2013 - 2014
In early 2013, Advice Project Media formed our first international partnership with Gender Danger, a grassroots organization that combats gender-based violence in all forms in Cameroon. Gender Danger was founded by journalist and activist Chi Yvonne Leina as a response to some of the most pressing issues in her community, namely breast ironing, the rights of widows, and rape. A group of grandmothers quickly joined the ranks of the organization and staged numerous actions to start conversations about taboos in the Northwest Region of their country. Breast ironing, for example, which is the ironing of girls' breasts by their mothers or grandmothers in a futile effort to keep them younger to avoid the male gaze, was always conducted behind closed doors. Today, over 20,000 women have committed to not ironing the breasts of their daughters.
By mid-2013, Gender Danger's Director, Fomuso Blessing Nabila, joined Advice Project Media as our first Cameroon-based Program Coordinator. In 2014, Blessing began teaching a weekly class of twelve teen girls out of her mother's home. Using Advice Project Media curriculum and methods for creating a safe learning space, students learned how to write longform essays and opinion editorials (op-eds) about the gender issues they believed were the most problematic within their community. For the next year and a half, from this class published articles on our website as well as on The Huffington Post.
In 2015, two of our most dedicated students in Cameroon, Shneider Remi Adams and Gaelle Mambo, were offered full travel and program scholarships to attend the 2015 Advice Project Media Leadership and Empowerment Summit in Tambopata, Peru. Blessing accompanied them and led workshops about gender-based violence and peace-building, and the girls participated in workshops with other girls and women from the USA, Canada, and Peru. In a period of two weeks, all participants focused on partnering global gender and conservation problems with applicable solutions.
Also in 2015, Advice Project Founder and Managing Editor Melissa Banigan traveled to Cameroon to teach a video-making lab. Students wrote the script and conducted interviews for a documentary called Hidden Truths: Exposing Cultural Practices That Hurt Teen Girls in Cameroon. Filming took place late August and the story focused on the abuse of teen girls, rape, breast ironing as a method to prevent rape, solutions that might be used to replace breast ironing, and the power of the teen voice.
Advice Project Founder and Chief Executive Officer Melissa Banigan was invited as a keynote speaker at the Millennial Empowerment Conference in Bamenda, Cameroon. For three days in late August, over 500 social change advocates from around the world came together to discuss the importance of storytelling. Melissa's talk, entitled The Power of a Single Word: Using Language to Affect Change, was well received.
The 2015 Millennial Empowerment Conference (MEC15) at the St. Louis University in Bamenda was hosted by the Advice Project's second partner in Cameroon, the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation. It was through this foundation that we were introduced to villagers from Bawock. Located about a half hour away from Bamenda, Bawock had been involved in a war over land rights in 2007. During that time, most of the men in the community were killed. During our visit, we met many of the women - all widows - and learned about how they had been discriminated against because of their gender. We also learned that the fon, or king, of Bawock had made great strides to educate more of the girls within his village. The Advice Project was invited to return with Melissa the following year.
For all of 2016, Advice Project students continued taking classes with Blessing. Some of our students graduated to the next level of our program - now called 'journalists', these young women between the ages of 15 to 16 started to assist in the training of incoming students.
We were pleased to invite Ethel Achoh Tebid to join the Advice Project as our Cameroon Program Assistant to work alongside Blessing. She brings a tremendous amount of peace-building, social justice, health, and gender experience to the table.
Melissa returned to Cameroon to speak again at the 2016 Millennial Empowerment Conference (MEC16). This time, she brought Advice Project Board of Director Felicity Miller and their daughters - both long-term Advice Project students - along to participate in a three-week-long workshop with our Cameroonian students. Students learned about the politics behind the conservation of natural resources and indigenous peoples land rights by returning to Bawock with the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation and the Mandela Voluntary Foundation, and we were offered tours by Farmer Tantoh, an Ashoka Fellow who has been working for the last few years on water and forestry issues in Cameroon. We focused on the scientific data that's proven that women and indigenous peoples are the best guardians of our world's natural resources, and Advice Project students started to write and film a documentary with the widows and fon from Bawock about widow rites, gender equality, and traditional practices in contemporary Cameroonian society.
Hidden Truths: Exposing Cultural Practices That Hurt Teen Girls in Cameroon was premiered at MEC16. Over 1,000 change-makers from Cameroon, Uganda, Switzerland, the USA, and France watched the film. Afterward, our teens from both Cameroon and the USA sat on a panel to discuss the topics in the video.
In September, the Advice Project lost the space that had been donated to us for classes. We have secured a new space, but we must now begin paying rent. It now costs approximately $700 per month to run our program in Cameroon (not taking into account the salary for our staff). We count on your generous donations to keep our program afloat. Learn more.
By the end of 2017 the Advice Project expects to pay a great salary to our staff in Cameroon. They deserve it. This will be a top priority for our Board of Directors. Until then, Blessing and Ethel continue to volunteer the majority of their time to our students as they teach weekly classes.
In August, the Advice Project will lead our third three-week-long intensive video-making lab. During this lab, we will travel to Dja Reserve in the Congo River Basin with our friend and partner, Farmer Tantoh, to work directly with indigenous Baka youth on a video about their lives. We will also spend a week in Bawock working with the fon, many of the widows, and teen girls on the pressing gender and environmental issues within their community. Both videos will be made in full partnership with the people of the communities we visit - they will be in command of their own stories - Advice Project students and staff will simply assist with backend and video-making support.
Advice Project Media is proud of the work our students in Cameroon have accomplished.
ARTICLES, PHOTOS, AND FILMS
We invite you to look through photos from a 2015 workshop and conference we led in Cameroon, and also read some of the stories by our young people in Cameroon, You can also read about how the first documentary (below) made by our students was received.