DIRECTOR: ETANG SAMUEL MANYI MBENG
Having grown up an orphan in an impoverished forest community of Western Cameroon, Etang knows first-hand the suffering that the people of his project area endure – particularly women, who face great injustices. With help from a distant relative, he was able to pursue an education and escape the poverty of his youth. Now he is using his education to help others. As he says, “Someone needs to sacrifice to help others achieve their dreams. I choose to be that person.”
Etang particularly values projects focusing on education and agriculture, and works with the most vulnerable members of the forest communities in his area. So far, the war has not directly impacted his area, so he continues to implement valuable agricultural projects. From high-yield cassava and maize projects to piggeries, he is empowering single mothers and other vulnerable women with income generating projects, combining education with access to raw materials and processing equipment. With entrepreneurial skills and cooperative marketing, women are escaping home violence and malnutrition. They are also learning basic human rights and how to advocate for themselves and others.
While providing opportunities for women is our primary goal, there is an important ecological benefit as well. Southwest Cameroon has tropical forests that are classified as critical/endangered by the WWF, and monoculture is causing severe ecological problems. The agricultural work we do with women promotes mixed cropping, high-yield seeds, and organic fertilizers/pesticides. By dramatically raising productivity in ecologically sustainable ways, we are improving livelihoods of women while protecting the local ecosystems.
Though not directly impacted by the war, his communities are impacted indirectly as wave after wave of war refugees (IDPs) have found their way into his area. Unable to ignore the tremendous suffering of these people, he created a Vocational Training Center in Limbe to teach computer and food service skills to IDPs and landslide victims. These skills will greatly help families find jobs in a town environment, allowing them to escape dehumanizing living conditions.
Etang has also initiated a “Girls In Schools” pilot program to help girls overcome the myriad of barriers that keep them from achieving adequate educations. Girls will meet weekly in Girls’s Clubs to learn about issues like menstrual management and sexual and human rights. They will receive reusable menstrual kits, be educated on cultural myths, and learn how to stand up for themselves and others. They will also receive training in entrepreneurial skills in the catering field. Rather than handing them a scholarship, this will allow them to earn income to support their education, build their self-confidence, and provide deep and long-term benefits. Finally, the project will supply textbooks to the schools (currently there is about one set of textbooks for every twenty students), so students will have the tools they need to learn literacy and mathematics skills. A scholarship alone is insufficient to help girls overcome a complex web of factors keeping them underserved and underachieving. We believe this holistic approach will dramatically improve their chances to realize their dreams for the future.