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!

Bra Project, Take 1

In 2012, a small group of the A2Empowerment network supported a bra project.  The idea was sparked by a blog post from Charmayne Cooley, a Peace Corps Volunteer at the time:

http://candidcameroon.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-know-that-youll-never-be-same-again.html

Sunday, June 24th 2012 (2nd to last paragraph for date entry):

“…After a year and a half in village, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on a lot of the major problems – but also recognize that there’s always something new to learn as the “outsider.”  What was their concern?  They were upset with the condition of their breasts.  Yup…  As it turns out, saggy boobs (or, breasts that fall – seins qui tombent) are really worrisome to the women (and men).  They explained that, after breastfeeding, they find their ladies aren’t so perky.  Not only does this make them feel unattractive, but it has larger cultural implications.  This was shocking to me since, after seeing breasts day in and day out in public during breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have assumed they’re a body part that is as sexualized as they are in America.   However, the women said that it leads their men to stray, and the men nodded in agreement…”

Thinking of all of the practically new bras that no longer fit her following pregnancies, Anne C reached out to Charmayne with a proposal: gather bras to distribute in Cameroon to help improve women’s self-image.  Charmayne agreed, and tied the project to a women’s health seminar in her village.  There was a huge response, both here and in Cameroon.  Charmayne distributed the 170(!) bras in her village, and summarized this experience in a piece published in the Peace Corps Cameroon Newsletter.

Recently, Charmayne found this link, suggesting we were onto something back then:

http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/sports-boobs.htm

Anne C was recently prompted by a colleague to try this again, so stay tuned in the near future for Bra Project – Take 2!
…and thank you to everyone who supports women, both literally and figuratively =)

 

Meet the Board: Introducing Chantal Kassa

Good afternoon readers! Here at A2E we have decided to give our readers an insight into the board, and team that works behind the scenes and runs the organization. In this first posting in our Meet the board series we spoke with board-member Chantal Kassa, we hope you enjoy it!

How did you come to the US from Cameroon? What is it that you do?

I came to the United States about ten years ago as a Visiting Faculty for a High School Math teaching position. I later pursued two masters degrees; MA in International Development and Social Change, and  MS in Information Technology both from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. I also had the opportunity to work with nonprofit organizations in Worcester, the Greater Boston area and Washington DC. Currently I am a math teacher, volunteer in several programs and run a personal scholarship fund for underprivileged students in my home country of Cameroon. My goal is to create a mentorship program for these youths, so that they can learn how to maximize their talents in an environment where the opportunities are limited.

What brought you to A2Empowerment?

I was moved by A2Empowerment’s commitment to improving the lives of young girls in my home country-Cameroon. Investing in a girl child’s education is investing in a nation and a scholarship program geared for young females in rural and suburban areas is not only strategic but timely. As an Education Specialist by profession, volunteering my time and talents in this amazing initiative is a way of giving back to my community and contributing to a good cause.

My background as a Cameroonian who is living in the United States also gives me a unique ability to understand both sides culturally, socially and systematically. For example, I understand the Cameroonian educational system and therefore I know its need as I was a part of the school system, and on the other hand I am an educator in the United States so I understand the framework of our program and how certain things about it can be applied in other countries like Cameroon. Living in Massachusetts has also given me the opportunity to work closely with Anne Chueng, the President who has an inspiring drive and passion for making sustainable change in the lives of these young girls. It has been humbling to be a board member for two years now and I look forward to many years of collaboration. 

What is your role at A2Empowerment?

It has been two years since I have been working with Anne and A2E. I help as need arises in different program areas such as going through applications and selecting students for the scholarship program, spreading the word about A2E, and brainstorming on different fundraising activities. I also serve as the intern and volunteer coordinator and one long term goals is to lead the efforts on grant writing. So far, collaborating with interns, we have a grant writing template and our next steps will be to tailor it for grants that is within the scope of our work.

Tell us about the AWEP-PAN African Conference in New York that you recently attended?

