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Entries in entrepreneurs (3)


Celebrating International Women's Day: Support for Female Entrepreneurs

Today in Dschang, the women from our entrepreneurial program will be proudly marching together, in celebration of International Women’s Day. I was excited to learn that the women had decided to march, because it exemplifies the spirit of mutual support and collective confidence building that are some of our program’s underlying objectives. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of the participants with Chymène, the class instructor, and saw firsthand the bond that has developed between the instructor and her students, and her pride at their success.  

Many of the participants in the course only had a minimal amount of formal education, and are unused to the formality of tests and homework. Chymène is patient with the women and carefully goes over each week’s work, ensuring that all the women understand each lesson. The section of the curriculum which is most difficult for many is accounting and Chymène was particularly proud to show me the women who now carefully record their daily income and expenses in their books.

When I asked the women what had been the most difficult aspect of the course, almost all agreed that the real challenge was not the class work, but putting that theoretical knowledge into practical use in their own businesses, and that they were grateful for the continual support and advice that Chymène provides. Chymène meets each woman at least once a month to go over their accounts and discuss any growing pains the business may be experiencing. Above, she is at the store of Justine Ndjanbong, watching as students come to purchase food on their way home from school.

So far 55 women have graduated from the class, and registration is under way for the next session. Of the women who have graduated, 16 received loans in September and 16 more are in the process of opening accounts. I hope that, as the program continues, these successful entrepreneurs will become mentors for young women in Dschang looking to start businesses, providing a vision of financial competence and independence, as well as guiding young women through the difficult first steps of launching an entreprise.

Members of Breaking Ground's Women's Entrepreneurial Program marched Thursday, March 8, in Dschang to celebrate International Women's Day.


Turning hopes into goals

In February I will be traveling back to Cameroon to meet the latest grant recipients, visit the new nurseries and discuss the nuts and bolts of our programs with Paul and our partner organizations. My most important task, however, will be to listen.

The defining principle of Breaking Ground is that Cameroonians know best what they want and need and that it is not our place to come in with unilateral solutions. Much of our work, therefore, is to spend time with community members, earning their trust, learning about their struggles, and providing a forum for them to transform their hopes into goals.

Around the holiday season, those of us lucky enough to live in relative prosperity are often reminded that we take our creature comforts -- running water, electricity, and easy access to fairly affordable and nutrient rich food -- for granted and are asked to donate to those less fortunate. What we are less likely to be reminded of is that those of us who have been blessed with a strong education and a supportive community have also been given a sense of entitlement, a spirit of agency and a belief that if something is broken, we can probably fix it.

Empowerment is a buzz word, used so much in the non-profit landscape that we can stop hearing it.  However, the effects of listening and responding to an individual’s needs are real. As Haira, one of our Women's Entrepreneurial Program graduates put it, the class helped her learn her own value and the value of the work she does.

In Cameroon, we work with communities like Doumbouo and Foreke-Dschang that are already full of entrepreneurial zeal and have their plans drawn up. But we also work with communities that haven’t yet dared to give voice to their hopes, such as the villages of Folepi and Nkong where resources are too limited for villagers to save for their own medical expenses, let alone plan to improve their hospital. Here, our income generation programs will give the community the funds to invest in their hopes and the confidence to believe that together they can accomplish their goals.

Click here to watch a video made by our recent summer intern, Maddie Spagnola, that brings the WEP classes to life, and includes exerts of my meeting with Haira.


Alex's Trip to Cameroon: Women in N’gaoundéré 

After my adventure in the Lebialem Valley, the next major voyage on my trip was taking the train to N’gaoundéré. Unlike the roads to Folepi and Nkong, the train to Adamoua region is fairly luxurious: we slept in a four person sleeping car, we ate in the train restaurant and were offered “room service” for breakfast in the morning. Of course, you can also buy baton de manioc, peanuts, mangos, honey, mandarins and bananas from the train window at any of the station stops. We arrived surprisingly promptly at 8am and were greeted by Miriamou, a long time friend and recent WEP N’gaoundéré graduate.

After resting for a couple of hours, Paul and I set to work.  The goal of our trip was to see how the women who have received funding are progressing and to make plans for our future classes here. We visited as many of the grant recipients as possible, asking questions about their businesses, the class and their plans for the future. This part of my job is truly a pleasure as I love meeting with each woman and learning about her work and her family.  It is also very satisfying to hear what the women learned through our class, how their businesses have grown and to think about ways to support these women further in the future.

Above, I am filming Haira Oumarou as she shows me how to use the knitting machine she purchased with a grant from Breaking Ground. Haira used to have to rent time on someone else's machine, so owning her own both decreases her overhead, and increases her producivity. Though  not allowed to open a boutique in the market, and thus sell directly to a wide variety of clients, Haira sends the children's clothing she produces to stores, or to friends in the quarter. She told me that one of the most important things she learned in our business class was to value herself -her skills and her time.

Here I am speaking with Mbai Eunice in her vegetable farm. She received a grant from Breaking Ground in 2009 and used the money to expand her plot and purchase an electric water pump.  This expansion has allowed her to diversify her crops to include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, huckleberry, folere and corn. The pump allows her to keep all this delicious produce well watered throughout the dry season, increasing her annual yields.

Whilst in N’gaoundéré, I was also conducting surveys with the women, gathering the information that will help Breaking Ground design a basic family health curriculum that responds to the specific needs of the community. This part of my trip was more challenging.  As I listened to the stories of sickness in the family, miscarriages and the rising number of people in the neighborhood with HIV, I was further convinced of the importance of adding a health element to our classes. The need and the desire are palpable.