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Tuesday
Jul162013

Reflections on Cameroon: Two sides to the same organization

I believe that some things can only be learned through experience. Undoubtedly, we each have our own ways of learning, and therefore I cannot deny the immense impact that has come out of my first experience in Cameroon with Breaking Ground. Walking through a village, seeing and hearing all the many ways of welcoming and greeting people, the smells of regional cooking, and the numerous sounds that fill the air from people to birds all still linger in my mind since returning. The feel of sitting on a train watching the Cameroonian sky change from afternoon to dusk to darkness created a connection to the land that no photo ever could. And hearing the story secondhand of how a woman’s tailoring business has prospered will never equal the experience of actually sitting in her shop listening to her describe the impact it has had on her life.   

Add to this the feeling of meeting and spending three weeks with Paul, an amazingly competent and critical Program Director, and I have a lot to be appreciative of and look forward to in my work with Breaking Ground. Alex’s presence on the trip was invaluable as well, and served to convey the history of programs and relationships with various communities and projects. It is obvious that Breaking Ground has forged many effective relationships at many levels in Cameroon. There is good and meaningful work happening on the ground and there is also effective relationship-building happening in the United States. These two efforts go hand in hand and are what I am most motivated by as I begin my work in earnest with Breaking Ground, as I know that stepping into an organization is about more than just the fieldwork. Thankfully, Paul has reinforced Breaking Ground as a competent, collaborative organization working with other NGOs and he keeps the interests of individual community members and program participants wholeheartedly at the forefront of his work. Not only was I able to see some of the need that this organization works to alleviate, but I was also able to experience the impact of our programs.

I am incredibly excited about these first memories of Cameroon and hold them closely as I dive into the US side of our work. You can get a sense of some of these memories and experiences from this first trip on both Flikr and Facebook. Thank you for the warm welcome and I look forward to your continued support and interest in Breaking Ground.

-- Kierstyn 

 

Tuesday
Jun112013

An exciting time for Breaking Ground

It may sound cliché to say, but this is an exciting time for Breaking Ground and I am lucky to be stepping into the organization at this moment. For me, the opportunity to lead Breaking Ground represents a way to be a part of creating change, in both Cameroon and the U.S. As we collectively work to build and strengthen communities in Cameroon, it's equally as important to make sure that we are building a strong and collaborative organization in the States. I see Breaking Ground’s work as a bridge between an intentional, healthy nonprofit and the many motivated, skillful Cameroonian communities.  

There is always a lot of work ahead and I am thrilled to be able to start this transition with Alex in Cameroon. I can think of no better way to learn about Breaking Ground’s work and partnerships than to do so in person with her and Paul and everyone else who has been doing so much of this meaningful work. It’s important for me to take the role of listener, learner, and observer to grasp as much as I can while there so I can return to the States and continue to build on the momentum that has been generated since the organization began. None of this work can be done alone and I look forward to partnering, collaborating, and reaching out to you all for your support. In the meantime, follow along as Alex and I spend the rest of June in Cameroon together with Paul. 

--Kierstyn Hunter

Tuesday
Jun112013

Breaking Ground welcomes a new executive director

We are delighted to introduce our new executive director, Kierstyn Hunter, who comes to us with an impressive background in social work and nonprofit development. Through her previous work, education, and volunteering, she has shown a commendable commitment to sustainability and social justice -- values essential to Breaking Ground’s mission.

Kierstyn began traveling internationally at the age of 6 and is currently earning her doctorate in sustainability education from Prescott College. She most recently worked as a consultant for nonprofits in Seattle, W.A. and Portsmouth, N.H.

At the same time, she worked as a residential manager for a housing and homeless shelter in New Hampshire called New Generation Inc., where she provided case management for pregnant or newly parenting women. Previously, she served in the same organization's health outreach program as coordinator and redesigned the prenatal, parenting education, and women’s health program, while providing grant support to the development director.

Between 2007 and 2009, she helped establish a nonprofit in Seattle called iLEAP: The Center for Critical Service, which runs a fellowship program for international leaders from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. She also served as a program assistant with VISTA at Antioch University in Seattle. There, she was part of a team that secured $6 million in federal funding for a partnership between the university and a Native American tribe to address substance abuse issues with native youth. 

Kierstyn holds a bachelor’s degree in global studies from Long Island University and a master’s degree in whole systems design from Antioch University's Center for Creative Change.

In addition to being a kind, thoughtful leader, she is not afraid to challenge herself in her work and personal life. She is a long-distance runner and bicyclist, has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, SeacoastLocal, and Eco-Movement/Zero Waste, and previously served as an HIV/AIDS and peer education intern in North Carolina.

In the coming weeks. Kierstyn will be working with Alex and Paul in Cameroon and getting to know our operations and staff there. Please give a warm welcome to Kierstyn!

Monday
Jun032013

State of the Union

This June, Breaking Ground is the featured program of Dining for Women, a dinner circle that aims to empower women and girls through collective giving. Over the course of the month, chapters around the country will meet to share a meal, learn about our work in Cameroon, and make donations to support Breaking Ground's Women's Empowerment Program in the Lebialem Valley.

