News on FORUDEF’s cassava and nutrition projects

Since we have last sent out an update on the status of the cassava processing project for the women’s group in Ote, many steps have been carried out to bring the project closer to completion.

We have recently heard from Moses, and he described to us his latest trip up into Akwaya. Now that the rains have ceased, the trip is much easier such that all the cassava processing equipment has been constructed and delivered to Ote. Additionally, the processing site has been cleared, the mud bricks have been made by the village’s women, and the men have cut and transported timber. What now remains is the construction of the processing facility and the final testing of the equipment before the women are trained to use and maintain the equipment, and processing begins. If everything goes as planned, the processing centre should be fully functioning and producing a marketable product within the next month or two.

It has also been exciting to see support continue to come in for the nutrition project aimed at empowering communities in rural areas with the tools and knowledge needed to improve their diets and meet the nutritional needs of their communities. FORUDEF has currently raised more the half of the total needed to carry out a nutrition project in communities that experience critical levels of malnutrition, and we are incredibly excited to know that the goal of tangibly helping communities in need is coming closer to fruition with each incoming donation. We are confident that FORUDEF will meet its fund-raising target and that we will soon have all the resources in place to help empower women with the nutritional knowledge to improve the health and productive standards of their communities. Please visit the project page on Global Giving website and consider making a contribution to a sustainable and empowering initiative. FORUDEF is truly grateful for all of those that join with their vision in seeing communities change and grow from within themselves.

It doesn’t take much to make a difference in this world, and we can all be a part of meaningful change.

Please follow the link to FORUDEF’s nutrition project page on the Global Giving website, and please spread the word!

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An update from Ote.

Now that the rainy season has ended, teams from FORUDEF are finally able to head back up to Ote village. While some villages are accessible year-round, many of the villages are essentially only reachable by foot during much of the rainy season, and this is the reality for Ote. The change of season has ushered in a period of activity in which  FORUDEF staff, in partnership with the Ote Women’s CIG, the Ote chief, and the local community, are busy putting in place the foundational steps for their brand new and fully-funded cassava processing center.

It has been exciting to receive updates from Moses and James, and to see photos of the women and community at work clearing the land and making clay bricks. James, FORUDEF’s field officer working in Akwaya, has told us that the women are incredibly excited that their hope of having a processing center in their community is becoming a reality. It has been amazing to see what has happened since meeting with the women in March, and we feel incredibly grateful for all the support and encouragement we have received in making this project come to fruition.

Here is a brief progress report on what is happening in Ote and how the project is coming along.

Also, here’s a link to the Project Update posted on FORUDEF’s Global Giving page which has some photos of the women in Ote, and the initial construction of the processing center. 

Empower Women, Transform a Community in Cameroon: Cassava Processing Income Generation Project.

Progress Report #1

Since fundraising for the cassava-processing centre for the women of Ote village was completed at the end of August 2011, a number of activities have begun.  Most of these activities have been carried out in Ote village, where the processing centre will be located.  Some have also occurred in Buea, the headquarters of the organizing NGO, Food and Rural Development Foundation.  These activities include:

  1. The money was received: 2.3 million FCFA.
  2. The sight for the project has been cleared.  The women’s group is very busy at this time organizing for the timber (pictures of this still to come)
  3. The mud bricks for the processing centre have been made, and the processing centre is now being built from these bricks.
  4. The money for a bundle of zinc has been sent to Mamfe town, and the zinc has been purchased.  The zinc will be used for the roof of the processing centre.
  5. Contacts have been made for a machinist to begin building the cassava grinding equipment.

Primarily, the Ote Women’s Common Interest Group (CIG) has led and participated in the events that have been carried out in Ote village.  The president of this group has been organizing the group’s members, while the chief of Ote village and FORUDEF staff members, primarily James Assam, have been assisting and advising.  These activities include choosing a site for the processing centre to be built, clearing and preparing this land to be built on, molding mud bricks to build the walls of the processing centre, and cutting timber for its frame and roof.  There have not been any significant delays or difficulties, and these steps of the project are moving forward as planned.  The Ote Women’s group is showing remarkable leadership and willingness to contribute their ideas and assistance.

