A2Empowerment 2020-2021 School Year Recap

A2Empowerment scholarships can make a decisive difference in the lives and educational experiences of Cameroonian girls. We regularly conduct surveys to better understand each student’s academic progress and situation as a result of the scholarship program, and to get feedback for improving our work. We are delighted to share a summary of the most recent survey results with you, authored by volunteer Ryan Mitchell. Notably, 78% of scholarship recipients reported that they would not be able to attend school without A2E’s scholarships.

The scholarships also relieved students’ non-academic work responsibilities, freeing up time for studying, extracurricular activities, and simply being a kid. Of the students who responded about how the scholarship affected their non-academic workload, 32% were able to stop working entirely and 55% were able to work fewer hours. On top of all students being involved in the A2E club, about 44% of students take part in additional extracurricular activities, which range from civic education and sciences clubs to health and sports clubs that aid further learning and socialization.

The scholarships also help reduce the workloads and financial burdens on the students’ families. For example, one student said that the A2E scholarship “reduced my parents’ responsibilities and permitted me to go to school”. Factors like reducing financial burdens and allowing girls to go to school have been shown to help girls avoid early marriages, and that is reflected in several student survey responses.

Our surveys examine further barriers to education (in addition to the costs we address) to understand and identify how we might further reduce absences. One example is our recent efforts to provide sanitary pads to girls, so they don’t have to miss school when they are menstruating, a common issue in Cameroon and other countries where resources are limited. Unfortunately, other barriers that restrict the girls’ academic progress, such as limited access to electricity, are out of our control.

Mentoring by A2E Cameroonian Partners positively contributed to students’ final grade point averages, with 72% of the survey responses identifying monitoring and support as positive contributing factors to students’ GPAs.

In summary, the positive impact of our program was evident in our survey results, and we obtained information to help us continue to improve. This impact was conveyed in the survey from a student who wrote that her scholarship “has encouraged me to have confidence in me to realize my goal and to work hard always.”

[1] For the direct quotes used in this article, the author intentionally corrected misspellings.

A2Empowerment 2020-2021 Recap: A Snapshot of an International Education Program

Written by: Graham Button (who also leads our monitoring and evaluation work.)

Photo of A2Empowerment students, courtesy of Florence Yousseu.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and the US, A2Empowerment has continued to make a positive impact in the lives of Cameroonian girls. In the 2020-2021 school year, more than 100 Cameroonian girls were given scholarships and mentorship that helped them to continue their education. In fact, approximately 4/5 of the girls who A2Empowerment funded reported that they would not be able to attend school without a scholarship from A2Empowerment. A2Empowerment endeavors to monitor, evaluate and learn from the impact that the scholarship and mentoring has on each of the girls by working with the scholarship coordinators, ensuring that the program is working as intended and enabling A2Empowerment to make adjustments as necessary.

Many of the girls were able to improve their study habits because they received a scholarship from A2Empowerment. While most of the recipients still had expenses that were not covered by the scholarship, such as transportation, uniforms, or textbooks, 92% of scholarship recipients who responded to the question reported that they were able to either stop working or work fewer hours because they received the scholarship. Half of the girls reported that reduced economic responsibilities positively impacted their education. The scholarship recipients had more time to study, and more than 2/3 of scholarship recipients had time to be involved in extracurricular activities at school. A2Empowerment is using the data collected to adjust the scholarship amounts in order to cover more school-related expenses, such as textbooks, in the future.

Financial support was not the only reason for their academic progress this year – A2Empowerment does not just provide scholarships, but mentorship as well. Scholarship recipients are expected to attend monthly meetings where they receive training on life skills and the scholarship coordinators can monitor their academic progress. More than half of the girls reported that this monitoring and support by their scholarship coordinators helped them with their academic progress, and a third said that support from their fellow scholarship recipients made a positive impact.

While A2Empowerment cannot solve all of the challenges that the scholarship recipients have to deal with – for example, approximately 2/3 of recipients do not have access to electricity – the financial support and mentoring provided through the A2Empowerment Scholarship Program has made a tremendous difference in the lives of the scholarship recipients.

If you are interested in girls’ education (either in Cameroon, other parts of Africa, or in general), please do not hesitate to contact us or sign up for our newsletter. We’d love to hear from you.

Who We Are-Donor Edition

In today’s blog entry, we’re featuring some of the creative and deeply meaningful acts of support A2Empowerment has received. Our co-founder and friend Anne Cheung recently sat down for a Zoom conversation with the Whiting family: Lori, Pete, and their daughters Hannah and Abbey. The whole family is an inspiring example of selflessness. From hosting our annual fundraiser to offering dog-walking services for our raffle, Lori and Pete have taught their daughters, Hannah and Abbey, the importance of giving.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity by Eugénie Olson

Photo of the Whiting family from the Family Photo Session they won at the A2Empowerment Family BBQ raffle, courtesy of Man Ching Cheung

Anne: What inspires you to support A2Empowerment?