What is AWEP-Pan Africa? What was the goal of the conference?

African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) is an outreach, education, and engagement initiative that targets African women entrepreneurs to promote business growth, increase trade both regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), create better business environments, and empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities.

The program assists African women entrepreneurs in transforming their small and medium businesses by helping in areas of programming, promotion and packaging. AWEP helps women market their products, and also helps them in areas of shipping and distribution. Globally, women make up 50 percent of the global population, 40 percent of the global workforce, yet only own about 1 percent of the world’s wealth. AWEP understands this reality and is striving to provide the platform that will help close the gap with the goal of addressing the millennium development goals of eradicating poverty, and promoting gender equality and empower women.

This Pan-African movement was launched by the Bureau of Education, and U.S. State Department in order to support The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a United States Trade Act that was created to give visibility to African businesses and their leadership. Through this Act the AWEP is making African women aware of the opportunities they have through AGOA.

AWEP Pan-Africa has created a system to connect small business efforts in Africa to a larger entity in an attempt to make use of the AGOA, and maximize opportunities that the US and the global community has given to African women. This conference was running alongside UN conferences, which meant several first ladies and UN officials, Ambassadors and other policy makers were in Africa were in attendance.

The Conference focused on a more holistic approach on how to organize the different AWEP branches in Africa. An organized network and system will undoubtedly help women make efficient use of their resources. Of the critical needs identified, finance appeared to be central to the many challenges African women entrepreneurs face. There needs to be more financial exposure for these women, so that they can access funds necessary to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors. Having public figures like heads of African Central Banks was helpful in this forum, as they committed to pulling their resources to help the best way they can.

Personally, I felt empowered hearing women who use these resources speaking with so much passion. They also expressed how they need their first ladies to help with policy, and help women be better and do better. It was also interesting to see the political and financial aspect of women’s problems and how women lack accountability in the financial sphere, but policy will help them take advantage of this opportunity and build sustainability. Institutional challenges remain an issue, but with better organizing by the female entrepreneurs and more financial literacy skills, they will be in a better position to leverage the opportunity presented by AWEP and AGOA.

AWEP and the opportunities it presents should be directed towards rural women, as they will benefit the most from it. Agrarian women are the ones to look at, as there are more women in rural areas than urban ones. In Africa, women are the backbone of communities and the continent’s greatest potential to unlocking economic growth as they provide the majority of labor with the least amount of resources. AWEP therefore promotes specific industries like textiles, mining, the agriculture business, and craft. It addresses the question of how these African women entrepreneurs can be assisted locally (rural/urban), so that their products can become more visible and exported internationally.

What was A2Empowerment’s role in the conference?

In the A2E Program we have some girls who have pursued higher education, and attending conference like these helps us think of ways we can get our girls to think of income generating activities, and how we can get this mindset to trickle down to girls at the high school level.

It helps us see how we as an organization can tap into AWEP’s resources by preparing our girls and also encourages us to work with rural girls and help them understand financial literacy, as part as our mentoring activities. The idea is to help our girls find passion for something, and then that passion can be translated into an entrepreneurial endeavor so that our girls can capitalize on what they are good at therefore building sustainability.

The conference left me with some questions. How do we get this information to teenagers and help the future generations of women to empower themselves? How do we get the girls to assert themselves and teach them to be proactive? And how we can tap into Cameroon’s own AWEP/AGOA network to see how people have made the most of this opportunity?

Did you meet any interesting people? What was the highlight of the conference?

The highlight of the conference was learning that we can use this opportunity to empower girls and create hope for a young generation of women. We are no longer living in a man’s world so we must create opportunities for women in the most visible fashion.

One of the most interesting people I met was Sheila. She is an Ambassador for Zambia, and believes in women having ‘5-selves’, that is, being accountable for oneself: self-comfort, self-confidence, self-belief, self-esteem, and self-worth. Getting to know all these selves is the journey of knowing oneself, and removing self-doubt and foolishness. We often sell ourselves short and by removing self-doubt this will not happen.

