In primary school, I remember cherishing a sturdy white and navy-blue folder adorned by one of my dad’s favorite quote: “Ce n’est pas la destination qui compte, c’est le voyage” (It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey). I turned twenty-seven a couple of days ago and being in Africa has led me to reflect on my own personal journey. A year ago, I traveled to Ottawa, Canada in order to renew my F-1 student visa and start my graduate studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. I remember feeling nervous about my appointment at the American Embassy being very aware that they could send me to France to renew my visa or potentially deny the renewal for some random reasons. Thankfully everything went according to plan and I was able to start my graduate studies in International Development. While in school, I diligently wrote policy briefs and conducted in-depth research projects, took part in grant writing workshop and learned various techniques for participatory development. Nonetheless, I could not wait to get to the field and acquire the practical experience so vital to carry out meaningful and sustainable work in the field of international development. A year later, I am leaving the dream! I am in Douala Cameroon participating in Vital Voices training initiative alongside exceptional Cameroonian women leaders.
From July 20th until July 24th, Cameroonian women from all walks of life –including restaurant owners, dentist, lawyers, fashion designers and market traders among many others– came together to share their expertise, build a network and learn about various development tools such as strategic planning, proposal writing and fundraising. There were four key groups of participants: Cameroon Business Women Network (CBWN), Sandaga Market Women Traders (UCOMAS), Women Alternative Actions (WAA), and Nkumu Fed Fed (NFF). CBWN is a nascent network of business women located in Douala, which focuses on bringing together Cameroonian business women as well as organizing business plan trainings. Though UCOMAS has been our main priority for the last month, I will add that the women traders are currently awaiting the response from the American Embassy Self-Help program to rehabilitate the public toilets at the Sandaga market. As of now, they have been pre-selected…but will need additional funding. As such, they are looking to diversify their funding resources to be able to rehabilitate as many toilets as possible. Women Alternative Action, currently based in Yaoundé, mostly focuses on gender advocacy as it relates to sexual harassment, the eradication of harmful cultural practices which undermine women’s human rights, the elimination of discriminatory laws towards women and the prevention of gun proliferation. The WAA women passion for women’s rights and their insatiable drive to improve women’s livelihoods in Cameroon is contagious. Most of them are pursuing graduate degrees at the University of Yaounde, they work full time for WAA while fullfillg their responsibilities as wives and mothers…. they are true role models! Nkumu Fed Fed’s activities concern the rehabilitation of child trafficking and an HIV/AIDS campaign in the rural areas of the North West province in Cameroon and they will be the focus of our major second project as Vital Voices Fellows.
Helah and I were fortunate to work along side knowledgeable and experienced trainers from Vital Voices, which enabled us to further our expertise as aspiring development practitioners. My role during the training was two-fold: I translated some of the presentations from French to English and helped facilitate some of the activities such as the S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis which helps organizations identify their internal strenghts and weakness, while being cognizent of external opportunities and threats. We also had the opportunity to present an excerpt of our documentary about the Sandaga women market traders, which spurred many ideas for media outreach and fundraising opportunities once we go back to the United States. I believe that the greatest success of the training was to bridge the different levels of expertise between all those women and ensure that each one of them would leave the training with applicable and tangible skills. At the end of the training, Melysa Sperber, Vital Voices Grant Manager, asked the women how they envision the condition of the Cameroonian women in 5 or ten years. Here are some ideas they shared: living a life free of discrimination, women’s empowerment in the rural areas, the end of harmful cultural practices, more women in politics and in the business sector, access to education and health, having more men involved in the fight for women’s rights… From El Salvador to Vietnam and Cameroon to Palestine, women and men aspire to this vision and are tirelessly working to make this vision become a reality. I plan on working along side them for the years to come.
Posted By Johanna Paillet
Posted Jul 24th, 2009