Bitame Lucia School Dreams of Computers for Their Students

It was impossible to leave Bitame Lucia School without a huge smile on my face. Right outside the hustle and bustle of the country’s capital, the children had a beautiful view, space to play, and new friends from all over the world to learn from. 

Although regular school is not currently in session, the Cameroon Association for the Education and Protection of Children (CAPEC) is currently running a lively summer school for free. With little to no summer activities available or affordable for children in these parts, most would be selling food or trinkets on the streets instead. 

Above: All of the summer students, volunteers, and teachers! 

Right now, there are four summer volunteers from around the world, in addition to two Cameroonian teachers—an excellent teacher-to-student ratio by any standard! 

Above: One of the summer students

French is the language to learn if one wants to advance in Cameroonian society, but parents are still aware that English is the key to success in the world outside. Hence, this school is instructed entirely in English. Many of the children are on scholarships, and for those who can pay, the tuition is very affordable. The classrooms are spacious, and had more than enough room for all of the maximum of 30 students per class.

Above:  This young boy isn’t letting his severely poor eyesight stop him from learning English! Bitame Lucia School makes sure that he doesn’t get left behind.

Money raised through GlobalGiving provided the school with a shiny new roof after the old one collapsed during a rainstorm. Many of the children here are only able to attend thanks to GlobalGiving donors like yourselves! Children here are presented with an amazing array of opportunities and support: a uniform, some school supplies, an annual field trip, after-school activities, mentoring and counseling, and even opportunities to become pen pals with students in the UK! 

Above: Alima, the proud holder of a 20/20 average in Math! 

Ultimately, CAPEC’s dream is to acquire computers and install internet access for their students.The solar panels would enable them to have a reliable power supply while allowing them to save costs. CAPEC has not been able to acquire enough funding for the solar panels or computers yet, and is anxious for the day when their students have access to their very own lab. We have visited several schools in Cameroon, and met teachers struggling to teach their students the computer skills they need without even an electricity supply. Cameroon is phasing in a computer science section in their national exams, and schools like Bitame Lucia are desperately trying to keep up. 

Check out the adorable thank you video above, featuring Collette, the founder of CAPEC, and some of the children! 

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Take a look at CAPEC’s other project, here

How you can help: Donate to “Help Optimize Educational Opportunities – Cameroon” or “Provide Solar Technology & Computer Training”! 

HIV/AIDS: Stigma Kills

Site Visit 9: Education Fights AIDS (Maroua, Cameroon)

It is often said that in reality, it is not HIV/AIDS that kills—it is stigma that does. It is because of stigma that people are afraid to get tested, ashamed to admit their status or to seek treatment, and embarrassed to even talk about the realities of the epidemic. Stigma isolates people, strangles discussion and spreads the virus. The dream of Education Fights AIDS (EFA) is for “the idea of stigmatization to be completely erased.”

EFA was founded by Drew, a Peace Corps volunteer and two Cameroonians named Alim and Adama. Their goal is to empower youth aged 15-35 who are affected by HIV/AIDS by helping them to create associations. Each one is unique and has their own activities, but they all share three primary goals: empowerment, education and enterprise. These associations are given technical assistance, training and some funding by EFA, but ultimately they want them to be completely autonomous and independent entities. EFA also runs a peer education program, in which they train members of the associations to go back into their communities to “sensibilize” people—which means to educate them in order to remove the stigmatization and discrimination that surrounds HIV/AIDS.

Above: Albert Jumbo (Left), Sali Aïssatou (Center), and Hamidou Djïjuï (right). Hamidou talked about how he had no friends after he found out about his HIV-positive status. Now, he is the president of the associations’ Coordination Committee.

EFA is a model example of an organization that responds directly to the needs of the people they serve. The first association was already being formed when they asked for Drew’s help, and EFA was only formed because of the need for a legal entity when donations started coming in from friends and family. EFA’s mission is to support and serve the needs of the associations as the communities see fit—they listen, then act, and that is what has made them so successful.

