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Monday
Jul232012

Matching grant to bring clean water!

In 2011, the community of Baleveng approached Breaking Ground with a potential project. After commissioning a number of health studies to understand why so many people in their community were sick and then losing a child who drowned while fetching water in their local spring, the community had collectively decided to build a water pump and reservoir. When we met Baleveng's Development Committee they had already raised $2000. Paul and I were immediately impressed by this level of commitment.

Over the last year Breaking Ground, along with our partner organization Research Institute for Development (RIDEV), has spent time in Baleveng assessing the community's commitment, democratic process and readiness to undertake a project of this scale. The more we have learned, the more enthusiastic we have become about working with this community. 

Which is why I am thrilled to announce our partnership with One Day's Wages, which will enable Breaking Ground and the community of Baleveng, to build an electric pump and water reservoir. Breaking Ground will also work with (RIDEV) and local health centers to organize an educational program that will teach basic hygiene as well as water treatment techniques to comprehensively maximize the impact of the project. This project will not only improve the community’s health but will build the community’s confidence to envision, organize and implement future development projects. 

As we prepare to launch this project, we asked women in Baleveng for their thoughts on the project and its importance for the health and safety of the community.

Thérèse Mada, 51 - "When we began raising money to build the well three years ago, we hoped we would be able to solve the problem quickly. But we realized we would need to raise money for at least seven years. But then we met with Breaking Ground, and they brought us hope that we would be able to complete the well".

 

 

 

Madeline Nintidem, 74 - “In order to have water we have to walk. It takes half a day to get 20 liters of water. I used to take my young son with me to help draw the water, but since a child drowned at the well I cannot take the risk anymore. In the dry season, I have to go days without washing. The small amount of water I am able to draw from the well is just enough for drinking and cooking. If we could have water in our community it would be such a wonderful thing for us".


 

Mabelle Nguedia, 20 - "I often have to get up at 2 A.M. to make sure I am able to draw water for the day. Also, in the village there are many cases of disease caused by microbes in the water. It’s a huge risk for everyone, but we don’t have a choice. You need water to cook, to wash; water is life".


 

Josephine Djedjeu, 65 - "One year there was cholera very close to here. All the neighboring villages draw water here too, and we were too afraid, because bringing contaminated water here could cause everyone to get sick. When you think about it, it is terrifying".

 

 

To contribute to bringing healthy water to Baleveng and changing the lives of women like Mabelle and Josephine, please visit our campaign at One Day's Wages and see how you can help. For every $1 we raise, One Day's Wages will contribute $1.50. Together we can make an impact on the health of Baleveng for generations to come. 

Tuesday
Jul102012

Drama & Insight: Breaking Ground's 2012 Summer Reading List

We have gathered together a selection of book recommendations from Breaking Ground staff and volunteers. They range from techinical economics texts to the story of a woman in Maine, but all pertain to Breaking Ground's mission. We hope you find something here to take with you on your travels, or to curl up with on the beach. 

King Leopold's Ghost
Author: Adam Hochschild
Recommended By: Alex
Not for the faint of heart, this book tells the story of the Belgian involvement in the Congo, documenting the ambition, deception and cruelty that surrounded colonial rule of Africa by various European countries. It is very readable--though difficult to stomach-- full of interesting characters, vivid descriptions, drama, scandal and insight.

 

When Rain Clouds Gather
Author: Bessie Head 
Recommended By: Gaetan
The book, which is fiction, tells the story of a South African apartheid refugee as he tries to establish a new life in a small community in Botswana. The book deals with many themes relating to agricultural development and, more specifically, the struggle to introduce "modern" farming techniques in a society rooted in tradition. Additionally, the book examines women's roles (and the power and potential women hold to create change), both in agriculture and society in general.

Mountains Beyond Mountains
Author: Tracy Kidder 
Recommended By: Erin
This fantastic book traces the efforts of Paul Farmer to cure infectious diseases in Haiti. It is an outstanding account of the perseverance and commitment required for holistic development. A health care facility won't be successful if people don't have access to clean water or if people don't believe in the healing power of medicine. Farmer learns through his work that any significant change requires many smaller changes -- in education, sanitation, politics and policies.

Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout 
Recommended By: Erin
Olive Kittridge tells the story of a retired and often grumpy teacher who lives in Crosby, Maine. The book is not about Africa or nonprofits or agriculture, but its message is one that relates to Breaking Ground's mission: we're all a community. Whether it's a small Maine town or the big world, everyone is connected. Goodwill should be shared.

Standing Again at Siani
Author: Judith Plaskow
Recommended by: Becca

As a religion major, I have read a lot of different articles and some books which relate gender to religion. From these different sources, I have gained an understanding of how important women's empowerment is. In this book, Plaskow addresses the complex gender dynamics within Judaism and how Judaism and other religions can be transformed so that women can be treated as equals to men once and for all. This book was great to read because it helped me understand how essential it is for women to attain the same rights and status as men, and it shows how being a religious person and a feminist is not a contradiction.

Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
Author: Chandra Mohanty
Recommended By: Catherine
This is a fascinating read on feminist theory. It examines the complications of relationships between Western feminists and women in developing countries, focusing on the often-crossed line between supporting and empowering women and reinforcing colonial power structures. Mohanty offers numerous models for developing successful working relationships with women in the developing world without homogenizing cultures or falling back on paternalistic models. The engrossing case studies make the book a quick and interesting read, while still exploring transnational feminist theory in depth.

The Bottom Billion
Author: Paul Collier
Recommended By: Alex
If you are ready for a serious economics lesson and to really delve into the question of how aid and trade effect the lives of people in the "bottom billion," then this is a great place to start. Much of Collier's focus is on government policy which, though not a direct route of action for most people, is something important to understand as a responsible and involved citizen of a globalized world.

Poor Economics
Author: Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
Recommended By: Alex
I already mentioned this in an earlier blog post about microfinance, but because it is so applicable, I will mention it again. It documents the work of two economists to try and measure the real impacts of various development projects and in the process covers many topics relevent to Breaking Ground's work, especially discussing the importance of democratic community involvement. If you ever feel overwhelmed by the scale of global poverty and wonder if small projects can really make a difference, this is the book to lift your spirits--but with hard facts not empty platitudes.



 

 

Monday
Jun182012

Meet Breaking Ground's Summer Interns!

This summer, four enthusiastic young women have joined the Breaking Ground team as summer interns. They are working on a variety of outreach projects while learning what it takes to run a non-profit. Tointroduce you to them, we asked them each some questions about their work with the organization, their future plans, and what they’re looking forward to this summer!

Name: Brittney Norton

School: University of Maine at Farmington

Hometown: Limerick, ME

What really drew me to Breaking Ground was how different it was than most NGOs. Rather than just donating money, Breaking Ground gives Cameroonians the resources they need to create a better future for themselves. I am really excited to see how the events turn out, especially our Yogathon! After I graduate I plan to continue studying abroad, go to graduate school, and hopefully join the Peace Corps. 

My favorite thing about summer is going kayaking! I have always lived on the water, so there is no place I feel more at home.  It is also one of the most peaceful places on Earth for me, especially at sunrise or sunset.

 

Name: Gaetan Davis 

School: Smith College

Hometown: Brunswick Maine

As an Anthropology/African Studies major, I am very interested in learning about issues related to development in Africa. I was attracted to Breaking Ground because of their firm commitment to grassroots development, an approach that I believe fosters sustainable development, so I'm excited to have the opportunity to observe the inner workings of an NGO!

I will be studying abroad all of next year in Florence, Italy. Ideally, I would love to go to graduate school for international development. In the meantime though, I hope to continue enjoying my absolute favorite summer tradition of going to Popham Beach in Phippsburg, ME. Every summer my family and I spend the majority of our sunny Saturdays combing the beach for sand dollars and trying to swim in the freezing water. A perfect beach day always ends with a barbecue! 

 

Name: Becca Manning

School: Colorado College

Hometown: Cape Elizabeth, Maine

I wanted to intern with Breaking Ground so that I could really try to make a difference in Cameroonian communities. I was really drawn to the goal of empowering theses communities with resources so they will be able to achieve lasting solutions to many pressing issues, such as improving water sources and improving conditions at births so that the women and children can avoid complications. I've taken many Feminist and Gender studies classes at Colorado College, and gender issues are really important and interesting to me. I'm excited to see how Breaking Ground addresses these issues, and to see in what ways I can help this cause.

I will hopefully be studying abroad in Chile next spring, and hope to work for a non-profit after I graduate. My favorite summer tradition is going to a friend's lake house on Ossipee Lake with other friends. It's so much fun to have nothing to worry about and just relax by the lake with friends and family!

 

Name: Catherine Schetina

School: Scripps College

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA 

I wanted to intern with Breaking Ground because I really admire their unique, community based approach to international development. I am studying Women in Religion, and am interested in working in international women’s empowerment, so this seemed like a great opportunity to see how that would work in practice. 

In addition to Women in Religion, I am majoring in American Literature and will be studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh next semester. After, I graduate I hope to get a dual degree in Law and Public Policy and work for the state department as a consultant on women’s rights in the Middle East. For now though, I plan to learn all I can about the ins and outs of running a non-profit and to enjoy my favorite summer tradition of traveling with my family and getting to spend time with my brothers, who I don’t see very much when I’m away at school.

 

Friday
May042012

The Building Blocks of Breaking Ground

Students of School for International Study in Spring 2004.