Lori: The mission of A2Empowerment and the fact that it’s connected to young, school-aged girls is particularly important. As a mother of two girls, to be able to do something that specifically empowers girls and women is meaningful. My girls are about to go into the world, and they live in a country where their gender will no longer hold them back. It has really changed for their generation, but that’s not true everywhere, including, specifically, in Cameroon. If that weren’t true for Hannah and Abbey, then I would want them to have some kind of leg up.

Also, I have a personal connection with you, but it’s more than that. A2Empowerment has become a big community for us over the past twelve years. It brings all of us at different levels of involvement into the organization together. I love that I’m doing things I would be doing anyway with your friends while supporting a good cause.

The story of how A2Empowerment came to be is cool and also makes us want to support it. I always think back to how these two young women, who didn’t have a lot of money and were just starting out, got a bonus check and chose to use it to start a scholarship program to help other young women. If they can do that hard thing, then the least that we can do is contribute to help them make sure it works, so they get bigger and can have more impact.

Another important thing for me about A2Empowerment is that it’s really efficient. I know how the organization is run and that the overhead is low. At the fundraisers, we hear about the tangible results, like the cost to send a girl to school and how many girls A2Empowerment supports. I recognize it is rare to see such direct impact and tangible results. It makes it that much easier to want to be involved, because I know the results and impact of my donation to A2Empowerment, as opposed to not always knowing where the money goes at some of the big nonprofits that seem amorphous.

Pete: It gives us a chance to fundamentally change the trajectory of these young women’s lives. The students are obviously motivated, driven, and want to participate, so it’s a chance to truly make a difference in their lives at a very critical juncture. As the parents of two daughters of relatively similar ages to A2Empowerment scholarship recipients, to be able to help their peer group means a lot to us. In addition, we live in a homogeneous community, so I think it’s important to expose Hannah and Abbey to this work so they have a better understanding of what life is like outside of our community.

Also, the fact that A2Empowerment is a lean organization, and it’s partnering with the right people on the ground, like the Peace Corps and vetted educators, gives us confidence in contributing. If we donate $1,000 to A2Empowerment, as opposed to some other organizations, we know that supports over twelve scholarships. That’s twelve lives you’ve fundamentally changed. The numbers obviously show the wide impact that A2Empowerment has, but each one of those is a single person whose life you helped change.

Anne: You have given so much to the organization in so many creative ways. What are some nontraditional ideas for potential donors to consider?

Lori: The donation of stock was really easy and it’s incredibly tax-efficient. It has a double tax benefit because we didn’t pay capital gains tax and, just like any donation, it’s tax-deductible.

Other easy examples are AmazonSmile and company matching gift programs. With AmazonSmile, for the same price, a small percentage of every Amazon purchase goes to my charity of choice. It’s so easy that I forgot I was contributing in that way until you reminded me. I’d always encourage donors to check to see if their company has a matching gift program, since it’s easy and doubles the impact of donations.

Hosting the Family BBQ or participating in the Cause + Event 5K race are things that we do for A2Empowerment that we would want to do anyway. They’re legitimately fun for me, and we get to leverage them into being a fundraiser. In the case of the BBQ, I want to have people here to swim, drink, eat, and play games, so it’s an easy thing to combine something fun like that with something that also benefits the charity. Because it’s hard to find time to see everyone, hosting the BBQ with friends and family is a great excuse to get everyone together. We distribute the work, so everyone contributes their small part while making it easier to host.

Pete: The idea of having a party where you ask everyone to donate a small amount to the charity is an easy way to help. The A2Empowerment raffle is a perfect example. There are so many items that most guests walk away winners.

Service prizes are valuable raffle prizes. Some examples are my dad’s law firm, which provides an estate planning session, and Hannah has offered dog-walking services. Most people attending the BBQ are from this area, so local businesses benefit from the advertising and business they receive by donating raffle prizes. One year I won a trial gym membership to a local facility and ended up joining after the free trial ended, and Lori joined a yoga studio after winning one of their gift cards.

Lori: We also have a lot of crafty prizes at the raffle. I’ve donated handmade tote bags, your friend Mia donated mermaid blankets, and your mom donated monogrammed towels. We enjoy making these crafts, and it’s an excuse to show off our handiwork while contributing in an easy way.