Each peer educator we met were passionate about their personal transformations and about their work. Each individual had a unique story, but they all had a common thread: thanks to EFA and to the associations, they were transformed from a lost, humiliated and hopeless person to a confident and passionate advocate who is respected in their communities.

In these associations, HIV-affected youth find a second family and a newfound purpose in life. Youth who were once kicked out of their homes after finding out their HIV status were now invited back as favored children after proving that they could be productive members of society, thanks to their associations’ income-generating activities. Now, parents approach EFA directly, asking them to help their HIV-positive children—something that was entirely unheard of just a few years ago.

Before, I could not even look at myself in the mirror. Now, I am not afraid to present myself, and I tell my story with my face uncovered. – Sali Aïssatou (watch her video here)

Sali did not have a choice when she was married off at the age of 13. She found out she was HIV+ a year after her husband died of AIDS. At the time, she didn’t know much about HIV—she was taught about it in school but she thought that it was “only for prostitutes, and that married couples were spared.” This is exactly the kind of stigmatization that she now fights against. She is currently the president of her local association and is determined to allow her daughters to marry who they want, when they want—no matter the social pressures.

Above: Thérèse Pehlem 

Thérèse Pehlem, 32, has been a member of her association since 2006. She described her feelings when she found out she was HIV-positive: I had no hope, I was alone, I was stuck, I was lost. I told myself that life was over. Now, she is not only a peer educator, but a trainer of peer educators: I used to be scared, but now, put me in front of a church, a crowd, a whole community! They ask me left and right to talk about my experiences! When I asked her if she could say something in a video (above), she leaped at the request, ready to talk, and it was clear that this was where she excelled and shined—speaking about HIV to teach others.

Albert Jumbo, 36 years old, has been a member for 5 years (watch his video here). Having lost his wife to AIDS just a year ago, he raises four young children on his own. When he first found out he was HIV+, he told himself that he would just sell all his things, and live the rest of his life in isolation and idleness: I didn’t care about associations, and I didn’t even want to be near these people… but now I’m a peer educator, and I’m not even scared of sensibilizing a whole church congregation!

It was truly inspiring to hear about the personal transformations of the individuals we met, and they were so vibrant and passionate that it was almost hard to believe that they had once lost all hope. Amazingly, not a single member of all of EFA’s associations has passed away in the past two years—a testament to the life-changing effects of EFA’s associations.

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How you can help: Donate to their project called “Providing HIV Services to 1,000 Cameroonian Youth”!

A Community Taking Their Children’s Schooling Into Their Own Hands

Site Visit 7: Self-Reliance Promoters’ NGO – Kumbo, Cameroon


The people of the village of Tajika are in the process of building a new school for the youngest of their children. In Cameroon, kids start school at 3 years—but yet they are the only village in the vicinity that does not have a nursery school. The people of Takija don’t want their children to lag behind others, and thus decided to start this project. The community is highly involved and invested in the project—as you can see from the video above, Salle Wiylanynys, the chairman of the project, has two children himself who will attend the school.

Above: Some of the children who will be students at the new school!

Above: The elders of the Tajika village gathered to welcome us and to thank GlobalGiving for their support—GlobalGiving is their only source of funding.

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Check out Meg’s post here!

How you can help: Donate to their project called “Help Takija build a nursery to educate 60”!

Educating All of the Children of Kumbo

Site Visit 7: Self-Reliance Promoters’ NGO – SEREP – Kumbo, Cameroon

Above: The current school for OVCs 

Self-Reliance Promoters’ NGO realized that there was a need to provide education and vocational training to the most vulnerable children in their communities: the children who at lost one or both parents, most often due to HIV/AIDS. The acronym “OVC” is not common knowledge for the average American—but in this community, it’s a much-needed shorthand term for the large number of Orphans and Vulnerable Children that live here. They currently run a school for these children, and are in the process of building a new one so that they can provide education and training to even more children! 