Something I picked up from the conference is that women have always been hardworking, and what they need now is an opportunity to showcase their work. AWEP through AGOA gives great opportunities, but now we must give women the skills and knowledge to take advantage of them. Additionally, AWEP has two seats in the UN, which means their voice can be heard to fight economic injustice with the help of African heads of state.

What piece of advice do you have for young people today who are interested in/want to get involved in Development, Nonprofits and such?

Getting into development requires specific personal values that will make you find your work fulfilling. Those values are based in working for a cause and becoming the agent of change. You also need to be a person with a can-do attitude, whether you intend to work on the ground and in the field or in a more corporate environment. There is no room for a lazy person in development work, and you must know that sometimes you will have to work and not get paid much at all, however the work should be gratifying in itself. You must be a change agent, and try to be part of something bigger than you in order to be part of the development world.

A Letter from The Leading Ladies of GBHS Mbankuong!

Dear folks at A2Empowerment,
We are the Leading Ladies of GBHS Mbankuong, a girls’ club comprising of scholarship recipients for the 2015/2016 academic year.
We are writing to express our sincere gratitude towards your organization. Many of us are orphaned by at least one parent and finding school fees is a challenge, especially this year in the face of poor yields on our farms and at our fisheries. Through the A2Empowerment scholarship we feel proud that we have made it at least a bit easier on our parents and relatives at the start of the school year.
We are also writing to share with you some of what we, as a club, have been doing around our community. As scholarship recipients we have worked hard to become role models in our school community in order to encourage our friends and classmates to work hard and get involved with school, too.
In November, our club leader, Madame Nkili, raised a small fund for a few activities for us to do around school and the community. The first was to paint a World Map in our school compound. We painted the map in four days! It was a lot of work but we are very proud of our addition to the school campus. It stands in the main courtyard so that everybody can see it and use it as reference for their classes. We had so much fun painting the World Map. It was actually our first time ever painting. We made a few mistakes, but at the end of the process our classmates and teachers were really proud of and impressed with us. It is awesome to think that we can return to the school after we have graduated and still be able to see our mark on our school community. As Carine said, “Now everyone can learn and be proud of how beautiful our school campus is.”
Along with our World Map, we participated in a World AIDS Day testing event in Ndop, our divisional capital. We traveled there (about 45 minutes) during a school day to help nurses from our district hospital and two organizations called Ndop AIDS Fighters (NAFI) and Knowledge for Children put on a large education and testing event in the market and at the Grand Stand by the Mayor’s office.
The day began with a parade along the main street of Ndop. The night previous we made posters and hats that informed people about HIV and the testing event. After that we helped set up the testing hall and listened to many speeches made by community officials. Then the real event began. We had so much fun welcoming people to the event and working as runners between different stations. An hour into the event five of us actually started to give condom demonstrations to our guests!
We spent the day working with our peers, as most of the people coming to the event were local high school students from the school across the street. We really enjoyed encouraging our fellow youth and each other to learn about HIV and sexual health. The condom demonstrations were a very popular station. Many of our peers started to ask us questions about sexual health and HIV, and it was really empowering to be able to answer those questions on our own. Sometimes being from a very small village it is hard to earn the respect of the ‘town kids,’ but by working hard and being able to answer their questions we became the experts and felt very respected.
By the end of the day all ten of us had also gone through the testing event. We went to pre- test counseling, did the test and at the end had post-test counseling. It was our first time getting tested, and we are proud to say that we are negative and will work hard to remain that way! Something we took away from the event was that even though we may be negative, we still have a responsibility to help our community and those living with HIV/AIDS.
We really could not have done any of this without A2Empowerment. We are so very thankful for the hard work you are doing to help the girl child in our country. Hopefully by reading about all the work girls are already doing in Cameroon for their communities it will inspire others to become leaders, too.
The Leading Ladies of GBHS Mbankuong have a motto: Hardworking and friendly girls are the leading ladies of tomorrow.
Thank you for your hard work and friendliness towards the girls of Cameroon. We hope you had a very happy new year.
With our warmest regards.
The Leading Ladies of GBHS Mbankuong

Here are some photos from our world map project and HIV testing event: World Map Project: a2
Nathilda, Carine and Favour are learning how to transfer the smaller outlines onto the wall.

