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.

Meet the Girls: Sa-adatu Adamu

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

“Sa-adatu Adamu is a first time recipient of the A2 Empowerment
scholarship. Last year, former Peace Corps Volunteer and i missed her
a lot on the program. One of the outspoken and front role player among
all the girls, Sa-adatu Adamu is the type of girl to be on such a
program. In fact, we included her for most of our sessions last year
because she triggers discussions and pulls the girls along in public
speaking. Coming from a community where women play the back role, most
of the girls spoke in their armpits out of shame and shyness. It took
the likes of Sa-adatu to break the silence and even engage the boys in
discussing gender sensitive topics. She is focused and [does] not avoid
eye contact when speaking to her teachers let alone her peers.

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“Our wish have been to have her on the program and we luckily did. She
is also one of those girls who has multitudes of potential husbands
for her beauty and elegance. ” Sa-adatu Adamu will not stop school for
any man until she finishes school” her father declared when [I] sought
to know from him how he is coping with the pressure of marrying her
off. On her part, Sa-adatu is bent on continuing school and dreams to
become a journalist. She is writing her end of course GCE Ordinary
Level examination this June 2016. If she succeeds, she will proceed to
high school out of Upkwa, her village. Going out of Upkwa to continue
high school remains a serious threat to the education of not only
Sa-adatu but all the girls. Because this will mean them staying away
from their parents, a thing which majority of parents would not prefer
for various reasons. Among the reasons is the lack of money to pay for
not only fees but house rent and food allowance out of home. The fact
that these girls will live alone is also a highly detested idea as
they think this will further expose their daughters to social vices
like prostitution.

“When [I] sought to know what she feels about the program, this is what
she had to say, ” I do not know how to thank A2Empowerment for this
scholarship. My parents are just too happy and it has increased their
pride in me. Now they see me as a girl who can make a difference in
the society”. Sa-adatu will remain at the center of school activities,
from [singing] the National Anthem during morning devotion to carrying the
school flag during public events. She is also the senior school
prefect girl who sits in all disciplinary council and Parent Teacher
Association meetings as a students representative….”

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Meet the Girls: Fatimah Abdullahi

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

“Hi there,

“Let me begin the stories of our A2Empowerment girls in GSS Upkwa with
Fatimah Abdullahi.

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“Fatimah is an orphan who lost [her] dad to thieves
when she was still a few years old. She grew up with her grand mother
in Upkwa, a resettlement camp for 1986 Lake Nyos survivors. Fatimah is
a second time recipient of the scholarship award and is by far the
best in academics, punctuality, dedication to community service and
humbleness. She is a role model with a big dream of becoming a medical
doctor. She is now 17 years old and plans to graduate from secondary
school next year and go on to high school. Recently, her uncles
attempted to pull her out of school to marry one of her cousins. She
remained strong and determined to resist until the plan was finally
halted. This term that just ended, her performance in school was
encouraging more than ever before. “[I] will work hard to merit the
support of people until [I] graduate from school and get a job” she
recently declared to me a few weeks back when [I] sought to know how she
was faring on. Like all the other girls in the Aku community, Fatimah
wouldn’t have been in school if GSS Upkwa was not created. The school
is now host to some 57 girls less than 1% of whom would not have been
in school if the school was not opened.

“In the Aku community, secular education has just begun to sink deep.
Previously, Aku had total distrust for secular education. They claimed
that children who go to school end up morally bankrupt with unwanted
pregnancy being the  inevitable for the girl child. It was considered
a taboo for one’s daughter to have a child out of marriage. Hence
girls were  married off as early as twelve years old. Even now, many
parents only allow their girl children in school only as long as a
husband does not show up. Every year, we have kept losing many girls
to early marriages. But girls like Fatimah and a few others are poised
to change the situation. It is also my wish to see this happen.”

Note: This post was updated because Mr. Dicko Sulle was misidentified as principal at GSS Upkwa.

