In August some of our Advice Project teen journalists from Cameroon and the USA attended the Bawock Empowerment Conference in Bawock, a village in the Northwest region of Cameroon. Below, Catherine, Shneider, and Gaelle report.
GAELLE: Yesterday our Advice Project team went to Bawock to attend an empowerment conference, visit the village's palace, and to also interview the Fon of Bawock, HRH Nana Wanda III. The conference was organized by Marie-claire Kuja from the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation, and it was attended by people from the village. Some members of Gender Danger also attended. Marie-clare started the conference by talking about her history. She became a teen mother at the age of 13 and it was very difficult for her because of how her community treated unmarried mothers. She told us how receiving support from her family helped her become the woman she is today, and she empowered the girls in the audience, many who live in poverty, by saying that she could lift herself from difficult circumstances, anyone could.
Farmer Tantoh, an Ashoka Fellow working on environmental issues in Cameroon, then spoke about water catchment systems, and said that he would be working with the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation to bring water to Bawock. The villagers really liked this idea. Farmer Tantoh said, "from small things, big things grow." This has become a motto for environmentalists such as Farmer Tantoh and for everyone working on gender and climate issues with the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation, Gender Danger, and the Advice Project.
Cletus Oungkam, a Bawock villager now living and working in Switzerland, confirmed that a new water system would be brought to Bawock. He also talked about programs that would be developed over the next couple of years that would help give people an income.
(Photo of Gaelle Mambo Awah, age 15)
SHNEIDER: Melissa [Advice Project CEO/Managing Editor] also spoke at the conference. She talked about development and economic issues, saying that the more education teens receive, especially teen girls, the more a community can grow. She talked about how some economists say that receiving an education outside of the community is a good thing, because then new ideas can be brought back that can affect changes to help people. She also said that for young people to come back, a community must also provide opportunities for them and also need to listen to their ideas. Otherwise people will leave and they will not return. Melissa said that she was interested in learning from villagers in Bawock about how they are currently working with young people, and also said that her interests with the Advice Project are in local economic and social development because she thinks healthy communities lead to strong countries. She said she has a lot to learn about Cameroon, and thanked the villagers for inviting the Advice Project to Bawock.
After the conference we went to the royal palace to meet with Fon of Bawock, HRH Nana Wanda III to interview him about gender issues, climate change, colonization, and the roles of both men and women in his village.
(photo of Shneider Remi Adams, age 15)
CATHERINE: First, we learned how to greet the fon. In each fondom (kingdom), this greeting is different. In Bawock, you stand, bend at the waist, look at the fon, and clap three times. None of us teen journalists had ever been granted an audience with a fon, so this was a big honor, and we saw the respect that was according to him. We were received by the fon and his people with great hospitality. Soon, it was time to ask our questions. Melissa received permission to take video, and then we were ready to ask the questions that we had prepared.
SHNEIDER: The fon told us the interesting history of his people, and talked a lot about how colonization had affected Bawock and surrounding villages in different ways. He told us that education is important, but that he educates his children within his own fondom so that they won't learn dangerous views from the outside world. He said that the "android society," or technology and Internet age is both good and bad.
(photo of Catherine, age 13)
CATHERINE: When we asked the fon about gender, he said that there were some traditions such as widow rites that he had ended. He said that he stopped them because maybe they were helpful to people in the past but it isn't nice to treat people poorly. Women and men need to be treated the same, he said. He talks to his daughters about menstruation and makes sure that they are educated just like the boys.
SHNEIDER: The answers the fon gave us were very clear and explicit. He talked about how climate change had affected his community. The rains come less during the rainy season, and the dry season is longer. Agriculture is suffering as a result. Temperature is changing, too. At night there are times when he never used to need a blanket, and now his wives need to give him two blankets. Other times, he is hot when he should be comfortable.
Bawock used to be all montane forest. Today, only small areas of forest are left. The Advice Project is learning more about how this impacts people living in the area. The fon told us about a war between his village and his next door neighbor, Bali [in 2007]. This was over land rights, ancestral lands and ancestral worship, and access to communities. The German colonists, then the French and English, favored some communities over others, and helped some communities grow more than others. These favoritest actions are still felt today, and climate change and deforestation don't make life any easier for villages with high rates of poverty. It's really been hard for Bawock since the war, because many men were killed. This left behind a lot of widows. In fact, the empowerment conference was held at a new building called the 'Widows' Hall'.
GAELLE:After the interview, the fon entertained us with drinks. He gave beer to the grown ups and sweet drinks to us young people. We thank the fon, Bawock, and the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation team for their hospitality. We will return in a few days for a girls' soccer tournament and awards ceremony organized in Bawock by the Marie-claire N. Kuja Foundation, and the fon invited us to return for another audience and to eat at his palace. We [Advice Project teen journalists in Cameroon] are working on writing articles and making videos about gender and climate issues, and we will interview more people in the community. I'm writing an article about widow rites, so the fon's answers about widow rites and gender were really interesting.