A letter from Christi Boyd in Cameroon
Dear family, friends and supporters,
“I want to become a journalist.” Stéphanie (14) sounded pretty determined when asked about her ambitions. She had just returned home from school with her three younger siblings, and her father had agreed with my meeting with them after a visit to his papaya farm earlier that day.
Over the last 10 years Pierre had been evicted three times to make room for plantations of a transnational fruit business. Impoverished by the recurrent losses and anxious to stay out of the company’s grip, he had recently decided to establish a new farm well beyond the boundaries of the huge agricultural estate even if the added transportation costs and difficulty of bringing his crops to town would complicate matters. Asked why he didn’t relocate his family altogether, Pierre’s answer was resolute: his children’s education comes first, and without a secondary school nearby, moving to this rural village was out of the question.
Only a few months earlier Stéphanie’s dream seemed all but crushed when she had been sent home for unpaid school fees. She recalled her feelings of shame: “I hid myself, and after the teacher had stepped out for a moment, I slipped back into the classroom. No one else had been dismissed from school; I was the only one. I did not want to go back home, I want to go to school because I want a future.” Still, she seemed reassured. “I think that from now on things will be OK. After I was sent away a third time, my father borrowed money and went to the school to pay.”
The loan Stephanie referred to was granted by my Joining Hands partners of RELUFA. Their Credit Against Poverty initiative (CAP) not only supports the start-up of small income-generating projects, but it also helps take care of health and educational needs for communities involved in any of RELUFA’s other programs. CAP has this way ensured the schooling of about 600 students between 2007 and 2010!
Stéphanie was getting ready to do her homework, and I continued my conversation with her father, who in 2009 had been invited by RELUFA to participate in its newly established Fair Trade dried fruit project. As part of a more comprehensive Trade Justice program, Fair Fruit provides marginalized farmers like Pierre not only a supplementary income as suppliers of fresh fruit but also a platform for them to share their story, accompaniment in their legal battles and access to loans to expand their agricultural activities. The Fair Fruit dryers group is made up of younger generations most of whom also have a family history of land eviction.
Pierre explained why the Fair Fruit project is important for him. “RELUFA pays a price that suits both the farmers and the dryers. The price on the local market fluctuates from one day to another, which makes it impossible for us as farmers to do our projections. But with RELUFA, once we have set a price it can take six months before it may need to be reviewed. RELUFA’s current price is good. They take a 100-kg. bag of papaya at $25 while local merchants pay $18 to $21 for the same bag. That is a big difference. Because RELUFA takes the fruits for its drying unit they are a regular customer, but the local market is very momentary. Altogether there is no comparison.” He went on to mention a few tangible differences this makes. “Because of the long distance I need to go every single day, I used to buy fuel on credit. There were days I could not go to my farm because I hadn’t yet paid for the consumption of fuel from the day before. But nowadays I fill up for cash and don’t have any fuel debts any more with the retailers in town.” Relieved to not have to burden his children any more, Pierre further shared: “In the past, I could not afford to hire a day laborer. So I waited for the school holidays to do certain small tasks with the help of the children. But now I do the farmwork by myself and hire a day laborer for $3 or $4. When he is finished I pay him cash. That’s the difference between RELUFA’s price and that of local merchants. I really wish that RELUFA could take more fruit from us.”
Stéphanie keeps on working toward her goal. What the future holds for her brother, Kameni (12), remains to be seen. Besides dreaming of a soccer career like any other Cameroonian boy his age, he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer. But with the land increasingly being usurped by the transnational that already forced his father to farm on the fringes, it is not apparent that Kameni’s modest aspiration will come true.
Fair Fruit and Credit Against Poverty are but two of RELUFA’s initiatives that address systemic problems of hunger and poverty and offer economic alternatives to marginalized communities. Not only are they all supported by the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Stéphanie’s school loan was made possible by a one-time grant from Self-Development of People for CAP’s loan fund and RELUFA’s Community Grain Banks got a head start thanks to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Each of these sister programs are financed through the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering. Thank you for your support of this vital offering through which you provide new hope for the poor, hungry and oppressed communities I have the privilege to serve.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 50
Dear Susan, I happen to see your comment just now as I re-read my letter. Thank you for getting in touch, and please feel free to write me through the e-mail link provided on the top of our profile page.
Christi, my daughter, Faith Garlington is headed to Bamenda, Cameroon on 5/10 with Kiva. I look forward to learning more about Cameroon through her blog and yours. I am at 1st Pres in Knoxville TN