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All ten of us and Madame Nkili drawing the outline of the map on the wall.

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We made a few mistakes, but in the end everything got corrected! Oops!

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We then started to paint! It was our first time ever painting – so this was our favorite part!

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Even our Principal got involved! He had never painted before either.

We made sure Cameroon was very visible on the map!

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Here’s the finished product! From the left: Vanessa, Halima, Madame Nkili’s Mom, Sylvia, Nathilda, Prudencia, Favour, Delphine, Madame Nkili, Carine, and Elizabeth. Annabel had to leave early this day.

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HIV Testing Event:

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We first went into the market with our signs and passed out flyers about the HIV event.
UntitledThen we lined up with our posters to start the parade! Here are Sylvia, Elizabeth and Halima with their homemade posters.

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Vanessa, Favour and Nathilda with their signs.

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From the left: Carine, Annabel, Nathilda, Prudencia, Vanessa, Delphine, Sylvia, Halima, and Elizabeth ready for the parade to start!

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We even made signs in Pidgin! Annabel’s hat says: Wear Plastic, It’s Fantastic!

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We weren’t told how far to parade so we ended up walking the entire length of Ndop.

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Here we are marching down Long Street with our posters. We shouted things like, “Know your status!” and “Act Up, Fight AIDS!”

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We then did condom demonstrations to our peers in Ndop high schools. It was at first a bit awkward but by the end we gained confidence and had so much fun talking to fellow students about condoms, HIV, and sexual health. Here are Favour and Sylvia demonstrating how to use a condom to a group of students on their lunch break.

A2Empowerment Through the Cameroonian Perspective

Alim Ousmanou wrote a newsletter, describing the implementation of the A2Empowerment scholarship program from the perspective of a local, Cameroonian partner. Man Ching Cheung translated this newsletter with the help of Google Translate.

For the school year 2014 – 2015, the tuitions for 23 school girls are ensured thanks to the interventions of the two Anne’s (A2Empowerment). This time the screening and selection has been tough. For the Miskine high school, 12 of 23 girls will attend Nassarao High School in the northern region, 06 high school girls in the Grandma High School and 03 girls Tokombéré high school in the Far North region and are most fortunate. Given the need (several girls in the far north and in the North are in situations of precariousness and vulnerability) and given the number selected last year, one that merely thankful and 2 ANNE they will come out of this situation. The girls’ parents, teachers and coaches welcome this program and wish them long life and be on the sideof vulnerable girls.

Mr Alim, President of the Association AEF Cameroon and Cameroonian representative of A2Empowerment, visited with the 12 girls of the High School to Nassarao Garaoua . During a training session with the grant holders held in the staff room; he congratulated the girls on behalf of 2 ANNE and remind the girls of the use of the grants and expectations of them by the end of the school year 2014-2015. The most important part was to have them commit to support other girls in either primary or secondary, encouraging them to continue their school despite the difficulties and be ready to help them study the subjects.

After an intense activity session between the presenting A2Empowement and girls, the certificates were delivered to the girls. You could see the satisfactionand gratitude in the face of these girls. The headmaster of the High School and the vice-principal of Nassarao have each encouraged girls to be worthy of the trust that has been granted. Thus, the two wanted to reassure ANNE 2 that they will ensure through the good management and proper use of scholarships granted to girls of high school Nassarao. Also, they will do everything possible to facilitate the educational environment of these beneficiaries.Screen shot 2015-08-13 at 1.58.44 PMThe girls present at the ceremony thanked ANNE 2 and promise to do everything to succeed in their exams and do their best to go to higher class. All also agreed to sponsor a girl and review of these lessons. After the group photo was the the farewell session.