Who We Are–PCV Edition

My A2Empowerment girls are all Upper Sixth
students, toughing it out through the last year of high schools and
national exams. A2Empowerment has been a great experience, and
recently we discussed volunteering and the importance of giving back
to the community. The girls were optimistic enough to sign on to
helping me with the World Map Project! A few long weekends later, itIMG_1165
came together and we all signed it with our painted hand prints. One of the girls joked that, “after this, they better pass their next
geography exam!”

Thank you to Kathleen Kirsch for sending us this picture and commentary!!

Meet the Girls

 

“I learned how to realize a goal. I appreciated our conversations. I was proud because I passed French and physical education. My class also won the soccer match. Thank you very much for your kindness. I would like to meet you but it is not possible so thank you for the good you have done.”
“It was good that we want to help the school with a filter. I am proud I never passed math or science until this year. Thank you to those who helped us because not everyone can pay. If I could see you, I would give you a hug.”
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“I learned how to use my time and the importance of school. This year, my class won the inter-class soccer match and I was proud. The scholarship made me very happy and helped me continue my studies. Thank you very much.”

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“I learned games each meeting we ate cookies and beignets and she explained why we received the scholarship. I was very proud when I received the scholarship. First I had ten and after I concentrated on my courses and got fourteen. Thank you for helping my mother to pay my fees and buy my books also for encouraging other girls to study.”

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“It was good that we want to help the school with a filter. I am proud I never passed math or science until this year. Thank you to those who helped us because not everyone can pay. If I could see you, I would give you a hug.”

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Who We Are–Board of Directors Edition

My name is Tom Landers, and I have been a member of the A2Empowerment Board of Directors since the organization’s inception. I came to A2E by way of the organizations’ President, Anne Cheung. My family has known Anne’s family for years. In my professional background, I am a principal and CPA at Bonadio & Company. Several years ago, Anne was describing to me the organization she was starting to assist girls and women with access to education in Cameroon. At the time A2E needed a treasurer and Anne asked if I was interested in filling the role. Having two young daughters and seeing  the opportunities available to them, I could not pass up the chance to assist in providing similar opportunities to those in need of them.

In my role I have maintained the organizations financial reports, filed tax returns, researched international tax laws and served as a sounding board on various financial matters.

It has been very rewarding to see the growth and success A2E has achieved over the years – please check out the rest of the website for great information on the organization and the girls/women it has helped. I continue to be inspired by our very dedicated board and the whole A2E team and the drive they all have to improve and expand program.  If you are interested in contributing to a girl’s education then visit http://a2empowerment.org/ to donate!

For more information, feel free to visit the organization on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

 

Who We Are–Founder Edition

Reflecting on her experiences as a science teacher with the Peace Corps in the North West region of Cameroon the things that made the strongest impression on Anne were: the disparity between boys and girls in the last few years of secondary school; the attitude of many girls believing themselves to be inferior to the boys.  She also noticed the struggles girls in particular faced in staying in school: their brothers were prioritized when paying school fees, they had extra responsibilities at home such as cooking, working in the market and cleaning prevented girls doing homework or attending school, some even were married and started families before they were able to finish secondary school.  Being the type who likes to leave situations better than she first finds them Anne felt compelled to continue supporting the youth of Cameroon even after she returned to the United States.  A2Empowerment started as a small side project that slowly grew into a larger more fulfilling piece of her life.

Shortly after starting A2Empowerment Anne began working on a Masters of Public Health and International Development at Tulane University. Her studies eventually took her overseas again.  Currently she resides in Jordan supporting the response to the Syrian Crisis.

Claire Kelly, RPCV, Swims for A2Empowerment in Dakar!