FORUDEF staff working in Buea have selected a machinist/welder to construct the cassava processing equipment (sifter, grater, press, and frying pan).  The welder is currently building the funnel chute for the grinding machine.  FORUDEF staff are also price comparing and researching the purchase of a cassava grinder.

Barring any unexpected delays, this project is on schedule to be completed within the next two months.

Future steps will include completing construction of the processing site (building roof supports for the centre, attaching zinc roof), completing the construction of the processing equipment, transportation of the equipment from Buea to Ote village, a training workshop and demonstration of the equipment for the women, and the test phase of processing.  As this project moves forward, FORUDEF will post additional reports.

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FORUDEF has secured a permanent partnership with Global Giving!

Ote village

We would like to thank our friends, families, friends of friends, co-workers, acquaintances, those who have remained anonymous, and generous individuals we don’t even know for helping us to enable FORUDEF to win the Global Giving Open Challenge (since it is not a traditional competition, every organization that meets the set-out goals is considered a winner…isn’t that nice). With more than nine days remaining in the challenge, we have been able to raise over $5,000 from 59 donors! FORUDEF not only met the requirements for becoming a permanent partner of Global Giving, but also raised more than enough to fund the entire income-generating project for the women in Ote.

A month ago, we were still in Cameroon and preparing to begin the challenge to collect the funds for this group of women in Ote village.  Since we last posted on the blog about FORUDEF’s project with Global Giving, we have been working hard to fundraise and create awareness for this project. We have been amazed at how quickly we have seen the support come in. We were in the initial stages of planning some fundraiser dinners, dessert nights and presentations and, as great as they would have been, we will have to put those plans aside for a future project, as we have already raised what we need for this project.

For us, this is an exciting time and we feel a sense of fulfillment as we see the funds in place to put into effect a project that has the potential to fundamentally improve the lives of an entire community. What started as an informal meeting with a local women’s group in a small hut in Ote village, has turned into a collective drive to provide a group of determined women with the resources to create positive change in their community. It has been exciting to see this happen and to share this experience with those around us. We feel blessed and incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support FORUDEF has received and the commitment we have observed from people willing to partner with those in need. While we appreciate those that helped financially, we are equally thankful for all of you that took on the challenge with us and helped spread the word.  The success of this project is not only in collecting the funds, but also in creating a network of people interested in the work FORUDEF is doing and in inspiring change through women.  Almost half of the 59 donors of the project we do not personally know, which is a huge testament to the collective nature this project needed to succeed.

It works.

We have been receiving regular emails from Moses (the Executive Director of FORUDEF) expressing his surprise and appreciation for all the support that has come in. He says he feels extremely for your willingness to believe in what FORUDEF is doing and your commitment to partnering with their organization. Once the money is sent, FORUDEF can begin to implement the cassava processing project and provide the women of Ote with the income-generating opportunity they have been waiting for. We will post continued updates about the project’s progress and FORUDEF will be reporting regularly through the project page on the Global Giving website, which will include photos. We would once again like to thank you for your support, encouragement and belief in what we have been doing and your willingness to support meaningful and effective initiatives at the grassroots level.

The FORUDEF team.

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Global Giving – an opportunity to make a lasting change.


Donations made through Global Giving will directly impact this woman and the members of her CIG.

One of the biggest problems facing grassroots organizations in the developing world is a lack of funding. This is the case for many international NGOs and larger organizations as well; however, the majority of funding sources that are available to larger, internationally recognized and connected organizations, are completely out of reach for these smaller groups. The unfortunate aspect of this is that it is often the small grassroots groups that are implementing the most change in a culturally relevant and sustainable manner and that are having the biggest impact in local communities. Furthermore, local organizations do not have to employ expensive consultants, foreign experts, pay for international plane tickets or the overheads associated with running a large office. Smaller grassroots organizations are also free from much of the bureaucracy that is endemic to international development through large NGOs or governmental initiatives.