Breaking Ground was founded with a vision of creating concrete change through connecting communities across cultures, so I look forward to sharing stories about Cameroon and our work with the Dining for Women members.

In preparation for the month, one Dining for Women chapter leader asked me to summarize Breaking Ground's current position. As we are yet to finish our Annual Report for 2012, here is an abbreviated, “state of the union” for Breaking Ground in June of 2013.

Current projects:

We have three main activities underway: the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program in Dschang, the Baleveng Water Project, and the Investing in Agriculture program in the villages of Bechati, Bangang, Folepi, Nkong, and Lewoh, which includes a Women’s Entrepreneurial Program especially designed to meet the needs of an agricultural population. The funds raised by Dining for Women this month will all go towards this second Women’s Entrepreneurial Program in the southwest.

Colette Kopa, one of our loan recipients, in the doorway of her tailor shop

The Baleveng Water Project is well underway, and we hope the construction element will be completed in June. To learn more about the importance of this project, please read our quotes from women of the community and to see current progress, please visit the project's flickr album.

Success stories:

In 2008 Breaking Ground partnered with the F4 communities to build the Menuet River Bridge. This March these communities gathered together to complete maintenance of the road leading to the bridge. It is wonderful to see the bridge that we built being so well taken care of and to see all members of the community involved. This continued engagement and community spirit is a perfect example of why we partnered with these villages in the first place and why we emphasize the importance of community-initiated projects.

The F4 communities working together to maintain the road 

Last month, in collaboration with the Research Institute for Development (RIDEV), we hosted our first leadership training workshop in the southwest valley. Forty people from five different villages showed up for the day-long seminar. More than three years ago, Breaking Ground and RIDEV had the idea that RIDEV’s capacity-building experience could be combined with our financing and project management resources to provide a holistic community development approach. It is very satisfying to see that seed of an idea come to fruition, and I hope it is just the beginning.


Our first leadership workshop

Challenges:

As we grow our programs, we are also growing the infrastructure to support those programs. In June we are welcoming a new, full-time executive director. This will increase our fundraising capacity and make sure that all our programs have the careful oversight and evaluation that they need to deliver measurable results. Additionally, over the last year we completed the long and arduous process of becoming officially registered in Cameroon. This will enable us to partner more widely in Cameroon and increase our visibility. It also means that now, in addition to the salaries, office space, and utilities that we already paid each year, we must pay taxes in Cameroon.

Looking forward:

Over the coming months, we intend to carry out a full evaluation of our Women’s Entrepreneurial Program in Dschang. Now in its third year, this program has been very popular in Dschang, and we hope to replicate the model in other cities soon.

Monday
Apr222013

Amuse Bouche: Fusing Arts and Activism

 

On International Women's Day, the entrepreneurs of Breaking Ground's Women's Entrepreneurial Program (WEP) marched proudly in Dschang. In Cameroon, this holiday is celebrated much more widely and publicaly than in the states and the women we spoke to this year emphasized the importance of solidarity. As articulated by Colette Tchagna, a tailor who received funding from Breaking Ground: "It is important to strengthen the relationships between women; this day creates the opportunity to make new friends and meet new colleagues."

"It is a day for trying to resolve the problems facing women, but also a day for displaying our know-how" said Vivienne Anezi, another recent WEP graduate. In line with this spirit of collaboration and celebration of skill, Breaking Ground celebrated International Women's Day in Brooklyn with Amuse Bouche a variety benefit show that showcased some of the hottest talent in New York's diverse performance communities and raised money for the WEP.

Summer Lacy performs In The Red

Like every Breaking Ground endeavour, this event succeeded thanks to the commitment and teamwork of many generous individuals: Angela Buccini of The Muse, Madeline Hoak of Upsidown Productions, Kiebpoli Calnek of Black*Acrobat and of course all of the talented performers.

Kiebpoli Calnek said this about the event:

Women throughout the world have been marginalized through economic, social, and political means to a detrimental effect on society as a whole. To unite over a common goal on International Women's Day with a non-profit organization that provides leadership and business skills to women is congruous to Black*Acrobat’s mission of fusing arts and activism. In Amuse Bouche, Black*Acrobat showcased black artists through hosting, spoken word, opera, beat rhyming, aerial, and production. 

The event prominently featured works by black, queer, and female artists. During the course of the evening I was captivated by the spoken word of Charan P. Morris, seduced by Sweet Lorraine, and awed by the aerial grace of Summer Lacy. I laughed at Hanna Mandelbaum's hilarious Worlds Weirdest Dog Food Commercial and was moved by Heather Hammond's beautiful tribute to her wife's triumphant battle with cancer. All of the performers impressed and amazed the packed house. To experience some of the evening for yourself, please visit Breaking Ground's  flickr page.

Amuse Bouche raised just under $1000 for our programs. I hope that this is the first of many events with these companies and similarly motivated arts organizations, celebrating our collective skills and collaborating to effect real change in Cameroon as well as provide a platform for progressive and exciting performance. 

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