Claire Kelly did the Peace Corps in the Extreme North of Cameroon from 2010-2012 and, from that time, one of her fondest memories is working with the local girls’ club.  Through A2empowerment, 5 members of her girls’ club received scholarships. Claire has stayed connected to A2Empowerment following her Close of Service, helping to fundraise, translate and rank scholarships.  She currently lives in Senegal working for Whole Planet Foundation as Microfinance Field Program Manager for Africa/Middle East regions.
This Sunday, Claire is swimming in the Dakar / Goree race for A2Empowerment!  Her goal is to raise money for 10 additional scholarships that will help fund the education of girls who would otherwise struggle to stay in school.  As she saw first hand in Cameroon, the fees for enrollment, exams, uniforms, etc. really start to add up as girls continue through high school.  When a family’s financial situation gets tight, parents often prioritize the education of their sons over that of their daughters.  For example, in 2012 she taught the “6eme class,” which is about the equivalent of 6th grade, and the class was split mostly 50/50 between boys and girls.  But, her highest level class, “Terminale,” had only 4 girls enrolled.  Somewhere along the way, girls drop out of school, often for early marriages.   Unfortunately, the situation in Northern Cameroon has deteriorated since Claire’s departure.  As if it wasn’t already difficult enough for girls to attend school, Boko Haram’s activities have crossed over the Cameroonian border with Nigeria and even forced some schools to close down for periods of time last academic year.  At this time, it is especially critical to encourage girls’ education in the area.  And Claire feels strongly that A2empowerment’s scholarships, at $75 each, are a great way to have a really high impact on girls’ lives. To support Claire Kelly’s swim, please donate here.
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Who We Are–Peace Corps Volunteer Edition

My name is Claire Kofler, and I have been a member of the A2Empowerment (A2E) Board of Directors since 2012.  My first encounter working with A2E was in 2009, while I was living and working in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer and was first introduced to the inspirational work that A2E was (and still is) doing to promote education and empower young women.

My work as a Peace Corps volunteer initially focused on microfinance development, and soon after moving to the village where I would live for two years, it became clear to me that a community’s economy cannot improve unless its women are encouraged to be educated and empowered to increase their knowledge base in order to lead healthier and more productive lives, equal to their male counterparts. After this realization, I began to focus my work on building capacity amongst the women entrepreneurs in my community. I worked with the pre-existing women’s groups, and also partnered with a nearby Community Health Peace Corps volunteer to develop and lead a combined Business Education and Women’s Health course at a non-traditional school for young women, sponsored by the local Family and Social Affairs office. While working at this trade school, I met and became friends with dozens of smart, strong and motivated young women who were so eager to learn and to make something more of their lives. Many of these young women had dropped out of public school when they were younger due to either family pressures or severe economic restraints, and they now wanted to return to school to learn a specific skill; such as sewing, cooking, or basic computer skills, in order to become independent entrepreneurs and to be able to earn a living to support themselves and their families. It was inspiring to work with these motivated women, however it was also often times heart-wrenching to hear the stories of their many friends, sisters, and neighbors who were not as fortunate as they were to be in school due to the familiar cultural and financial restraints.

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For these reasons, when I learned about A2E and my supervisor told me of the opportunity to work with A2E as a community-based A2E scholarship facilitator, I could not jump fast enough on the opportunity. My role as an A2E volunteer was to: work closely with local Cameroonian counterparts in my community (neighbors, teachers, friends) to seek out the young girls who would be most qualified to receive a scholarship based on A2E’s eligibility requirements; facilitate the application process and, later, the scholarship award process; host monthly progress meetings with the girls; and to act as the main liaison between the scholarship recipients and the A2E Board of Directors throughout the academic school year. I enjoyed this rewarding work so much that I quickly volunteered to become the Regional Coordinator for A2E, and even collaborated with two counterpart Peace Corps volunteers to organize a 3-day camp for the scholarship recipients, focusing on women’s health issues and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

When I returned to the United States and I was invited to join the A2E Board of Directors I, once again, could not jump fast enough on the opportunity.  I feel so fortunate to have seen first-hand the inspirational work of A2Empowerment and its powerful impact on the lives of young women, and I am beyond honored to have the chance to continue to contribute, in a different capacity, to A2E’s noble mission of educating and empowering young women in Cameroon.