While working with FORUDEF we have definitely encountered the difficulties associated with the search for funding. FORUDEF is a small organization that is implementing excellent programs; however, it is not affiliated with a European or North American agency, and so is not in a position where it can access much of the funding that is available. It is easiest to access resources within the country that an NGO works in; however, there is not much money to be raised from within Cameroon, and grassroots organizations in developing countries must often look outside of their own borders to secure funding. Even with an official registration in Cameroon, audited financial records and a history of effective work, FORUDEF, without a partnering organization in a donor country, is not able to access the resources that could bring about significant changes in the areas in which it works.

The difficulty of getting resources to grassroots organizations is an issue that has received increased attention recently. One organization that has identified empowerment of grassroots organizations by connecting them to much-needed resources as being essential to effective development is Global Giving. Global Giving has made connecting the resources of individuals and organizations in the West to grassroots groups in the developing world its primary objective. Founded in 2002, Global Giving is an online marketplace where individuals can view projects posted by grassroots groups around the world and make a contribution directly to the project being promoted. All the projects and groups featured on Global Giving’s website have met the extensive due diligence requirements of Global Giving and have been identified as trustworthy organizations implementing effective projects in their local communities. Since 2002, Global Giving has enabled over 200,000 donors to contribute more than $48 million dollars to over 4,000 grassroots projects in the developing world.

The reason we are now writing about this is that, after months of planning, organizing and developing a project, FORUDEF has met Global Giving’s due diligence requirements and has the opportunity to become a permanent partner. This is an incredible opportunity for FORUDEF and one that can provide invaluable resources to those who need them the most. To become a permanent partner of Global Giving, FORUDEF needs to win the upcoming Open Challenge. The Open Challenge happens three times a year, and it offers groups the chance to promote one project on Global Giving’s website for a month. In the course of that month, the group needs to raise a minimum of $4,000 (USD) from at least 50 different donors. The reason these conditions are put in place is that Global Giving wants to promote organizations and projects that have the networks and contacts available to fully utilize this type of fundraising strategy. Organizations need to demonstrate that they will benefit from the services that Global Giving provides and that they can take advantage of a web-based approach to raising funds. If a group does not meet the requirements set out in the Open Challenge, any funds raised are forwarded to them and they have the chance to participate in the next Open Challenge. Groups that do meet the requirements become permanent partners of Global Giving, and can promote additional projects on the website on a continuing basis.

We have submitted a project to Global Giving that will focus on creating income generating opportunities for the women of Ote through cassava processing. This is a viable way to transform the economic environment for these women, and empower them to make significant improvements in their families and their community. Over the next month, we will be promoting this project and encouraging people to support a project that has the potential to make a lasting impact. Please share this information with your friends, families and networks, as we hope to meet the requirements of the upcoming Open Challenge and form a permanent partnership between FORUDEF and Global Giving.

The Open Challenge starts on August 1st. We will post updates regularly, as well as a direct link to our project’s page on Global Giving.  We’re excited about the prospects of this opportunity both for FORUDEF and for the women that the project will help, and we would very much appreciate your partnership as we work together to make a difference here in Cameroon.

Sifting: one step in the process to make garri.

Help make a lasting change in Ote village.

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Nutrition as development in rural areas Pt. II

Members of the Lauviane Women's CIG in Tole prepare some of their traditional foods.

In the last couple of weeks, we have continued to work with the women’s groups in the villages of Mamu and Tole to focus on improving nutrition, and indirectly, health and quality of life. After the initial training workshop, we wanted to follow up with a practical component to help the ideas of a balanced diet translate from theoretical knowledge into effective change. In both villages, we held a cooking demonstration to practice adding protein and vegetables to common recipes used, and to introduce new cooking techniques that retain the nutritional value of the ingredients.