Above: A SEREP teacher at the building site

GlobalGiving is SEREP’s only source of funding — so I can promise you that your donation is needed, appreciated, and used to build the school brick by brick, or to educate every single student. 

Above: Three SEREP teachers showing us the school-in-progress. 

Unfortunately, as we are visiting during the summer holidays, we did not get to meet any of the children. But the passion of SEREP is very much tangible. In the video above, three teachers who work for SEREP thank donors for supporting the education of these children. 

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Read Meg’s post about the visit here.

How you can help: Donate to their projects called “Provide education for 100 orphans in Cameroon” and “Give the gift of education – Sponsor an OVC child”!

The Inspiring Women of Mbosha

Site Visit 6: The Inspiring Women of Mbosha (7/3) – Mbosha Village, Cameroon

It is a small miracle that our car, a taxi borrowed from a friend of a friend, survived the journey. The rattling piece of metal took us over rolling green hills, down narrow, bumpy red dirt tracks and finally, to the remote village of Mbosha.

We traveled all this way to meet the women who, determined to meet the needs they saw within their community, decided to form a women’s group. With the help of Self-Reliance Promoters’ NGO (SEREP),  they set out to get things done. As you can tell from the video above, their passion and energy are infectious.

The village has no electricity or running water. But yet two women from the group run a health center that in addition to providing basic health services, has already helped give birth to over 70 babies since its creation in 2005.

The women who run the clinic are volunteers. Despite having families to take care of and crops to tend to, they have taken the time to get the proper training to provide basic primary healthcare for the people of Mbosha.

Above: One of the women, with her year-old daughter (born at the health center), with Mbosha village in the background.

Above: The women in front of the new center that is currently under construction.

As they try to build their capacity, they realized that they needed a bigger space! And so they have started building a new clinic. As you can see, construction is well under way. The new health center features more room for patients, a latrine out in the back, and a separate building for a kitchen!  Word has spread about the health center to the surrounding communities, and so those who must travel from afar to get here do not have local family or friends to shelter or feed them. The new building, kitchen and extra space will help solve this problem.

Above: The kitchen-in-progress

SEREP is also trying to get a palm oil project off the ground, which would consist of purchasing palm oil for both these women’s families’ consumption and for re-sale to generate some income. I can assure you that palm oil is an absolutely vital part of the Cameroonian diet. It is found in virtually every single traditional dish, and as one friend put it, “if it is not made with palm oil, then a Cameroonian will not eat it.” Currently, because of the lack of funding, the project is not currently taking place.

And last but not least: three of the many, many children who were born in the health center that they wanted me to take pictures of!

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Check out Meg’s blog on the visit.

How you can help: : Donate to “Help Mbosha women build a primary health centre” or “Feed a Cameroonian family: SEREPs Palm Oil Project”!

Fight against the stomach devil

Site Visit 4: Nourish International (Njinikom, Cameroon) – 6/24

Fight against the stomach devil, the sign said. Fruit tree domestication nursery is for you!

The people of Njinikom have come up with ingenious and eco-friendly ways to better their community. “Pa Sala” is a respected community leader and the director of “Mboyni Farming Group”. The farming group grows seedlings that are then distributed to those who need it, including the Widows’ Group. Pa Sala is a wizard when it comes to nature: he has single handedly planted many trees to make his village much greener than before, devised his own irrigation system using a stream from the mountain, and has even grown three types of mangoes on one tree. He even has an apiary, allowing him to collect honey while the bees help pollinate the trees that he planted!

