Joya Taft-Dick

Joya Taft-Dick (Vital Voices - Africa Businesswomen’s Network, ABWN): Joya was born in Vermont and spent much of her youth on the move with her father – a UN official – in Africa and South Asia. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2006, she spent a year working in Colombo, Sri Lanka with a local women’s group and public health organizations. Joya then moved to Washington D.C where she spent two years working with a Congressional Commission on sexual violence in U.S prisons and jails. At the time of her fellowship, Joya was pursuing her Master’s degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After her fellowship, Joya wrote: “Being around my colleagues and CBWN’s members was truly inspiring. The fellowship reminded me that I can operate very independently, that I am truly adaptable, and that I am happiest ‘in the field.’ I leave Cameroon with some rediscovered 'joie de vivre’.”

Les Femmes Battantes

29 Jun

The rain continues here in Douala; almost every morning I awake to the sounds of water hitting the roof and windows of the Procure.  It must also be noted that in addition to the sound of rain, is rousing choral singing coming from the chapel below, every morning at 6:30 a.m.  As I mentioned in an email to a friend just yesterday, ‘c’est pas mal comme ‘réveil’! : it’s not too bad of an alarm clock, this choral singing…

I also had a chance last week to meet and shoot a short interview with one of CBWN’s members.  Her name is Jacqueline Ebene and she is the founder of an Association called MERENSO; Mères et Enfants Solidaires.  It is, essentially, a support network for widows and orphans.  As a mother of six children herself, and widowed at a young age, she found herself completely stripped of resources with which to support her family, on her own.  She saw all around her, in her community, other widows, and children without homes – all vulnerable, all without a means to survive.  So, being a “femme battante,” which roughly translates to meaning a woman who works hard, she decided to get a group of women together to discuss their difficulties, and come up with a way to support themselves.  Mme. Ebene had once been a seamstress, and she decided this would be the best way to start earning her own income.  She involved and encouraged other women to take part, and pretty soon, they were also able to start reaching out to orphans in their community and beyond.

I will skip the rest, as it will appear in the video I am currently writing subtitles for (and Mme. Ebene tells her story better than I), but suffice it to say MERENSO now partners with the likes of the Cameroon Government on initiatives to reach out to orphans in other areas of the country, and is now a very eager and proud member of the CBWN.  All of this out of initial poverty and loss.  A ‘femme battante’ without a doubt.

After our brief interview, Mme. Ebene was eager for me and my colleague, Clémence, to stay and taste a yogurt she had made and is going to also try and start marketing.  Clémence and I were only happy to oblige – and the yogurt gets the thumbs up!

Mme Ebene and MERENSO

In other news, this past Saturday the CBWN held an all day meeting/training/workshop, which was attended by about 30 of its members.  It was a treat for me, as I got to sit back and listen to each one recount a brief summary of their life, and the work they do now.  I hovered in the background, snapping pictures, taking some video footage, and making many hurried notes to myself about particular stories and interviews that would be of interest.  I also had a chance to give a brief presentation about the work I plan to do here this summer, for the network, and showed them a brief introductory video I had thrown together as an example of what’s to come.  I received many phone numbers and emails afterwards, so it looks like I will be coordinating quite a few one-on-one visits with these women, to better understand what it is they do, how they got here – and how I can help get their story out there!

And that’s my news from Douala-in-the-rain!  I wish you all, my readers, a chance to embody your own ‘femme battante’, whether you are ‘une femme’ or not.  I know I am channeling mine…

Posted By Joya Taft-Dick

Posted Jun 29th, 2010


  • Joya Taft-Dick

    June 30, 2010


    Thanks so much for following along Tess – and yes, I am thrilled to be able to at least amplify the voice behind such a story, as Mme Ebene’s. From what I gathered on Saturday, there will be many others to come…

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