A letter from Christi Boyd in Cameroon
Dear family and friends,
Every once in a while we’re asked to share about a particular high point in our life as Presbyterian mission workers in Africa. Typically, Jeff and I would lift up a story from our respective ministries or highlight an exemplary practice by U.S. churches as they seek community in mission with our church and its partners in Central Africa. But this time I break that pattern of third-party experiences by giving thanks for a special journey I undertook last October with our daughter Salome as part of an internship for her Rural Development studies in the Netherlands. With my Cameroonian Joining Hands partners it had been decided that Salome would follow up with loan recipients from their Credit Against Poverty (CAP) program and bring back personal stories about CAP’s impact on their lives. Once edited and bundled, these stories are to serve as a promotional tool for CAP and a testimony to the fruits from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS).
Throughout their childhood Salome and her siblings have accompanied us in our mission service, enjoying its rich blessings and tolerating inevitable drawbacks. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me as a mother to give back from the mission field through my Joining Hands ministries. And so I accompanied Salome during a precious three-week trip that led us from small commercial activities in the urban quarters of Yaoundé in Cameroon’s Center Region, to abundant orchards of fruit farmers in the fertile Coastal Area, via kitchen farms and husbandry projects on the slopes of lush valleys in the West, to initiatives to secure food and schooling by families that subsist on sorghum and cotton in the arid Saharan North. These communities sample the great impact rendered by One Great Hour of Sharing, thanks to Self Development of People granting CAP’s first loan fund grant, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance providing initial stocks for cooperative grain banks, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program allowing the overarching organization RELUFA in fellowship with U.S. churches.
Salome and I both cherish our shared experiences and carry with us in thankfulness the lifelong memories God bestowed us with. Simon’s narrative below is the first in a series of CAP stories that Salome collected from her visits.
“Nobody wants to suffer!” For Simon Kouemo, life hasn’t always been easy. This father of three young children used to make a living as a cook in Douala, the industrial capital of Cameroun, but life took a turn when he became involved in a motor accident. Simon is grateful for his survival despite the permanent damage he suffered to his legs. No longer able to continue his career, he moved to the national capital, Yaoundé, for rehabilitation. But no one in this big city seemed to care about his circumstance, and he was thrown on his own resources to get back on his feet.
Pointing at the lady sitting under an umbrella at a small table just a few steps down the sidewalk, Simon explains how small his so-called call box was at first. Vending call services and telephone credit, the activity went well and expanded with the sale of other items. But success has its downside, and Simon’s booth was destroyed by jealous individuals. “When people see you start and grow in front of their eyes, they do not like it.” It was a setback that repeated itself, and each time he had to start over. The last incident involved local authorities, when Simon had gone to the market while his wife was looking after the already flourishing business. The act seemed deliberate, as his booth was the only one attacked, and it prompted him to move altogether to a different part of town.
Introduced by his cousin to RELUFA’s Credit Against Poverty (CAP) program, Simon obtained his first CAP loan in 2008 to launch his micro-enterprise in the new location. He equipped himself with a cabinet on wheels and bought an initial supply of calling cards. A subsequent loan three years later allowed him to expand with additional goods such as laundry soap, cookies, and packaged drinks.
Weather permitting, Simon’s workdays go from 6.30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but you may still find him at the booth at midnight. Enabled by CAP, his hard work provides for everything at home, including running water and electricity. Sometime very soon Simon hopes to move his affairs into a permanent boutique that is being built directly behind his current booth, and for which he has already made a year's worth of down payment. He aspires to sell a greater variety of products just as other shops do, including groceries and fresh food. Simon asked me to come and visit him again in 10 years time so I’d meet him there and see how his venture will have succeeded.
For himself, Simon just doesn’t want to suffer. But for his kids—the oldest a fifth grader, the second in third grade, and the youngest just a 3-month-old baby girl—he has higher hopes. “I really want my children well off, continuing school, getting a good education, and not having difficulties finding a job later on.”
As a faithful CAP client, RELUFA will accompany Simon and his children toward that goal. “If you take a CAP loan, it is to lift yourself out of poverty! I am not afraid to borrow money, because I know how to go about it.”
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 88