At the cooking demonstration, the women divided into groups and cooked two or three of their traditional dishes, using the conventional techniques commonly used to prepare them.  While they were cooking, FORUDEF staff observed.  This was in part to promote cultural exchange, as the women were very proud to teach us about their food customs, and in part to understand which methods of preparing and cooking food were beneficial or harmful to preserving their nutrients.  FORUDEF staff then prepared three dishes that were examples of a balanced meal, while the women watched and asked questions.  Because we are obviously not very well versed in the art of fine Cameroonian cooking, our co-workers carried out this phase of the nutrition program, and we did our best as sous-chefs.

Hannah from Bojongo CIG in Tole village prepares the banana leaves for kwacoco.

We had noticed that in this area of Cameroon, vegetables of every kind are boiled, without exception.  Further, vegetables are not boiled for five minutes or ten, but for upwards of 30 minutes.  During the cooking demonstration, we saw every group in both villages do this.  When we talked about the importance of eating green vegetables in the training workshop, the women claimed that they did regularly.   The problem, however, seems to be that by the time these vegetables are eaten, there is not much nutritional content left.  We watched as green vegetables similar to spinach and bok choy were boiled for 30 or 40 minutes, squeezed of their remaining water content (and much of the remaining nutrients), and then put aside in a pot while the water was disposed of.  Additionally, the idea of eating raw vegetables is absolutely foreign to most villagers we have worked with.  They know what a salad is, but as it is not a dish originating in Cameroon, no one seems to eat them or to have any interest in raw vegetables. As a result, a lot of the nutrients that can be obtained from eating raw vegetables are unutilized in these villages, and are instead lost in over-boiling.

With this in mind, FORUDEF prepared a green vegetable dish commonly eaten called njama njama, and a salad comprised of nothing more than an assortment of fresh, raw, vegetables.  As the women watched, they were very skeptical to see us only steam the vegetables for the njama njama for a couple minutes. In the same way, they could not believe that the same vegetables they only ate very, very cooked were now being prepared raw for the salad.  Many of the participants had never tried uncooked tomato or carrot.  To them, it must have been similar to someone preparing a raw potato dish and insisting that it is not only good for us, but that it will also taste good.  Although they were keen to learn, their enthusiasm for later eating the food we were making appeared diminished.

Another nutritional problem common in villages is a lack of protein.  During the training workshops, the women talked about the expense of fish and meat as sources of protein, as well as the cultural dynamics of these delicacies.  Traditionally, if meat or fish can be afforded, the largest portion will be served to the male member of the family.  This compounds the problem of a short supply of protein for other family members, especially children.  As a way to increase protein consumption without disturbing established cultural norms, FORUDEF has emphasized groundnuts and beans in its nutrition program.  At the cooking demonstration, we prepared a groundnut stew with green vegetables.  Groundnut stew is a familiar dish already, but is not usually served with green vegetables added.  Because this dish was more recognizable, the women were most optimistic about this option for encouraging a balanced diet in their homes.

FORUDEF staff prepare an added-nutrient version of groundnut stew.

Once the cooking was finished, all participants ate together.  This time was also used to review the nutritional properties of each dish, and emphasize certain points, such as the importance of adding raw vegetables to their diet regularly.  We were impressed to see how much the women remembered from the training workshop.  One group even provided bananas for after the meal to ensure that we got our fruit consumption for the day.  While they admitted they thought the njama njama tasted ‘half-cooked’, they also told us they liked it, and would practice steaming vegetables instead of boiling and squeezing them in the future.  Given that this is the way it’s always been done, we don’t expect this approach to cooking to change right away.  We do hope, though, that as a group, they will remind and encourage each other to retain the nutrients in the foods the cook, and with continued involvement from FORUDEF, will modify their customary way of cooking vegetables.  The salad received high praise; most women were surprised that carrot and onion could be palatable in their raw form.  However, when we returned to Tole village a few weeks later to monitor their meal plans and check in, we found that none of the women had yet made a salad for their families, and many were still unsure about raw vegetables, in spite of liking the salad (or at least, telling us that they liked it).  In the same way, we hope that with time and encouragement, salads will become a more common part of their regular diets.  For our part, we got to try a number of new Cameroonian foods…and survived.  Just kidding- some were better than others, such as the palm nut soup, and either way, it was a good experience.