The Widows’ Group, part of a local NGO called Berudep, is headed by Anna, a smiling and friendly woman. Local culture dictates that when a woman is widowed, she is married off to her deceased husband’s brother or closest relative. Despite being a tradition, these women are often neglected in their new households. Seeing this, Anna decided to bring these women together to be support for each other. She has taught them about planting medicinal herbs that has helped them become healthier, while they also act as therapy for each other during tough times. Most recently, they are working on planting fruits and vegetables on a plot of land, enabling them to support themselves while also allowing them to sell any surplus. They also hope that the new variety in their diet will help them fight against malnutrition. Working side by side on their own plot of land (currently rented, and hopefully to be bought soon with the help of Nourish International!) has given them a priceless sense of purpose, camaraderie and hope.

The volunteers of Nourish International have spent the last month helping out at the tree nursery and at the fruit tree farm. Both Pa Sala and the widows expressed how grateful they were to have these volunteers help them, and how much it meant to them to have people come all the way from the US just to work with them in the fields. I think Anna said it best in the video at the top of this post!

How you can help: Although their project, called “Fruit Tree Cultivation in Cameroon-UT”, is no longer active as the volunteers are already there, check out other projects in the “Women & Girls” category, or all the other projects in Cameroon!

Trekking to Plantain Plantations

Site Visit 3 – Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights on 6/21 (Limbe, Cameroon) 

Pt. 4/4: Trek to the Plantain Plantations 

George told us about APWCR’s plantain plantation—they planned to grow plantain and to sell them in order to help APWCR become self-sustainable. However, the plantation was very difficult to reach and they needed a vehicle to help them transport the harvests there and back.  The 4×4 would also help them reach the human rights violation cases they receive that for now are too far. I glanced at the schedule for the day that they had handed to us.

9:15-10:45am – Trekking from Bonjo to APWCR’s GlobalGiving plantain farm.

Gulp. A trek? I’m not scared of hikes, but I was not mentally or physically prepared for one that day. I was wearing one of my Jungle Professional Chic™ outfits, featuring business casual but adventure ready clothing (which means somewhat cute and made of dry-fit material). Sure, I wasn’t wearing pant suits and stilettos, but I was wearing Tevas (very stylish with their pink accents) and my pants stopped right below my knees. Not terrible, but not ideal either. “I want you to know exactly how badly we need a car for our plantation!”, exclaimed George.

Okay, whatever, I can do this. We set out for our trek. We were told the trek would consist of 4 km of paved road, then 3 km of “bush”, and 3 km back out of the bush. Oh. That’s a little far. Totally doable though! The first 4 km were a breeze, as we chatted while walking down the side of a beautifully smooth highway. I asked what was in the canvas bag that Damian, one of the volunteers, was carrying. “My bush clothes. For when we go in the bush! You did not bring shoes? Not even socks?” Umm… no?

Then we got to the edge of what appeared to be cornfields. We waited as the men put on their bush clothes. George put a plastic bag on his head, over which he put a hat. “What do you need that for?”, I so naively asked. “For the mosquitoes of course!”, he replied. Oh… great. I could feel my face blanch. I sprayed myself with bug repellent in anticipation of the dark clouds of blood suckers I was about to be attacked by.

The cornfields turned into lush forest with streams interrupting the path ever so often. “Now, this is the bush!”, I thought, marveling at the full glory of the nature that surrounded me, and breathing in the fresh and invigorating green air. Damian walked past me, still holding his canvas bag. “Why haven’t you changed yet?”, I asked him. “We are not in the bush yet!”, he said. … Oh.

Essential bush gear, as modeled by George and Richard (see photo below)

– a light yet effective plastic bag to be worn on the head, covered by a fashionably faded baseball cap.

– jeans that show off your figure but not excessively so, if you can bear them in the heat

– a machete

– a fabulous, flamboyant umbrella (a very easy and avant-garde way of wearing it hands free is to hook the handle to the back of your shirt collar, which is both George and Richard’s umbrella-wearing style of choice)

– don’t forget to not smile for pictures, because in Africa one does not smile for pictures. Ever. And if you do, you will be the only idiot to have any teeth showing in a large group shot, as Meg and I have been many times.

