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Monday
Feb082016

From Bafoussam to Bameka to Baloumgou and Back

The day began with our driver, Jean, being introduced to the application Snapchat.  “Look!”  I said, perched on

BINUM's local office in the village of Bameka the console between the passenger’s seat and the driver, “You take a picture of yourself, and then you can add a hat, or dog ears, or whatever you want!!”  He eagerly took the phone, gave himself a chef’s hat, and burst out laughing.  The day was off to a good start. 

So we went off into the dust: fourteen Nzong community members (10 women and 4 men), Paul, our executive director, Bart, our agricultural engineer, and me, the Peace Corps volunteer, teaming up with a local agricultural cooperative, BINUM, in the aim of learning about the management of microfinance institutions in the Bafoussam area.  The men gallantly took the bush taxi (a rusty green, 1980s Ford sedan that looked like the next bump would sent it flying into metal pieces) while leaving the women, a group dressed in colorful headscarves and pagne, the more luxurious option of the BINUM’s SUV.  I, personally, as the tiniest woman in the car, was perched on top of the console between the driver and the passenger’s seat.

Members of the Nzong community in Bameka, learning about the management of agricultural cooperatives Our first stop was the village of Bameka.  There, Nzong community members had a question and answer session with the local BINUM cooperative, a local microfinance institution that supports village agricultural initiatives.  In addition to the microfinance, in which members can buy a “share” and thus have access to low interest loans, the microfinance runs a store to offer fertilizers and pesticides, as well as a butcher shop and restaurant so members can sell their farm products directly back to the cooperative. 

The second day, after a breakfast of coffee and meat sandwiches, we headed out again into the field, this time to the village of Baloumgou.  There, the group had an opportunity to see a much smaller, but still very efficient, cooperative, that functions on a local level.  We ended the visit with an excursion to see their cooperative’s “piment” crop (a very, very spicy pepper grown in Cameroon), and a traditional meal of rice and tomato sauce.

The Nzong community members were happy to have had the opportunity to see what their organization canBINUM's piment crop in the village of Baloumgou become.  “From seeing these more developed organizations, I learned that with willpower and perseverance, we can also develop an agricultural cooperative in Nzong,” said Madame Francoise, the president of Nzong’s agricultural cooperative.  Breaking Ground hopes that this experience will inspire the members of the Nzong community to develop their own successful agricultural microfinance in their community, contributing to economic development and improved livelihoods in Nzong. 

Wednesday
Dec092015

Violence Against Women in Cameroon

On November 26th, Thanksgiving, Americans across the country were enjoying their turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, hardly giving a second thought to the previous day, November 25th.  And what holiday might that be, you ask?  Well, it is no holiday (and there is no turkey eating), but November 25th happens to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day to remember, as, according to the UN (2014), one in three women experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime.  

Peace Corps Volunteer Haley McLeod talks with students in the village of Nzong about violence 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Cameroon, it is a reality that that violence is often an acceptable part of everyday life; hitting animals, children, and in some cases, women, will result in no consequences for the person who commit these acts.  Additionally, violence against women is often intensified by the already existing dynamic of gender inequality.  In general, women are considered to be “inferior,” and are supposed to align with certain cultural roles and norms, or risk being socially outcast.  This gender inequality also exacerbates several health problems concerning women, including HIV infection rates and the level of domestic violence; with an inferior status, women are less capable of negotiating safe-sex practices or contributing to important family decisions.

So, in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), Breaking Ground teamed up with Memorial Flavia to educate our local partner community, Nzong, on violence and, in particular, violence against women and girls.  So, our team of three (Carole, from Memorial Flavia, me (Haley), a Peace Corps volunteer working with Breaking Ground, and Joseph, a nurse at the Nzong health center) went to share our perspectives and experiences on violence against women, and increase awareness of violence in the Dschang community.  The lessons, taught to over 150 students ranging from ages 12-18, included topics such as 1) What is violence 2) What is sexual violence and how does it affect women and 3) What are some alternatives to violent behavior?  At the end of the session, Joseph spoke about the physical and mental effects that sexual violence can have on the wellbeing of women and girls.  And then everyone received an orange pin to help spread the word! 

 At the end of the day, though we left the high school bone-tired, our voices raspy from speaking over hundreds of students, our work was a great success.  In order to tackle complicated issues such as gender equality and violence against women, the first step in social change is awareness.  That day, every student in the high school walked out with a small orange ribbon to represent the fight against violence against women.  We can only hope that, will time, our efforts to raise awareness will translate into tangible changes in the life of Cameroonian women.  

