The following has been re-printed with permission from the author of the report.
For the past two school years, (2012-2013; 2013-2014) with support from the Jefferson Trust and the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center at U.Va., we set out to restructure and strengthen the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) in Cameroon.
With the program expanding very quickly, we needed to implement a series of measures to ensure that it was serving the participants effectively and also to reinforce and enhance the program’s presence in the schools. We also wanted to connect participants in the different schools with one another and with the larger community.
With this is mind, the implementation process was divided into two parts. In Year One, we carried out a series of activities to restructure the program, and in Year Two, we implemented several activities to strengthen the program and foster connection within the YWLP participants and outreach to the community. The program continues to operate as an after-school activity on different days of the week in the various schools, and session duration ranges from one hour to two hours depending on the size of the group. Sessions are in English for Kumbo and in English and French in Dschang.
Highlights from the two years
- Meeting with the Delegate of Secondary Education in the presence of the participating principals has greatly enhanced the program presence in the school. The support of the administration in the schools, who are now secure in the knowledge that they in their turn have the backing of the hierarchy, is very important. It also was an opportunity for us to have the perspective of the principals on how the program is doing in the different schools.
- The redirection of snack funds in Kumbo allowed us to organize such assemblies as the Cameroon Girls’ Day, Bring Your Mother to the YWLP and Big Sister Appreciation Dinner, which have greatly improved the connection among sister schools.
- Bring Your Mother to the YWLP, though limited to two schools, was very well-received by the mothers and their daughters. More than the meeting with the Delegate, it provided the platform for YWLP-community relationships and gave us insights into some of the challenges women and girls continue to encounter in the community. It also provided a sounding board for some ideas on how to orient the program for the future.
- Big Sister Appreciation Dinner was an opportunity to recognize the contribution of the out-going Big Sisters. The presence of Ms. Phalon Lemupah, engineering senior from the Catholic University, raised awareness on the lack of information pertaining to some professions among the students. It also was an opportunity to learn from a young woman directly what the issues were in relation to making some professional choices.
The Cameroon Girls’ Day and the Appreciation Dinner provided for the celebration of sisterhood across religious and ethnic and SES boundaries. Girls are learning to know and appreciate one another on their own merit, which was one of the founding objectives of YWLP Cameroon.
- The alumnae continue to make us proud, helping with facilitating and coordinating workshops and other activities. One of them, from the National Polytechnic, Bambui, now volunteers as program facilitator for Kumbo. The scholarships continue to increase program impact especially in providing opportunities for some of the girls to go to college. So far, there have been six college scholarships for Big Sisters and more than 25 Little Sister scholarships. Dollar A Week Network (DAWN), in Charlottesville, and Carrie Daniel, with the United Methodist Women, have donated scholarships for Big and Little Sisters for the upcoming school year. (DAWN is an informal group of women who collect money quarterly and usually donates the funds toward helping girls and women with their education.)
- The Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) of some schools, such as the Islamic High School, has taken the decision to support some YWLP initiatives in the school. This coming year, the PTA will be contributing to the provision of pads and pants for the sanitary bucket.
This year marked the fifth anniversary of YWLP in Cameroon. During this time, the program has reached almost 2,000 girls, and the number continues to grow. The support from the Jefferson Trust and groups such as DAWN has allowed us in the past two years, to develop the program and bring it to the level in which it is today, growing in strength and in impact.
From the different assemblies we have had within the program and sections of the larger community, we learned a lot, including the challenges that persist for the girls. These include the separation of space between adults and children, which some mothers find difficult to overcome in order to communicate with their daughters and the fact that higher levels of education do not necessarily translate into improved communication between mothers and daughters. In addition, there are indications that the interactions among YWLP participants have been very rewarding. Bringing students from schools such as St Augustine’s, the oldest and most highly rated high school in Kumbo, together with students from younger, smaller and more rural schools, has provided an opportunity for the participants to learn from each other. The result has been more investment in school work and improved self-esteem, especially from the girls in the rural schools, such as Kiyan and Kiakikom. Above all, YWLP Cameroon has striven to provide participants with a more holistic model of development, which is transformative by focusing on recognizing and enhancing individual potential.
Content and photos by: Caroline M. Berinyuy, Ph.D., Program Director