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Monday
Jan312011

Breaking Ground Turns Five!

 

On January 12, 2006, I stepped off a plane in Douala and was engulfed by the city’s thick humidity. I was fresh out of college, spoke mediocre French, and I had no idea that the months ahead of me would so profoundly change my life, or the lives of so many others.

For many of you, the story of what happened next is a familiar one. (Those of you who haven’t heard it can read it here and watch it here.) In short, I didn’t go to Cameroon to start Breaking Ground. Five years ago this past Friday, I sent an email out asking for donations to help Doumbouo’s primary school. I didn’t see the project as anything larger than itself: a way to help one community fulfill their dream of improving their children’s school. “Breaking Ground” was simply the name of the blog I’d created to tell my friends and family about the project and encourage them to contribute.

Donations began flooding in, and on January 31st, I learned that my parents had received over $1000 in just two days from our family members, friends, and neighbors. So when, exactly, was Breaking Ground born? For me, the moment is clear. Exactly five years ago today, sitting in a dusty, archaic “cyber” cafe, I opened my inbox to read that a colleague of my father’s, whom I had neither met nor heard of, was sending a check for $100. Suddenly, and to my surprise, the project in Doumbouo had grown beyond just a personal undertaking. By the merging of my host community’s enthusiasm and determination with the compassion and generosity of people who were, to me, perfect strangers, something bigger had begun. That something was Breaking Ground.

Five years ago, the news of that $100 donation reduced me to tears in the cyber. While a lot has changed since then, I am still touched by the news of every single contribution. Though we have received funding from two foundations, and are pursuing further grants, our community of individual donors is still the bedrock of the organization. As our circle of supporters grows to include individuals from all around the globe, we have begun to expand our work with new agricultural programs. In everything we do, our focus is long-term sustainability and grassroots community participation. We have big plans for the next five years.

For all we've done and all we hope to do, thank you for making our work possible.

On est ensemble (Together),

Wednesday
Dec082010

Breaking Ground partners with RIDEV

Breaking Ground has formally signed a partnership with the Research Institute for Development. Based in Bamenda, Cameroon, RIDEV is an NGO dedicated to using a participatory approach to ascertain communities’ most pressing needs and identify appropriate solutions.

In the last year RIDEV has helped us assess community mobilization and evaluated all our previous projects. In the future we will be working with RIDEV to design project selection criteria and integrate capacity building into our community partnerships.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Pilot program focuses on southwestern Cameroon

This September, after many months of research, BreakingGround launched a pilot agricultural program in the villages of Folepi and Nkong. The pilot, which will transition farmers to more productive species of palm and cocoa trees, is a vital steptoward developing a larger program in the Wabane-Alou valley of southwest Cameroon.

The majority of families who live in the valley rely on income from palm oil and cocoa. While men are responsible for harvesting the palm nuts, men and women work together during the extraction of the red palm oil. Women, helped by adolescent girls, are exclusively responsible for cracking the palm kernels and extracting the palm kernel oil. Often, siblings like Mathias and Catherine (pictured above), work together to collect the palm nuts and cocoa pods from their land.

In October, despite heavy rains, Breaking Ground Program Director Paul Zangue worked with the villagers of Folepi and Nkong to set up a palm tree nursery in each village. We are also working with the National Agricultural Research Institute for Development, which has provided cocoa pods as part of a national sustainable agriculture program. By the end of the year, both villages will have a nursery of these improved cocoa pods.

In adition, we will train farmers in plantation management and begin a Women’s Entrepreneurial Program adapted to the needs of these agricultural communities. Classes will cover crop diversification,
family budgeting, and maternal and infant health. After the completion of the pilot, we hope to expand our work to other villages in the valley and provide loans for mechanized palm oil presses. These communities are motivated and excited to learn new methods, increase their income, and invest in their collective needs: potable water, passable roads, and better schools.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Microloans, Major Impact

Belembi wants to raise quail. Melanie wants to open a hair salon. Djenabou wants to sell cow’s milk. Thanks to Breaking Ground’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Program, these aspiring female business owners are getting the chance to realize their goals, earning crucial income for themselves and their families.

The WEP empowers Cameroonian women to overcome poverty by providing training, startup capital, and guidance as they start their own small businesses. The eight-week business course teaches feasibility studies, marketing, budgeting, cost analysis, and leadership. Breaking Ground has partnered with the Community Research and Development Center in Ngaoundéré, which provides classroom space. Several women from each course will be chosen to receive microloans. Projects will be selected based on need and creativity, with a focus on businesses that fill a niche within the community and participants from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Launched in 2006, the program hastrained 150 women and financed 22 small enterprises to date.

To ensure the WEP’s sustainability, Breaking Ground is transitioning from startup grants to microloans. This change will allow women to build relationships with financial institutions, opening the door to additional loans to expand their businesses in the future. Loan repayments will be reinvested in future projects, benefiting not only the current participants, but also women enrolled in the program
for years to come.

The new courses will include visits to local microfinance institutions, familiarizing women with the loan process.  Women will work under close observation from Breaking Ground staff as they build their business, work with the financial institutions and repay the loans.

Breaking Ground hopes to expand the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program to other regions in Cameroon, adjusting the model based on the needs of the local population.

Tuesday
Dec072010

Keuleng School Nears Completion

For years, villagers in Keuleng, situated in the western province of Cameroon, struggled with the lack of a preschool. Young children from the village had to attend school in the much larger city of Dschang.

The village collectively decided that the construction of a tworoom preschool building, which would also serve as a community center, would greatly benefit not only the children but also the entire village and surrounding area. After more than 18 years of savings, villagers succeeded in constructing the building’s foundation and beams.

In November 2009, thanks to a generous grant from the Obakki Foundation, Breaking Ground worked side by side with the village leadership of Keuleng to re-launch construction. In the last year the walls have gone up, the floors have been cemented, and the roof has been put in place.

Now that the structure is complete, the government has agreed to hire teachers and start operating the school. All that remains is for us to raise funds for the finishing touches. Among other details, we still need to purchase tables and chairs and glass windows to protect students from the dust that rises from the nearby road. We are so close to making this 20-year dream a reality.

“Two years ago when my older son was in preschool, he got lost in town and the entire village had to go out to look for him,” says Paul Sonkeng. “As a parent, it’s terrifying to think that everyday your children are far from home in a large town they’re unfamiliar with and you can’t be nearby if there’s trouble. My dream is for my youngest to start school next year here in village, at the Keuleng Preschool.”