Sunday
Jul202014

Making Breaking Ground Truly Sustainable

Over the next year, Breaking Ground is planning to transition the majority of our administrative and fundraising activities to our Cameroonian staff.  This is a financially motivated decision to minimize overhead and channel a larger percentage of donor dollars into Cameroon. It is also a strategic decision to align our internal structure with our mission. By investing further in our Cameroonian employees and by building direct relationships with funding organizations in Cameroon, we aim to bolster the sustainability of Breaking Ground’s programs.

 

The board is working with Paul Zangue, our Program Director, to develop a new strategic plan for the organization. We are initiating conversations with potential long-term partners, and beginning to adjust our internal infrastructure. In the meantime we need your support.

We need $15,000 to support Paul and our ongoing programs through August 2015. This is $1250 a month.

The most powerful donation to make today would be a recurring donation. By signing up to give a fixed amount of dollars every month for the next year, you would give us the freedom to plan ahead and focus our attention on the long term goals.

This is an important step for Breaking Ground. Over the last seven years we have had a measurable impact on the lives of tens of thousands of Cameroonians and have built a strong reputation among the development community in Cameroon. Please consider giving today to help us build upon these successes and evolve to an infrastructure that enables a truly grassroots approach.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jul092014

Coaches Across Continents

I recently wrote a piece discussing the challenges of adding critical pedagogy to Sport for Development programs due to the obstacles these programs face. Simply garnering community support for girl’s athletics, attaining and shipping equipment, and then developing program infrastructure are giant hurdles. When looking at the day-to-day issues, coach training and pedagogy too often become lower priorities on the list. However, it is the coaches with their incredible cultural insight and local knowledge who make the program possible. Inherent to their role is the task of supporting participants in challenging times.

 

The coaches are in the trenches improving their communities and as such, shouldn’t we be whole-heartedly investing in them? The first week of June, we did just this when we partnered with Coaches Across Continents, a non-profit organization that trains coaches in the SDP field. Forty-five coaches and potential coaches from BGF and other sporting programs within the region attended the workshop hosted by Breaking Ground. The curriculum covered various methods coaches can use to address topics such as health, conflict resolution, and social inclusion through football. CAC will continue to work with these dedicated coaches for three years.

 

The coaches responded positively to the program. BGF Coach Mamboula Nziengle Prisca stated, “Before I had the idea of associating social issues with sport, but I didn’t have strong arguments for approaching parents and other interested community members. Now I can explain that this is a life tool for our children. My role as the coach isn’t just about sport, but to raise social awareness.” Former professional footballer turned coach, Aoudo Serge Nico, agreed that the program was beneficial remarking, “This training helped bridge the gap between sport and social education. It’s a great tool for football programs in the region.”

 

Breaking Ground is based on community initiative. Thank you to CAC for giving BGF’s coaches new ideas and tools to apply to their community. This is an exciting time and we look forward to seeing the program develop! 

Tuesday
Jul082014

Thanks Chevrolet! 

Every few years Breaking Ground reaches out to donors, soccer clubs, and athletic companies for our girls’ soccer program—Breaking Ground Football. Writing letters and making calls on behalf of these brave girls is, however, just a small step in the process. Ngaoundere, where the program operates, is located in the Adamaoua region below northern Cameroon. It’s geographically and culturally the crossroads of this region in Africa. The main paved road from southern Cameroon to northern Cameroon passes by the city, and it’s only a few hundred miles south of Nigeria and west of Central African Republic.

 

With this location, one would think getting equipment here would be a breeze. But this isn’t so. Once equipment is donated, it must be shipped from North America across the Atlantic to arrive in Douala. Once in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital, it must be inspected and cleared by customs; a process that too often includes an argument over attempted bribery—this time it took six months! Then, it must travel three hours by bus to Yaoundé to be put on the only viable transport option through this region, the train.

 

Our players anxiously waited for One World Futbol’s indestructible balls. These balls will last a lifetime on Cameroon’s rough football fields. Breaking Ground is fortunate that Chevrolet— the automtive company— not only donated the balls, but assisted in getting them through customs and on the field. Breaking Ground thanks Chevrolet and their Corporate Social Responsibility team for supporting our girls on the field!