If you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Nkongsamba area, or pass through often, you know Justin Youmsi. Justin is the counterpart of the Agribusiness Volunteer posted in Poola, a quarter of Nkongsamba. Justin is great; he is the first person to make you laugh, works harder than most, and is dedicated to seeing his village improve and grow. As a PCV, he is a fantastic counterpart to work with!
Last rainy season, I found myself quite board and without a ton of work lined up for our second year here. I met with Justin to see if there was anything I could help his organization do. He is the president of GROUPELMA, an association of farmers in the local area. When we met, he was explaining his desire to see the youth in the area have a trade that they could do the support themselves and their future families. The problem here is that while most of the youth in Poola receive their high school degree, there is not a job market to support them once they graduate. Though educated, the youth tend to sit idle due to a lack of economic opportunities, and furthermore, because they went to high school, they have not gained the necessary farming skills to be able to grow and/or sell crops. So, we began to discuss what we could do to assist the youth in Poola.
As it turned out, GROUPELMA had already created a project proposal to address the problem of idle youth in Poola, however, they did not have a funding source to begin the project. The project proposal was to create a sustainable income generating project for the youth, while teaching them the necessary business and life skills to successfully manage their new enterprise. The community agreed that a necessary, and profitable, skill that could be taught is pig raising. Well, seeing as Shaun or I know nothing about raising livestock, thankfully we were partnering with Justin who does that for a living! We could bring business classes and entrepreneurial management classes to the table, and with the local health volunteers in the area, we knew we could find someone to train on basic health education and HIV/AIDS prevention education. Given that the youth are idle, sex is definitely one form of entertainment, which made HIV/AIDS prevention education a key component of the life skills taught through this project. So, our project framework was set! We would, together, teach pig raising, business classes, and HIV and health education. Now we just needed money. But, viola, the project was right in line with some of Peace Corps development objectives! We completed a funding application, and we were on our way to our pig project!
Each candidate received 4 piglets that they will raise until they are large enough to sell at the market. With the revenue they will earn from selling the pigs, they will reimburse GROUPELMA the initial investment (cost of piglets, food, etc), so that the organization can continue the program with a second set of participants. They will also, then, have enough funds remaining to purchase another set of piglets for themselves, and are now able to raise them, manage their business, and sell them to make a profit to support themselves and their families. Ideally, the cycle will continue successfully and enable more of the youth in Poola to gain a trade that will be profitable for them. The project officially started in January, when we launched the first round of five youth participants. Since January, we have been meeting every two weeks for a couple of hours. Beth, the other Agribusiness volunteer in the area, trade off teaching the business portion of the course, with Justin teaching the technical pig raising portion, and partnering with the health PCV in the area to teach the health and HIV prevention classes.
Since January, the project has gone really well! I keep waiting for the big hiccup that will derail it all, we do live in Cameroon after all! But, to my surprise, all is moving smoothly. Last week we held a ceremony, in a way it is was an official opening ceremony for the project and the partnership of the project between Peace Corps and GROUPELMA. The purpose of the ceremony was also to explain, more formally, the goals of the project to the community and to drum up more interest for future participants, now that we almost finished with the first round. To make the ceremony more ‘official’ the sous-prefet was invited, as well as the Peace Corps Agribusiness director (mine and Beth’s boss). We purchased little cakes from the bakery in town, rented chairs, arranged to have a sound system that never showed up, and prayed that the drizzle of rain didn’t turn into a downpour. Even though there were a few hiccups on timing, African time is always an issue, the ceremony was a big success. The whole executive board of GROUPELMA was present, the sous-prefet showered the project with support, and our director explained the goals of Peace Corps and our reasons for being here. And, because a certificate is worth gold in this country, all of the participants received their official certificate of completion for the pig project.
So, to give credit where credit is due, here’s a huge shout out to all that made this project a huge success. Thanks to Beth for being willing to jump in right after arriving at post and help get the project started. A huge shout out to Gillian and Martine for teaching on HIV/AIDS prevention education, we both know I could have never done it without you both. And, to Justin. Thanks for letting me crash Poola and get behind a project I believe in and can get motivated to do. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him, I was in a work ‘slump’ before the project started, and the work in Poola kept me going, kept me focused, and, leaves me wrapping up my Peace Corps service feeling appreciated, believing in the change that the community can accomplish, and realizing how much I am going to miss the relationships with the whole Poola crew.