Meet the Girls: Grace Sop, A2E Alumni

Grace Sop is an A2Empowerment Alumni from the Adamoua Region of Cameroon who was mentored by RPCVs Claire Kofler, Allison Sanders, Emma Jehle and Danielle Nicolai Freymeyer.  It is a challenge for us to stay connected with alumni, and we have plans to address this issue.  This is why we were absolutely thrilled when Grace contacted us through Instagram last year, and she agreed to be interviewed for our blog!  Please read her inspiring interview below.

A2E: When did you receive the scholarship?

GS: I received my scholarships from A2Empowerment during the school years 2009-2010 (in 6th class) and 2011-2012 (in 4th year class) thanks to my father, who reached out for help because of the difficulties he had affording to send my brothers and me at school.

A2E: What are your fondest memories from your time in the program?

GS: I have many memories that have been really important to me.

I will never forget those few hours we shared every week with Allison and Claire. I remember how eager I was to go to the educational sessions at Allison’s home, because there they taught us many things, and I especially loved it when Allison baked us cupcakes (I’m still dreaming about Allison‘s cupcakes! In my dreams I have walked through the rain and hot sun to have them…it’s funny, but I did it (shame !!)!! Cake + teaching = total happiness

There is another memory that always puts a smile on my face from when I got into the terminal class. We had an evaluation which I had previously performed poorly on, and before this next evaluation I promised my teacher I would achieve a 17/20. If I performed poorly, I would not only have a bad grade but I’d also disappoint my teacher. A few days after the teacher graded the evaluation, I found out, with happiness, that I had the top grade of 16.5 /20! My teacher congratulated me, even though I did not reach the 17!! From that moment, every time I worried about an upcoming evaluation, my comrades teased me because every time my grade was above average. I was so scared to fail!!!!

A2E: What did you receive from A2Empowerment?

GS: The A2Empowerment Scholarship offered me books (English, French, Mathematics, SVT); literary works on the program; notebooks; pens, in short any supplies including my uniform. This scholarship also paid for registration and exam fees. We were also entitled to educational events, and small beauty accessories that Anne sent us. I could not say exactly what I received because it was a big gift bag full of delights.

A2E: How did it affect your life at the time?

GS: This scholarship  revived my desire to succeed because I did not attend for myself alone, but for many people who wanted me to succeed in my studies. I got up every morning saying that everything depended solely on me, my desire to get to the top of the hills or stay in the valley.

A2E: What are you doing now and where do you want to go in the future? 

GS: Now I am a student at the University of Ngaoundere where I am studying for a license in animal biology.  After obtaining my license, I would like to enter a medical training school to realize my dream of beinging a pediatrician.

A2E:  Is there anything you would like to say to A2Empowerment donors?

GS: To all those people who believe in the girl, who think that an educated girl is a plus for the welfare of society and who supports development and development of the girl, I would like to tell them deeply thank you because through your various gifts, you revive the hope and the joy of many girls. For me, this scholarship has been of immeasurable importance because the simple fact of knowing that there are people who want me to succeed in my studies motivated to work harder. Please continue to perfume our lives with hope, love, and tenderness. Thank you so much!!!!!!

A2E: Is there anything you want to say to current students?

GS: I would like to tell the current students to believe in themselves and in their dreams, and to fight to realize their dreams. We could give you the advice and all the gold of the world but if you do not trust in yourself, if you do not believe in your abilities, this will be of no use. This scholarship allows you to take a step towards your various dreams so make good use of it and remember that hundreds of people believe in you and in your abilities. Give the best of yourself as a mountaineer, push your limits and have faith.

A2E: Is there anything you would like to say to the Peace Corps Volunteers who are currently working with A2Empowerment?

GS: I wish to say thank you to Peace Corps Volunteers who worked with us and new volunteers, because it is they who feed us with courage and advice when we need it. I have a lot of admiration for them because they leave their culture and families to integrate with love for our culture in order to see the girl educated and fulfilled. I am thankful to you, you are unique!!

A2E: Is there anything else you would like to mention?

GS: In areas where girls’ education is not valued, we should meet with traditional chiefs of villages and parents to help them understand  that an educated girl is a benefit to the family and community.

We congratulate Grace, and we are so proud of her for all she has accomplished!

*translated via Google Translate and edited for clarity by Anne Cheung

Meet the Girls: Fatima Abdullahi

The following profile comes courtesy of Dicko Sulle, the interim head of English Language and Literature of English Expression at GSS Upkwa.

Fatima Abdullahi Photo courtesy of Dicko Sulle

Meet Fatima Abdullahi, an orphan who never saw her real father. Her father was shot dead by thieves when she was just 2 years old. Fatima and her younger sister, Maryam Abdullahi lived with their maternal grandmother after their mother remarried another man. Fatima is currently in form five while her sister, Maryam is in form three in GSS Upkwa. Fatima is a fourth time recipient of the A2Empowerment scholarship and one of the brightest and focused on achieving her goals in life. She plans to becoming a nurse and is assiduous, punctual in class with strong interest in extra-curricular activities. Fatima is engaged and open-minded which allows her interact freely more than many others. This quality makes many to see her as role model who can trigger positive mentality change in the Aku community regarding girls’ education.