Pete: Another great example is the family photo session donated by [Anne’s spouse] Man Ching. It’s an example of a skill that someone donated as a raffle prize. He clearly has a passion for photography, and he was able to use that to make a huge impact. It not only raised money for the raffle, but my mom is still talking about the photos he took at her birthday party last year when we cashed in the prize.

Abbey: Yeah, my grandma is still talking about those photos and how much she loves them!

Anne: What has been the most memorable part of supporting A2Empowerment?

Lori: The Cause + Event race is awesome for a bunch of reasons. I love that it’s local and community- oriented. When you’re in the race, you look out there and see all the green A2Empowerment shirts, which is super-cool. I also notice people from the community, like friends from Hannah and Abbey’s school.

Hannah: I think the pre-race donut holes are the best! Seriously, it’s awesome when we’re decorating for the BBQ and put up the posters with the photos and stories of the scholarship recipients. We get to learn more about them and see where contributions are going. It’s super-interesting to see what’s going on and to know what’s happening with the money that’s being raised.

Abbey: We did a car wash at the BBQ one year and I thought that was really fun. It was a fun activity that raised money that went toward kids. I think about how I’m a kid and I’m grateful that I get to go to school for free.

Anne: The A2Empowerment community is made up of many members, including scholarship recipients, their parents and mentors, as well as volunteers and donors. What message would you like to send to the A2Empowerment community?

Abbey: If I could say something to the scholarship recipients, I would let them know that I am really glad you get to go to school and it’s great that everyone is excited to go to school. School bonds kids together because we all have it in common. We sometimes take school for granted here. When we didn’t have school last year because of the pandemic, I realized it’s better to be able to go to school.

Lori: If I were talking to the scholarship recipients, I would say it takes bravery to go to school like they do. As I understand it, if you’re a girl living in Cameroon, it’s hard to enroll in school for many reasons. They may have other priorities or even physically getting to school can be difficult. So I applaud them for making sure they can go to school and that they are making it a priority for themselves.

That’s another way this is satisfying for me. I know that money and opportunity is going to a girl who actively decided she wants to go to school. Just that decision in that environment is a courageous one, because it’s harder to do that than to not go.

I would say the same thing to the parents. Although it may be harder for them to let their kids go to school, because they then might have less help at home, for example, they are giving their kids an opportunity. It may be harder in the short term to have their daughter in school, but in long term it will benefit the students and the rest of the family.

Hannah: Building on what my mom said, they’ve been given this opportunity that not everyone is given, and it’s super-brave and interesting to do something that might be not be the usual. In the time of the coronavirus, nothing is normal. Something that we’ve always just done here, like school, has completely shifted and changed. It makes me look at how it feels to not have school, or for it to not be as easy to go to school. It puts a new perspective on something that used to seem so easy. It reminds me that it isn’t easy for a lot of people, so I want to support them.

Pete: I think the only thing to add is to remind the students that they’re part of a community now. They don’t have to do it alone. There’s a lot of power when you come together and support one another. Everyone has highs and lows with things that are going on at home and school, so I encourage them to rely on each other.

If you are a member of the A2Empowerment community who would like to be interviewed for our blog, please contact us at info@a2empowerment.org

Meet the Girls: Angèle Beigoll, A2E Alumni

Angèle Beigoll is an A2Empowerment Alumni who was mentored by PCV Leah about 10 years ago. She recently reconnected with us via social media and agreed to be interviewed for our blog! Please read her inspiring interview below.

Hello hello to you! You are doing well, I hope … I am also well by the grace of God.

Here are some answers to the questions you asked me last time:

When did you receive the scholarship and were you mentors for the program?

  • I received the scholarship for the first time during the 2009-2010 school year in 4th grade and Miss Leah my mentor for this program.

What are your fondest memories from that time?

  • I have a lot of memories of this time. For example, the learning sessions in drawing that my mentor offered us, moments of exchange of ideas on our cultures and yours. She even taught us English in outside school hours. There were also these pretty stickers that she liked to stick on our papers according to the grade we obtained. It was really very fun and informative.

What did you receive from the A2Empowerment scholarship program?

  • The A2Empowerment scholarship funded my studies from the 4th to the 12th grade by giving me an annual sum of 30,000 FCFA which allowed me to pay my school fees and buy some supplies, too.

How did it affect your life at the time?

  • This scholarship was really a gift from heaven. I am from a family of 14 children, of which I am the seventh. This scholarship helped my parents a lot and it motivated me enormously to continue studying.

How do you think it affected your life goals?

  • This scholarship allowed me to keep hope, to believe that it was still possible for my family and me to realize my dream. Thanks to you, today I hold a license in Biology of Animal Organisms, obtained in one of the best-known universities here in Cameroon. After the license, there were no longer enough means to continue since I am in a large family and my younger brothers and sisters also had to learn like me.