The next phase of the nutrition program will focus on growing groundnuts or beans.  We want to encourage increased protein consumption not just in word but also in action.  Each participating CIG will choose to grow groundnuts or beans, and will select land to cultivate them.  Through a seed bank, FORUDEF will loan the seeds to the CIG and will help to plant them and provide growing advice.  When the crops are harvested later in the fall, the ‘seed loan’ will be returned to FORUDEF with a small amount of ‘seed interest’, so that they can be then loaned again to other groups.  This will formally conclude the nutrition program, although FORUDEF plans to continue monitoring their nutritional habits and working with the women to keep moving forward towards good eating and good health.

We have learned a lot while working on the nutrition program, both about community development and nutrition, and we believe the participants have as well.  If the rest of the program continues well, FORUDEF will bring it to villages in the Akwaya sub-division once the rainy season finishes, as these more isolated communities are where malnutrition is most pronounced. Amongst many other things, this program has helped to reinforce the belief that the active involvement of program participants is essential for a program to be effective.  More important than just mirroring what we teach is for community members to take ownership of health in their families and communities. We hope that for these reasons, Akwaya in time will also experience better nutrition, and better health.

Group members preparing to cook some traditional Cameroonian cuisine in Mamu village.

The raw vegetables stirred up almost as much excitement as the chance to fit into the group photo.

Enjoying FORUDEF's groundnut stew.

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The way forward

After now being here for nearly 6 months, we have a number of experiences to look back on and evaluate our time partnering with a local NGO in community development initiatives. We both agree that this has been an unequivocally valuable opportunity that has given us some great experience, and even more, has significantly affected our view of development and while witnessing the need firsthand.  All of this will also guide future life and career decisions.  We’re thankful to have had the opportunity to be here, and to have learned as much as we have through our work with FORUDEF.  In spite of this, we also both agree that we will not renew our Cameroon visa, which expires at the beginning of August.  This decision comes after a lot of deliberation and is influenced by a number of factors; however, the main ones are these.

– In terms of continuing to work here in community development in a career/long-term capacity, it seems that there are two options- to work for one of the big multilateral aid agencies, or to support-raise and work with a grassroots organization.  The first option is very competitive, and would require much more education and experience than we currently have. The second option brings into question a new perspective on the role of the foreigner in development that we’ve been considering.  We feel that for the amount of money it would take for us to live and work with FORUDEF in the long term, that same money could be used to employ 3 or 4 more local staff, who are more aware of the needs, target populations, and solutions, than we are.  With this in mind, we feel it would be counter to our value of community development to pursue a full-time, in-country partnership with a local NGO. Instead, we see our role as being more of a support role, financially and through consultation, for the work that FORUDEF is already doing.

– Although our experience in working with a grassroots organization is obviously too limited to make definite conclusions, we’ve noticed a bit of a trend that we think may be significant. In our experience here, the ‘white man’ is often viewed as a source of resources and expertise; essentially, handouts.  We wonder if it would then be better to support local individuals to be leaders for change in their communities, thereby setting an example of pro-activity and personal involvement in solving one’s own problems of poverty, than to be two more foreigners that ‘give development’ and perpetuate dependency.  This is of course not an informed theory, but an observation. However, we think it has considerable weight, and want to be careful the ideas/attitudes our presence here might enable, in spite of good intentions.

– We’ve decided not to renew our visa mostly because we are at the point with most of our projects and programs where we need funding for them to move forward.  This is much easier done from Canada, where networks and more donor agencies are located.  We are committed to keeping our partnership with FORUDEF and continuing to work on what we’ve started. However, given the nature of the work left to do, we find that we are limited in how much we can accomplish here in Cameroon. So, in effect, we are going to continue the work we’ve started, but from a different location where we can now be more effective.

This is also affected by the onset of the rainy season.  Roads are now impassable until around December we’ve been told, which means that we will no longer be able to do field work in the villages that our projects focus on.  Our time would then be mostly an office job until December, and with the multiple challenges to internet and technology we experience here, we feel office work could again be done more effectively elsewhere.