The Aku is a community with rigid traditional patterns that relegate women to the background. They believe the best place for women is the kitchen and girls are married off as early as twelve years. They believe that sending girls to school is exposing them to taboo behaviors like premarital sex and early pregnancy which families regard as abomination. To have a child out of wedlock is considered a public disgrace and the safest way to avoid it is marrying off girls early enough. Note that the Aku community number about 40,000 inhabitants and there are only two girls who have ever reached high school. Due to cultural prejudice, none of the two went any significant way in achieving their life goals, one of them ended up marrying a stark illiterate husband as a third wife while the other one is trying a living as a nurse with a private health unit.

You may be wondering why I began by associating Fatima’s story with her sister’s, Maryam. It is not out of mere coincidence. Both girls have been under stiff pressure to marry. Last year, their uncles attempted to marry Fatima off to his son. After strong resistance, Fatima and I rallied her maternal uncles to isolate the uncle and stop the marriage. After conceding defeat, this uncle never completely withdrew his bid. This time around, he has succeeded to gain Fatima’s paternal grandfather’s support to push the deal again and two of them are making considerable advances. Grandparents’ opinions are usually treated with much respect in the Aku community and Fatima’s marital life is now hanging in a balance. They have already succeeded to marry off Fatima’s younger sister Maryam who is only 13 and the spotlight is now entirely focused on Fatima.

Fatima is now only 17 and the Cameroon legal system requires in its section 356 (2), that anyone who forces a girl under 18 years old into marriage is liable to imprisonment of up to two years whatever the mitigating circumstances. Fatima is poised to defend her right to education and marry only at the appropriate time but her family pressure is already showing visible signs of psychological wear down. Her school attendance rate has dropped, she has been regularly sick and she fears that her end of course official examination in June 2018, will be negatively affected. Fatima’s story is not an isolated case of girls being married off against their will. But her story has already sparked hard conversations on the phenomenon because of her interest in attending school and asserting her voice regarding her marital life.

I am confident Fatima will win the battle and pave the way for many more girls to assert their voices. My role in Fatima’s story is not to entirely stand against a long term tradition of early marriages, but to give education preference in the lives of girls. Standing against this tradition will only antagonize me with the community and hinder my ability to continue talking about girls’ education. My view is to seek alternative ways how this phenomenon does not stop girls’ access to education by encouraging community members to accept married women can go to school. To speak about this with authority and provide a palpable example, I have sent my own wife to school from her marital home. Rashida, whose story started in a similar way like Fatima, is in form three in GHS Wum and my goal is to empower her to join her voice to mine in advocating girls’ education in the future.

Bra Project, Take 2

by Anne Cheung

In the fall of 2016, I got an email from a friend at work asking if she was still collecting bras for disbursement through her A2Empowerment network in Cameroon.  Why not?  After all, the original project had been successful and a few bras had rolled in here and there since the first collection in 2012.  I thought I’d just stuff a couple more into the closet until the next big donation drive…well, that drive happened sooner than I thought because by replying yes to that email I had inadvertently agreed to the next big bra donation drive!  Next thing I knew, I was copied on an email distribution list to the women’s network at the company where I work!  I didn’t want to deny those in the A2Empowerment a chance to donate, so I put out an email. Hundreds of new or nearly new bras were donated last fall.  Longtime A2Empowerment supporter and dear friend, Mia Rushe, along with her daughter Maeve, volunteered to take over.  They sorted through all of the bras, packaged and repackaged them to find the most efficient means of shipment, and paid hundreds of dollars to ship them to Peace Corps Volunteer, Gina Dettmer, in Cameroon.

Gina and local women in her community held a bra sale in late Feburary.  As relayed by Gina in March,

The bras arrived last week.  Oh, have they been a hit.  We are selling them at 200F each (about 30 cents) to various women’s groups:  our A2 girls, our Widows Empowerment Project members, and local farmers.  All proceeds go to our widows’ group.  I wish you were here to hear the comments.  “This breast wear is STRONG.  Beautiful!  Beautiful!” Makes me so happy.

Thank you for making me so happy.  For making my counterpart (the one in the green dress) so happy, and all the women and girls who are benefiting.  Rock on!

What’s better than sending 200+ bras to Cameroon to literally support women, improving their confidence and self-esteem? Sending 200+ more!  We have hundreds of additional bras, many collected in Western New York by Anne Rapin’s mom and aunt, waiting to send and still sorted in the Rushe basement. This fall the Women’s Internal Network (WIN) at Biogen plans to hold a fundraiser to collect funding to ship the remaining bras to Cameroon.  Stay tuned for Bra Project, Take 3…

A special thank you to the Rushe family, Gina Dettmer, Gloria LaSota, Lynne Rapin, Parika Petaipimol, all volunteers and everyone who made a donation!