothers

Paul Zangue, Program Manager, with his family.

"Mothers’ Day is not celebrated in Cameroon, but mothers are a symbol which we respect and honor every day. On top of their traditional roles, Cameroonian mothers are gradually taking on more and more responsibilities. In Cameroon, women are increasingly becoming the head of the household and making the main contribution to family expenses because the husband is unemployed or makes an insufficient income. The Enquête Auprès des Ménages Camerounais (Cameroonian Household Survey) conducted in 2006, found that children raised in households where the mother is head of the household have a better likelihood of receiving a good education and are in better health. Even in households where the husband also earns income, the woman often takes full responsibility for raising the children and earns an independent income to pay for the costs of school and healthcare.

To accomplish this role, women often engage in small shops and other small businesses like selling donuts, farming, hairdressing or sewing. However, in their efforts to care for their families, they are still limited by the resources and opportunities available to them.

This is where the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program comes in.  In Cameroon’s rapidly changing society, where the lack of infrastructure seriously jeopardizes the future of children in this country, one wonders whether a greater involvement of mothers, with their sense of fairness and their foresight, would not ensure a better future for their children and grandchildren."

--Paul Zangue

 

Alex Moore, Executive Director, at the home of Miriamou in N’gaoundéré

"Though the roles of women differ between the different regions, throughout Cameroon Les Mamans
are the heart and soul of a Cameroonian family. Often responsible for raising not only their own
children, but the children of their neighbors and family members, a Cameroonian mother is ready to
feed an army at the drop of a hat. For example, Miriamou (pictured above, center) cooks a large pot of
something delicious (perhaps Folere with cous cous) every day, and gladly shares it with whoever drifts into her kitchen. She welcomes younger girls into her home for help with sewing, for advice, for support during illness. To help with family expenses she sews from home, as well as selling bags of frozen juice to the kids in her neighborhood.

Cameroonian mothers are the definition of strong women, juggling multiple roles and receiving very
little recognition (financial or otherwise). They toil long hours in their fields, cook in front of smoky
fires, can roll scalding hot sugar with their fingers or cut red onions without crying. In addition they may be a full time teacher, a student, a mother of four, and still manage to be impeccably dressed.

Most importantly, a Cameroonian mother will take great pride in fattening up her American daughter with an endless supply of plantains, avocados, macabo, beans and rice."

-- Alex Moore

Friday
Apr292011

Transparency Matters

 

A couple of weeks ago, the journalist Jon Krakuer published an article, 3 Cups of Deceit, that critiqued Greg Mortensen, his Bestseller, 3 Cups of Tea, and his nonprofit, The Central Asia Institute (CAI). If you are unaware of the story, in short the accusations are that CAI has been mismanaged, donor dollars misused, and that much of their "Founding Story" is more fiction than reality. The ensuing media debates have illuminated many of the reasons why international development is a complicated field but also reaffirmed the guidelines upon which Breaking Ground operates.

Respect: Breaking Ground's work is founded in respect for the communities that we work with. This is why we use local solutions and local expertise rather than importing our own technologies and ideas. We see our role as mediators, able to harness the resources our partner communities need.

Size matters: To work effectively with a community, you need to really know that community, listen to them, and care about them. This cannot happen if you are concerned with helping as many communities as possible, as fast as possible. Large aid organizations have their place, but when it comes to long term sustainability, we believe a small scale, intimate approach is more effective.

Accountability:  The role of this blog, our monthly newsletters and our annual mailings is to keep you, our donors and supporters, informed of our progress on the ground and show how your dollars go into action.  As Breaking Ground has grown we have come to rely less on the work of a few individuals and have matured into an organization that includes a team of volunteers, two staff members and an active board. Funding decisions are made collectively and with careful oversight.

Professionalism: Like many nonprofits we started with a set of good intentions, the trust of close family and friends, and little business experience. Also like many non-profits, we started out with no employees and were fueled by caffeine, sleepless nights and volunteers. This is not sustainable, and doesn’t allow for the kind of professional commitment necessary to ensure our programs have good oversight. Which leads into...

Efficiency of Dollars: Often non-profits are judged by the ratio of the dollars used on projects, to the dollars used on administration. This is fair and necessary.  However, good development takes long term commitment with a community, research, cautious progress and evaluation. All of these steps cost money, but are not as instantly gratifying as building a school. They also may not create as good of a dollar to dollar ratio for projects to administration.

Transparency: Currently our 990s are available on our website, but we have started to put up more reader friendly charts, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. We have also posted the evaluation that we funded in April 2010.  This evaluation was conducted by The Research Insitute for Development and outlines clearly what they consider to be our strengths, whilst openly making suggestions for improvements.

Please feel free to call or email me if you have any questions about our 990s, our evaluation or our approach.

Alex Moore
Executive Director

Tuesday
Apr052011

$26,000 grant will provide loans to women in Dschang!

On April 7th, we will begin teaching our first Women's Entrepreneurial Program (WEP) in Dschang. Twenty-seven women are signed up for the course, which will cover basic business skills such as bookkeeping, marketing and feasability studies.

This class also marks the beginning of our microfinance program.  Since the launch of the WEP in 2007, we have offered grants to a number of women in each class.  These grants have helped launch and expand successful businesses, ranging from hairstyling boutiques to pig farming.

However, since the beginning of 2010 we have been planning ways to make this program sustainable.  For the program in Dschang, we have partnered with the Groupement d'Appui de Developpement Durable (GADD) and three different microfinance institutions.  The curriculum has been expanded to include visits to our partner banks and guidance through the process of applying for, and repaying, a loan. 

Thanks to a generous grant of $26,000 from The Flanigan Family Foundation, Breaking Ground will provide the capital for loans to 20 women in 2011. We have negotiated an extremely low interest rate and will work closely with each woman to support her as she repays. As the women repay their loans, this will go towards capital that can then be leant out to other WEP graduates. In 4 years time, this program will be truly sustainable.

This new program has been in the works for almost a year and we are thrilled to see it finally launching.  Thank you Flanigan Family Foundation!

Monday
Jan312011

The Women of Nkong

In January, Breaking Ground ran a pilot Women's Entrepreneurial Program, in the village of Nkong.  The class, taught by Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Veldman and Agronomy Engineer Sandrine Djomo, covered basic entrepreneurial ideas and began a conversation about crop diversification and better farming practices. 

In the coming months, Paul, working with Sandrine and other agricultural specialists, will work to adapt our Women's Entrepreneurial Program, which currently serves an urban population, to the needs of Nkong and the neighboring villages. Once our plans are finalized, we will begin fundraising in earnest. 

The women of Nkong are enthusiastic and energized and we are excited to continue to work with them. We hope that the dialogue started this January will be ongoing and that this class will be the first of many.

 

 

Monday
Jan312011

President Biya: "Agriculture Is Our Wealth."

Earlier this month, Program Director Paul Zangue, attended the National Agro-Pastoral Conference in Ebolowa. The event was the first of its kind since 1988.

This conference showcased Cameroon's agricultural potential and provided an opportunity for farmers and law makers to discuss plans for the future.  President Paul Biya gave the keynote speech, in which he expressed the need to increase Cameroon's productivity, especially sugar and  palm oil.  He outlined the various challenges faced by Cameroonian farmers, all of which sounded very familiar: poor roads for transporting crops, low yields, and lack of access to improved, high yield strains.

President Biya pledged financial support to the modernization of Cameroon's agricultural sector.  We only hope that his support takes into account the advice of the Rainforest Alliance, and goes towards financing sustainable, environmentally sound programs, that empower the farmers.