Saturday, January 31, 2015

US Embassy, HOFNA, Mandela Washington Fellows Tackle Gender Based Violence

 By Fai Cassian Ndi


Donga Mantung Division, in the North West Region of Cameroon of late has been considered as hub for cheap labour, child trafficking, forceful marriages and unbearable widowhood rites. To eradicate these obnoxious practices which hinders sustainable development, the US Embassy in partnership with Hope for the Needy Association-HOFNA a not for profit making organization based in Bamenda have taken the bull by the horns to empower student leaders and community leaders (fons, ardos and Ma Yaahs) to act as agents in the fight.  Specific focus was on understanding GBV and engaging men and boys in the fight against child trafficking, Child/early/forced marriage and other forms of Gender Based Violence.
group picture with student leaders
The sensitization programme which started at GBHS Nkambe with over 500 student leaders in attendance was greased by talks from a group of Yali Fellows code named Mandela Washington Fellows told their stories to enthusiastic students. The debate by students on (Education before marriage or marriage before education) also added colour and exposed some of the societal ills that young girls have been going through. Welcoming the august guests, the Principal of GBHS Nkambe, Ken Martin Atanga said he was flattered that his institution was chosen in the region to host such an experience sharing workshop. Moved by the topic, he told a pathetic story of a female Mbororo student who is supposed to be in Upper Sixth who told him just a week ago that the father refused to pay her school fees on grounds that they wanted her to get a husband. According to Ken Martin, many of such cases abound at GBHS Nkambe. Investing in educating in the girl child according to the Principal of GBHS Nkambe is a guarantee to a sustainable future, yet some parents continue to ignore it. He revealed that GBHS has a population of about 1800 girls and out of the lot only few may go above Upper Sixth due to pressure from parents. He thanked the US Embassy, HOFNA and especially the Yali fellows for coming to inspire young boys and girls in sharing their experiences.
 In a 45 minutes debate, GBHS students in a purely intellectual exercise expressed their views on (Education before Marriage or Marriage before Education. The panelists thrilled not only the visitors but their peers as well as teachers. At the end the intellectual exercise the group that was for education before marriage carried the day. The Chief Judge, Ma Yaah Viban of the US Embassy in Yaounde in her concluding statement said that the panelists showed a great mastery of the topic and portrayed some public speaking skills that need just to be sharpened. She however, disclosed that of all the panelists, Nadine Bantar was very fluent in her arguments yet observers held that Kwefi Leonard was very intelligent. The panelists were encouraged with some documentation to improve on their public speaking qualities. Ma Yaah Viban used the opportunity to urge the student leaders that the Mandela Washington fellows just lighted the candle in their hands and a candle does not lose its light by lighting another. "It is therefore imperative for you to share with the other students so that you can be the Change you want to See". She talked elaborately on the Youth Exchange Programme Abroad and the Pan African Fellowship Programme which are all US Embassy sponsored and an opening for students of GBHS to partake.
On her part, Chongwain Christelle Bay, Cameroon President of Mandela Washington Fellows and Chief Executive Officer of HOFNA talked elaborately on the importance of volunteerism and the phenomenon of Nkambe being the hub for child labour. She told the students that “never miss an opportunity to improve on your environment" given that education is the solution. She said both boys and girls should bear in mind that marriage can wait and that education is the key to a successful life. "That is how you can be the change we need", she concluded.
The Cultural Attache
Group pic with administrators and traditional rulers
e at the US Embassy Marilyn Shultz expressed joy and satisfaction in the way the students expressed their minds during the debate, "you inspired me today", she emphasized. She called on the student leaders to share what they have learned with others. Education she noted is very important given that "no one can take it away from you". Before leaving Nkambe, the cultural attaché at the US Embassy promised that after the plan of action agreed on by the students and community leaders, the US Embassy will follow up to make sure that these bad which affect human dignity are eradicated. She also promised that debate clubs will be created in secondary schools around Donga Mantung Division for students to share their views on burning human rights issues.
Talking to this reporter at the end of the exercise, Afanyu Leonnel (senior boys prefect) after quoting Mahamat Ghandi concept on the importance of education to women said that the lessons learned will go a long way to empower them. He thanked the US Embassy, HOFNA and the Mandela Washington Fellows to giving GBHS Nkambe the pride of place in their programme. While Tata Melvis on her part sounded extremely flattered to have had the opportunity to listen to those she considered as her role models. 5 Mandela Washington Fellows from Cameroon namely Gerald K. Afadani, Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh Violet Fokum, Hilda Bih and Christelle Bay C thrilled students with their experiences.
Enter Traditional Rulers, Community Leaders (Fons, Ardos, Fais, Mayaahs, Mankfus)
At the Nkambe Community, traditional rulers and community leaders after brainstorming on the phenomenon of gender based violence took committments to act as ambassadors of change. In his welcome speech, the Assistant Divisional Officer for Nkambe Central disclosed that any parent that gives out the daughter for marriage by force will face the rage of law. Besides, Ebesom Benjamin Etoi also warned against undignified widowhood rites and concluded that the administration will make sure that these obnoxious practices are eradicated.
In a presentation on the Wimbum tradition, Fon Budi III of Kungi said that in the past, forceful marriages were practiced in many palaces and nowadays it is rampant amongst the fulanis where children as young as nine years are given out to elderly men. He outlined that the consequences are very huge on humanity such as violation of right to education, right to choice, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, etc. He frowned at the practice by some parents to give out their children to cities to serve as domestic servants out of poverty. Other speakers included the President of the Donga Mantung Women's Network, the Delegate of Social Affairs and the First Deputy Mayor for Nkambe. At the end of the meeting, participants especially (fons and ardos) and the administration resolved to work hand in glove to end gender based violence in Donga Mantung Division. The traditional rulers as well as community leaders frowned at the notion of sending out children to cities to work as boy-boy or baby sitters and took firm decisions to fight against it.








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