Who We Are–PCV Emily Strauss

Emily Strauss is one of our awesome PCV’s: below is a speech she gave about A2Empowerment in 2011. Thanks to Emily and several others, we’ve only grown and improved as an organization since the time this speech was given!

Emily Strauss benefit speech 2011

 

Good evening.

As Anne just said, I was in Peace Corps Cameroon between 2006 and 2008, and was the lucky volunteer into whose lap this project happened to fall.  I was sitting in the Yaounde transit house, and Sylvie, our Cameroonian funding coordinator, came in and said, “There is an American woman who has been emailing me.  She wants to do something for girls’ education.  Can you do it?”  I didn’t even really think about it, I just said, “Yeah, I can work with that.”  So I started brainstorming and emailing Anne, and A2Empowerment was born, as was our long-lived and rewarding cyber-friendship.

My region was an excellent candidate for this project for several reasons.  The Adamaoua province is one of the least populated and poorest provinces in Cameroon.  Infrastructure is minimal – the only paved road is the one leading to the capital of the next province.  Most of the population is Muslim, and women and girls are often second-class citizens, in every sense of the term.

Cameroon has a very male-dominated and highly sexualized culture.  The school where I taught had six hundred students, only one hundred of them girls.  We lost 20 or 30 girls over the course of every year to pregnancy or marriage.  The reasons were various, but often boiled down to the fact that in large families with limited resources, girls were required to sacrifice their prospects to relieve the burden on their families.  In some cases, this meant marriage; in others, modified forms of prostitution.  The girls most at risk for this were those between 13 and 16 – generally, once girls finished the first three (of seven) years of school, odds were much better that they would finish entirely.  For this reason, we decided to target girls in this age range.

It’s been a while, so the girls with the stories I remember are the ones that I helped select, that came out of my village.  One was a fourteen-year-old who had just begun school whose father was in prison.  One was the daughter of a subsistence farmer whose family lived miles away, on the Central African border.  She was looked after by the pastor in the village, who said that her father cried when he was told that she had been awarded a scholarship, and could go to school the next year.  The day after the scholarship notifications went out, one of my colleagues told me that one of our girls couldn’t accept her scholarship, because her father had promised her to an older husband.  I flew off the handle, got depressed, and thought we would have to find someone else.  My colleague told me not to give up, and we went to talk with her father the next day. (My colleague talked.  I controlled myself).  He agreed to postpone the marriage, and sent his daughter to school the next year.  In area where life is so difficult in general, and for women in particular, you can imagine that these stories are pretty representative of the girls that we help.

A scholarship gives a girl more than just another year in school.  Our scholarships are renewable yearly if a girl’s grades are high enough, and we do renew most of our rewards.  While the program is still new enough that we haven’t graduated many girls, it’s encouraging that most of the girls who enter our program stay in it.  As part of the award, we also include seminars for the girls and their parents.  We educate them on health issues, like AIDS and birth control; we also expose them to the possibilities that can exist for women, even in the Adamaoua, by having role model conferences with professional Cameroonian women.  The girls get to develop friendships – the adults get to see what we’re doing with their daughters, and can take revised attitudes and useful information home to benefit other female children.  It is a truth acknowledged even among the more conservative Muslims in the area that an educated woman will raise a healthy and educated family, increasing the favorable prospects for her children.  Finally, earning a scholarship gives the girls the opportunity – often, the only one they will get – to achieve something and be recognized and rewarded for it.  Our scholarships are renewable yearly if the girls’ grades are high enough.  This means that not only can they put themselves all the way through school if they wish, but that they gain a measure of control and agency over their own lives.  It’s otherwise extremely unlikely they could ever contemplate, or much less achieve these things.

And thats it!

Giving Thanks

A2Empowerment scholarships would not be possible without all the help we receive from those in Cameroon. Today, we would like to give a special thanks to Buba Sulle, who serves as an English teacher at GSS Upkwa and president of the Aku Cultural and Development Association (ACUDA). Sulle co-facilitates A2E sessions for the girls and as they working their way through the curriculum, they have seen real improvements in the self-confidence of each girl. ACUDA and Buba Sulle are largely responsible for A2Empowerment’s success in Upkwa and we are so happy to have their help.

Thanks to the awesome PCV, Sean Gray, for passing this info along.

A letter from Buba Sulle to A2Empowerment:

A2E Appreciation

Some letters from our A2E Scholars!

We love receiving feedback from our A2E scholars. At the beginning of the year the girls receive their scholarship contracts:

image14 image15

At the end of the year we received some great reflections from the girls about how the A2Empowerment scholarship helped them and their families:

image1

image2

image3

image4

image5

image6

image7

Thanks to our Peace Corp Volunteer, Mary Screen, for sending over the reflections and the great pictures!

A2Empowerment Scholarship Winners

Our A2E Scholarship winners! The photo features our Peace Corp volunteers, Alex & Joyce Hall, along with the principle (left) and vice principle (right)!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This photo includes the A2E Scholarship winners and their family members that came to the information meeting for the family contract.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

A2Empowerment Gift Bags

Some of our A2Empowerment scholars receiving our A2E goodie bags with items that include pens & pencils, bracelets, folders, hair tires, etc. Thanks to Dick Sulle, the interim head of the English Language and Literature of English Expression, for the awesome photos! Remember it only costs $75 to send a girl to school in Cameroon, so donate today!IMG_20160425_115453_328 IMG_20160425_115933_821 IMG_20160425_115948_822

 

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.

SAMSUNG

“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….”

Buba Dicko

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.

SAMSUNG

“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.”
a
“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.”

Untitled 2
“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.”

Untitled 2

“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.”

a2empowerment