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A letter from Jeff and Christi Boyd in Cameroon

March 26, 2009

To All with gratitude,

Head-and-shoulder photograph of a teenager.

Christine is able to attend school thanks to a microloan program called “Credit Against Poverty.” Only one in five of the students at her school are girls.

Christine does not hold back when invited to share her dreams. The future is brighter for her than for most girls in northern Cameroon. On one side, thanks to the village granary project offered by our Joining Hands partner RELUFA (French acronym of the Network for the Fight Against Hunger), her community has secured food stocks to bridge the next lean season. But Christine’s parents also benefit from the network’s loan program, Credit Against Poverty (CAP), which allows their daughter to continue her studies at the secondary school of Zidim.

For the first time, Jeff, Salome and Naomi joined me on a trip to the far north of Cameroon for a 60-hour flurry of visits to rural communities. As PC(USA)’s liaison for Central Africa, Jeff wanted to see for himself how lives here are transformed with funds from our church’s One Great Hour of Sharing offering (OGHS). In this predominantly Muslim area, daughters are given in marriage at a young age and investments in their development and education are often considered a loss for the family. With parents reserving their limited resources to ensure the schooling of their sons, girls’ enrollment remains low.

Soon after RELUFA instituted its microcredit program to help jump start small income-generating projects nationwide, one of its northern network members brought up the need for short-term educational loans at the beginning of the school year. The proposal was for parents to pay back the loans from the yield of cotton or peanuts harvested later in the year. A revolving loan fund seemed a solid, sustainable means to respond to a recurrent social need. “CAP for Scholars” is now in its second year, and the results have exceeded expectations. Not only was there 100 percent repayment in the first cycle, the loans helped parents to send more of their daughters to school! So we really wanted to meet the students and families involved in this initiative.

Photo of a group of about 20 people sitting in the shade of a tree in a circle.

This conversation took place in Zidim with some of the parents and children who are benefiting from CAP for Scholars, a program which allows parents to send their daughters to secondary school.

On the morning of our return to Yaoundé, we talked about CAP for Scholars with a group of parents and about eight of their teenage daughters. Also present was the director of Zidim’s secondary school and a community worker of RELUFA’s member organization. Fathers talked about their struggle to get money for tuition in September, when classes started. CAP for Scholars offers them relief during this month, which is the leanest of the year and parents are concerned foremost about securing food for their families. When the high school opened two and a half years ago, only one in every seven students was a girl. Now, about 18 percent of the 439 students are supported through CAP, and one in five is a girl.

Christine laid out her future plans: she wants to earn her high school diploma and go to a teacher training college to become an educator herself. She poked her friends and encouraged them to talk about their hopes, but in a culture where women are expected to assume a humble and subservient role, the girls remained timidly silent. For now.

The pride these parents take in educating their daughters can’t be missed. One of the fathers looked ahead to the prospects for his daughter after she finishes high school. Would CAP for Scholars consider helping support her studies at the higher education levels? In a word: yes. RELUFA is already doing that for five university students.

As we wrapped up the conversation, I admired the new building beside the shade tree under which we were meeting. Zidim’s vibrant women’s association had received a CAP loan for starting an eatery there to provide meals for visitors to patients at the Baptist Hospital across the street. In a couple more weeks, the restaurant should be up and running to serve the guests and support the needs of their group members.

The experience in Zidim illustrates the way OGHS offerings affect change for entire communities in Cameroon. The CAP and Grain Bank projects together with our Fair Fruit initiative, are the more tangible yet strategic arms of our partners’ programs to tackle hunger and poverty. Equally important, but not as visible and therefore less appreciated by some, is RELUFA’s transparency campaign to fight corruption in the management of revenues from Cameroon’s wealth in natural resources. Transparent transactions will allow for these huge sums to actually enter the national budget for poverty reduction and for civil society to hold its government accountable for its spending.

Each of the programs I’ve mentioned has been supported through OGHS. CAP received in 2007 an initial loan fund from Self-Development of People. The Grain Bank Program was started in 2006 and 2007 with grants from the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. The bulk of RELUFA’s activities, including the transparency campaign and the trade justice initiative, are sustained by the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Thank you so much for your generous contributions to this Offering. Please keep it up on Palm Sunday when you once again have the opportunity to partake of this season!

Blessings,

Christi

P.S. Stay informed about the Joining Hands program through the quarterly Joining Hands Newsletter.

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 30

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