At one point in our walk, we happened upon what appeared to be giant pod shells of some kind. They were huge. The peas would have been the size of my hands. That’s when I knew we had entered Jurassic park. (Note Damian’s Obama shirt. Also, Damian has an identical twin named Cosmos who was also with us, so I may have used Cosmos or Damian’s names interchangeably.)

We got to this gorgeous clearing where bamboo grew in clumps, forming giant tunnels of bamboo. I half-expected to have to run into the bamboo and count to ten while a smoke monster chased me. (That was a LOST reference, duh).

We got to a completely isolated beach. Apparently this the only way how the plantation is reachable. The sand is black as it is volcanic rock.

We had to get there by scrambling over big, slippery and sometimes sharp rocks on the edge of the ocean. After this shot, I had to put my SLR away because it was getting too dangerous.

We finally made it to the plantation, which really was a bunch of plantain trees that were growing on a near-vertical dirt cliff. Which we of course proceeded to climb.

Behind us was a great expanse of ocean and in front of us was a jungly cliff. The view was breathtaking, enhanced by or in spite of the fact that I was clinging on for dear life, my feet continuously slipping on the loose dirt.

Meg and I both got to harvest our own plantain bunch with a machete, which we then had for lunch back at George’s home. It was delicious. Organic, fresh as can be, and for a good cause.

As you can tell, APWCR desperately needs your help to make these plantains more accessible. What Meg and I found exhilarating and very tough is what their volunteers do on an almost daily basis in order to harvest the plantains and to work on the land.

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Check out George’s video message to you (also featuring Meg hacking down plantain!), my other post on APWCR and a video of me hacking down a bunch of plantains.

How you can help: Donate to his project, called “Grow plantains & support human rights in Cameroon!

George’s Story: Women’s rights in Cameroon

Site Visit 3 – Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights (Limbe, Cameroon) – Pt. 3/4

George, the founder, was a passionate man. He gestured wildly as he sat on his desk. He was frank. He was emotional—his eyes teared when he led the opening prayer for our meeting. Instead of just taking notes on the organization and his work, I found myself furiously scribbling down his exact words. My pen struggled to keep up with him. 

When you marry a woman you believe that she is under you. That is the African mentality. This is true. 

George wanted us to understand the unfairness of the patriarchal society that he sees around him. Men have the power. The interests of women and children are often ignored. 

It’s a cultural taboo. You cannot say no papa, I don’t want to go. They have no force. 

When he was young, his grandfather married his aunt off while she was still a child simply because he had a debt that he could not pay off. 

My aunt is still alive. And I know women are still suffering like this. And no one is talking to them.

So that’s precisely what George and his staff at APWCR do. They listen to women and children’s complaints about the injustices committed against them, and they do their best to help them right the wrongs done. 

When I first heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I saw many things that contradicted it around me.

It is easy to take the document for granted. But for George, it was an eye-opening discovery. The world had agreed that everyone deserved the same rights, and yet in his very own home he could see people being denied these rights.

My professor told me: “This spirit that you have, reached to this level. Continue. You will go somewhere”.

Impressed and inspired by George’s energy and enthusiasm, his professor encouraged him to pursue his passion on human rights.

They laughed at us. Instead of taking this money to do business, you give it to humanity that you don’t see.

George talked about the naysayers and skeptics who don’t understand his desire to help others. But still he continues, with a dedicated staff of local volunteers—one, a retired policeman, had been working with him for 10 years. 

When he realized that she was a woman, he wanted to use his superiority to take the property. She had no voice and suffered for many years.

In one of George’s proudest cases, APWCR had helped a woman who inherited property from her father. But the man who had formerly managed the property decided to forge documents that claimed that he was the rightful owner. APWCR listened to her case, gave her a voice and within two months managed to have the property returned to her. 

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Check out George’s video message to you (also featuring Meg hacking down plantain!), Meg’s post on the site visit and my other post on APWCR!  

How you can help: Donate to his project, called “Grow plantains & support human rights in Cameroon!”