For the remaining three weeks that we’re in Cameroon, we’re really looking forward to making the most of it; who knows when we’ll have this opportunity again.  We are also committed to FORUDEF- we believe in the good work they are doing to help very poor communities, and believe in the idea of locals helping locals.  The problem that FORUDEF faces is not manpower or motivation or expertise, but primarily funding for its programs.  So, at this point anyways, we view our role in development as encouraging community change and growth by finding the financial resources they need to continue their work.  We hope to partner with FORUDEF in this way for many years into the future, and also hope to be able to visit regularly.

We will continue to post until we leave.  We want to really thank you for your encouragement and support.  On this little dirt road somewhere in Cameroon, it really makes a difference to us.  Many thanks, we look forward to seeing you guys in a few weeks…and it probably goes without saying, we’re looking forward to a hot shower too.

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Some thoughts on secondhand ‘aid’.

Everyday, shipping containers packed full of secondhand clothing from Europe and North America are unloaded at Douala’s main port and transported to markets throughout the country. The clothing has been packed into bales and, once arriving in Cameroon, those made up of higher end clothing are channeled to the bigger markets in the main urban centers with lower quality clothing moving to smaller, less-urban markets, and with the lowest quality items finally making their way to the smallest markets. Whether it is the result of foreign generosity, opportunistic middle men, the appeasement of guilty over-consuming consciences in the West or the natural distribution of goods in an open market will depend on who you ask, but whatever the cause, the end result is an abundance of used clothing pervading the markets throughout Cameroon and much of West Africa. Fashionable items being worn in Europe a few months ago can now be bought in the muddy lanes of Munya Market for a couple of dollars; moreover, there is probably a larger stock of H & M clothing in Buea’s markets, than in your average suburban neighborhood back home.

In Buea we noticed this right away and were surprised to see ‘new’ Diesel jeans and Esprit sweaters lining the stalls next to a dirt road on our walk to the office. Apart from the secondhand clothing, other options found in the markets include ‘real’ luxury brands imported from Dubai (this is what all the vendors claim, however, the clothing is obviously fake, of noticeably low quality and much more expensive than the more quality secondhand products shipped in from the west), extremely low quality clothing made in and imported from Asia (which is also more expensive than the secondhand clothing) and traditional African clothing of bright colors and varying patterns. While there are always a few shops selling traditional clothing, the number of stalls offering products from Asia or the West far outnumber them and are only becoming more abundant. In Cameroon, secondhand clothing imported from the West accounted for over 70% of all imported textiles according to some recent reports, with similar percentages found in a number of other countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

While it may seem like a noble idea to ship secondhand goods from wealthier areas to regions with limited goods and smaller economies, there are many questions that arise as to how this influx of foreign goodwill affects developing economies. Throw into the equation the mass importation of cheap goods from Asia, and it is understandable why it is difficult for African companies or industries to survive, let alone emerge in this environment. We have read that the textile industry in Nigeria has dwindled in the last decade or so, unable to compete with these types of imports; likewise, in Cameroon there is little produced locally. Outside of the export of raw materials, Cameroon’s economy is largely undeveloped. There aren’t necessarily easy solutions, but it seems clear that aid sent in the form of used goods and well-meaning intentions are actually counterproductive. While many African countries do need aid, perhaps it is more important to provide assistance in ways that encourages the local economy, as opposed to making it dependent on the continuance of Western over-consumption and subsequent generosity.

We’re not sure what the solutions are, but seeing the reality of this type of assistance on the economy and local Cameroonians has influenced our perspective. There are times when giving secondhand goods are definitely beneficial and this type of assistance has profited many people in poorer countries; however, it is not always a solution. There are countless ways to partner with those in need and it is exciting to see the creative and innovative approaches that are being taken to accomplish this. These may not be the ‘quick fix’ solutions that have been common to this point, but will likely be a welcome change and much more beneficial in the long term.

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