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

  • Currently, given the difficulties of life and the fact that I became fatherless in May 2019, I have taken a temporary job as a trainee cashier in a micro-finance establishment called the Regional Savings and Loans HER. In the future, I would very much like to be able to realize my dream to become a doctor in order to help others in my turn.

What would you like to tell us about the A2Empowerment program?

  • What I have to say about this program is that God bless you abundantly for what you do for these thousands of young girls in the world. It is very encouraging and motivating for the families as well as for us the beneficiaries.

Would you like to say something to the A2Empowerment donors?

  • To A2Empowerment donors, continue in this way because, thanks to you, many families in the world today see their children succeed and become capable people in society, thus enabling families to send their children to school. Much courage to you and may the Almighty God bless you in all your businesses and in your families … because it is thanks to God for making you a real instrument of blessing for Africa, in particular, and the world in general.

Do you want to say something to current students?

  • To current students, I will tell them to take full advantage of this opportunity offered to them because many people would like to have this kind of opportunity, but they do not experience it. I would also tell them to work well in school to encourage our donors to continue their support. This is very important.

Do you want to say something to the Peace Corps volunteers who are currently working with us?

  • Peace Corps volunteers do very good volunteer work. It takes a lot of courage. Your perseverance and your love of helping others is very instructive for us beneficiaries, and it reinforces our feelings of altruism.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

  • Just to add, thanks to you, I got my BEPC [a certificate received after passing a standardized exam] and passed the Probationary Exam a year earlier than expected. Also, at university I was leading in my promotion to license II …. it’s not to brag, but I figured you might want to know. God gave me this ability, and I am grateful to Him every day for putting you in my path.

God bless you abundantly ….
I love you!!

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

A2Empowerment in Nyambaka, Cameroon

Authored by Sidney Jasper, PCV Cameroon & A2Empowerment Mentor
 
With a few exceptions, women’s work in Nyambaka is mainly limited to selling food and other items at the market or tending fields. There is a lack of women role models who have broken out of the traditional gender roles. I believe many girls do not know of other possibilities or opportunities for their futures, which may create a major obstacle to education. This, in addition to what I have observed in the community as well as what I know and have learned about the traditional, agricultural way of life in Nyambaka, has allowed me to form the conclusion that education is not prioritized by many families in this village, and even less so for girls.

 

However, this story is not about how I or a counterpart responded to this issue, but rather how the girls in the A2E group have taken the initiative in responding to this issue in two separate projects. In early 2018, I asked the girls what they wanted to do to celebrate Youth Day, 11 February. They chose to organize a dinner party for the teachers. I sat back and watched in amazement the planning process, as the girls showed up at my house the day of the event with their various contributions, and worked together to prepare a delicious meal. The real amazement, though, came during the dinner. Each girl sat with a different teacher or administrator and while eating, explained A2Empowerment, the topics we had covered thus far, and why they feel strongly about girls’ education. Many teachers said they had not known about the A2E group, but they thanked me for working with the girls and said they support our objectives. As we were walking back to my house to clean up, I even overheard the girls boasting about their conversations with teachers and their impressive responses. 

 

The second A2E success story involves me urging the girls to plan a “community project” with very little direction aside from that. They chose to go to the primary school and give a presentation to the girls of CM2 in order to give them advice about what to expect at the lycée next year, as well as to encourage them to continue their education, as it is common for female students to not continue to secondary school. We practiced the presentation in the weeks leading up to it with each girl being assigned to present on a certain topic in response to the questions: 

 

  1. When you were in primary school, what did you wish you knew about lycée that you know now?
  2. What were you afraid of before coming to lycée?
  3. Why is girls’ education important?
  4. If your parents told you that you could not continue you your education because they cannot afford to pay for your tuition and instead they found a man to marry you, what would you do?
Once again, I was blown away by their informative responses and the way they engaged the large group of girls in the discussion by asking questions. I have seen time and again secondary school students transform into incredible role models when working with younger students. Although I have not yet found a community counterpart who will devote time and energy to working with this group, I was pleased to see the girls themselves take this initiative of promoting girls’ education into their own hands and begin advocating to one sub-group of adults and their younger peers. I think these projects make even more of a lasting impression when it’s the individuals affected by this issue who are speaking out and advocating for themselves. Whether they realize it or not, I know these girls are developing leadership, presentation, and organization skills that will allow them to become influential role models and community leaders. Without taking any ownership of what the girls accomplished this year, I am so very proud of them and excited to continue supporting this important work next year.Primary School Presentation (4)Primary School Presentation (3)Primary School Presentation (2)

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!