Lindsay Clarke, Sarah Oxford, and I met while studying abroad on SIT’s program in Cameroon during the spring of 2004. After the semester was over, we knew that we wanted to return to Cameroon and contribute to the communities that had welcomed us so openly.

The lessons we learned and the friendships we made during that semester have contributed to building Breaking Ground from a set of dreams and good intentions to a committed, efficient, and effective nonprofit organization that has made a tangible difference in the lives of more than 35,000 Cameroonians.

During our program with SIT, we were introduced to a vast array of development strategies through the program’s curriculum; the strategies ranged from those employed by Peace Corps volunteers to those commonly used by large international nonprofits. In building Breaking Ground, we tried to take the best aspects of all these different approaches.

Even more influential than the classroom curriculum, was the program’s focus on homestays and independent research. As students, we were encouraged to integrate into the community, go out on a limb, and be open to new connections. The program’s emphasis on listening, respect, and relationship-building fostered genuine connections and directly influenced Breaking Ground’s mission and working methods.

The defining principle of Breaking Ground is that Cameroonians know best what they need and that it is not our place to come in with unilateral solutions. Breaking Ground partners with Cameroonians to achieve lasting solutions to their self-identified needs by investing in local knowledge, empowering women, and promoting economic development. We spend time with community members, earning their trust, learning about their struggles, and providing a forum for them to accomplish their goals.

Alex speaking with participants in Folepi in June 2011.

To date, we have partnered with seven different communities on a wide range of construction projects, including a bridge over the Menouet River and a preschool in the village of Keuleng. We are currently fundraising for a water pump for the community of Baleveng.

In addition to community projects, Breaking Ground also runs capacity building programs. Our Women’s Entrepreneurial Program in Dschang teaches women basic business skills and provides access to low-interest loans to begin or expand women-owned businesses.  In the southwest region, we are in the pilot stages of a multi-faceted program to strengthen local revenue through palm oil and cocoa production.

Breaking Ground’s organizational focus on women’s empowerment is a direct result of having spent hours huddled over hot fires helping our host mothers prepare couscous and gumbo, watching these strong and loving women toil tirelessly to nourish their extended families on a bare-bones budget.

SIT fostered in us an enduring respect and affection for the people and culture of Cameroon at the same time as it exposed us to the complexities and struggles of working in development. It is clear from the number of SIT alumni who contact us asking to help—to donate, fundraise, or volunteer their time—that our experience is not unique, and that SIT Cameroon inspires in its students a responsible and heartfelt engagement with development, long after the semester is over.

By Alex Moore, alumna of SIT’s Cameroon: Social Pluralism and Development program
Executive Director, Breaking Ground

Monday
Apr302012

Paul's Reflections, a Year Into the Program

 Jessica, Chymene and Paul at the business of Therese Tonfack Dongmo.

In Cameroon, women have historically been very active in generating income through activities such as sewing, agriculture, "bayam sellam" (those who buy and resell), running small shops, hair dressing and more. Because of a lack of education and access to finances, these activities have generally remained small-scale, providing a very minimal income.

Women were especially recognized for their contribution to small and medium enterprises in the 1980s when Cameroon faced a severe economic crisis and many men lost their jobs or had their wages reduced. In many families, survival depended upon the women's extraordinary ability to capture any opportunity in the informal sector. 

It is in this context that Breaking Ground launched the Women's Entrepreneurial Program to teach women how to manage businesses and to provide them with access to reduced financing rates on loans. So far, more than 55 women in Dschang have been trained, and 32 have received loans.

To ensure sustainability, we have joined with private partners to provide micro financing. We charge 5 percent interest, compared to the 12 to 18 percent charged by banks. We also want to avoid leading recipients into a cycle of debt. That's why we examine every proposed enterprise's potential profitability, debt load and risk. We want women to better manage the money they have and develop their line of credit. Also, as grantees pay back their loans, the money is used in a cycle to continue financing other women's business projects.

Our partner non-profits and micro-finance groups play very important roles in the program. In the beginning, Breaking Ground and local partner NGOs establish the relationship between women entrepreneurs and the financial institution. But later, once women have successfully paid back their loan, they will work directly with the bank to possibly obtain another loan if needed. We hope the women will use the confidence they gained in the Women's Entrepreneurial Program, plus their enhanced credit record, to obtain the second loan.

We conduct visits with the women after the program ends, and so far we have observed that all the women, including the ones that did not receive funding, are building on the lessons learned in the program. One year after the launch of the program in Dschang, women appear to have a great enthusiasm for it, and other cities have asked for the program to be expanded. In six months we will thoroughly assess this program and study the direct impacts it has had on the community.

By: Paul Zangue, Program Director
Translated from the original French 

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