Posts Tagged With: Gender Equity

Cameroon, the Remix.

4 girls from Mordok, coming in from the fields.

5 girls from Mordok, coming in from the fields.

Cameroon was easily one of the most fascinating, diverse, disturbing and memorable countries I visited in 2012 with Heifer International…and that’s really saying scarf

My visit started with a minor disaster – we missed our flight from the capital city of Yaoundé up north to Maroua, and there wasn’t another one for 3 days. But as so often happens (if only I had the equanimity to keep this in mind), that accident ended up fortuitously taking me on the road to Douala, where we were able to see 3 other projects that were totally unique to Cameroon: one with snails…

Tangue Jokelt Dieudonne, proud member of Heifer's  Melong GIC with his snails

Tangue Jokelt Dieudonne, proud member of Heifer’s Melong GIC with his snails.

one with pigs …

Cute pigs from the CIG Women's project in Douala

… and one project with cane rats, a rodent I fear with hysterical fervor.

(and don't say that he's more afraid of me than I am of him)

(and don’t try to say that he’s more afraid of me than I am of him)

The south of Cameroon, like Douala, is wet, fertile and steamy….

Banana country!

Banana country!

…unlike the sere, flat and unrelentingly dry L’Extreme Nord. Scorched earth, Maroua

In fact, Cameroon is known as “Africa in miniature” because it contains all the continent’s topography: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest and savanna.

The southerners tend to be short, chubby, affable and primarily Christian…President Emilienne Zikou and VP Denise Nannou, GIC Ndoungue

…while the northerners are tall, lean, reserved and often Muslim.muslim girl

And it is the North that I worry deeply about. Water has always been scarce here, but never more so than now, with climate change prolonging the dry season to almost 11 months a year.mother water

The women of Barza, where Heifer dug a  bore hole, still have to walk about 5 miles each way, every day to secure enough water for their households, and even though men now share the task (thanks to Heifer gender equity trainings!) it’s a grueling, maddening waste of time and energy.woman w water

The people of Cameroon, though, are lovely, particularly in the L’Extreme Nord. As I was watching them one day, I wrote this in my book:

“Poverty isn’t pretty. It’s messy, smelly, sweaty. Filthy water hangs in the gutters of the streets. Old, beat-up things are used to the point of extinction and well beyond.boy and toy

Children in tattered cast-off clothing run barefoot through the dust. holding on

But poor people in Africa are also often heart-wrenchingly beautiful. friends

They rise above the destitution of their surroundings, the women sailing like colorful jibs through the channels of a jumbled market… two beauties…splendid and serene.”

Yes, I loved Cameroon. In fact, I love the energy, faith, colors, strength and smiles of Africa as much as any place I’ve ever been. kids

Who wouldn’t?


To read more about the inspiring Heifer projects I visited in Cameroon (including the rats), click below:

Categories: Africa, Agriculture, Animals, Cameroon, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Water, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Just sitting around knitting (and changing the world).

I hate meetings. In fact, I’ve pretty much developed a career around avoiding them. So I was somewhat dismayed when my introduction to Heifer Peru came in the form of a women’s meeting in Puno – a city about 14,000 feet above sea level in the south Central Highlands near beautiful Lake Titicaca.

The view outside...

Luckily, this meeting was like no women’s networking session I’d ever attended. For one thing, everyone had the same hairdo. The room was a sea of long black braids, topped by outrageously insouciant hats, tilted just so.

The view inside...

Instead of power pantsuits and hire-me heels, these women were decked out in abundantly colorful, multi-tiered skirts, intricately embroidered vests and spangled blazers. And while listening intently, almost every woman was simultaneously knitting or crocheting– hence getting a lot accomplished. I loved it!

The softest alpaca goods -- so beautiful!

The women were there to celebrate Heifer’s FEED project, in existence for 4 years with a mission to improve food security, nutrition and income, and encourage women in eight Puno rural communities to produce and collectively sell their handicrafts.

Like many of Heifer Peru’s projects, the FEED program is aligned with a local organization called APACHETA, The Center of Andean Development (obviously, Peruvians are as acronym-crazed as we are). While Heifer guides, funds and monitors APACHETA’s activities with 700 Peruvian women and their families, the leader of that organization is Cleida Incacutipa, a formidable 6-foot tall woman who used to work for Heifer but is now boots-on-the-ground in APACHETA’s drive to improve the lives of Puno women in ways both simple and complex.

Candida Canaza & the incomparable Cleida Incacutipa

The “simple” part is giving women the animals and the trainings to improve their families’ nutrition and income – teaching them how to grow more potatoes, breed the animals for income, and produce more high-quality handicrafts. More complex is developing leadership capabilities in these women farmers, training them to advocate for themselves in their households, neighborhoods, and local governments. To say Cleida has a gift for this kind of work is an understatement: she knows every woman’s name and personal history, she’s hugely dedicated, and she believes passionately in their capacity to achieve.

Three local leaders: Lidia Quiroz, Felipina Apaza & Elisabeth Ticona ...power to spare!

In a world where women are often not allowed to attend or speak in their local village meetings (not to mention their own households), Heifer’s gender equity sessions represent nothing less than a quiet revolution. From dealing with domestic violence to organizing a Congress of Female Farmers to running for local office, these women graduates of the gender workshops are taking the empowerment ball and running with it – especially the three fabulous rabble-rousers I sat down and talked to, while their friends were busy displaying their award-winning handicrafts on hilariously Caucasian manikins.

The women spoke again and again of the life-altering discovery that “I have a voice.” Once they truly embraced that, it was natural to begin to ask for things for themselves: workshops and looms to improve their community handicrafts, municipal help to support their entrepreneurial efforts, and always, in the Heifer way, offering to share knowledge and decision-making with other women to lift them up, too.

“In the past we were asleep,” says impish Felipina. “And then we woke up. We are new women now.” 

At the end of the long afternoon, I woke up to the shopping opportunities at hand, bought some beautiful hats, and got hugged about a million times around the neck. It was just about my favorite meeting ever.

Categories: Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

My admittedly tardy International Women’s Day Post! (Haiti Version 2.0)

I completely missed International Women’s Day on March 8th this year, and I’m feeling a little guilty about that. So I’m going to do one post at the end of each one of my trips, comprised of photos of the beautiful women I met in that country.

The women of Haiti were a constant source of inspiration to me: strong, brave, incredibly hard-working, and courageous in ways I cannot fathom. And despite their hard lives, full of joy.

But to be honest, I’m blown away by the women in every country I visit. On this planet there are 650 million smallholder farmers who produce 70% of all the food we eat. And the majority of those farmers are women.

When we help women farmers, we’re simply being smart –because with tools, training and technology, they will do what women always do: they’ll feed us, take care of us, and provide.

If I loved Heifer International for nothing else, it would be for its tireless, inventive, and unwavering commitment to empowering women farmers around the world to grow more, earn more, learn more, and achieve security for themselves and their families.

I’m seriously tickled pink to be a tiny part of this important work, and I can’t believe that I have the privilege of introducing you to these remarkable women (and there’s a story behind each one of these photos).

Happy International Women’s Day!! (let’s pretend it’s today).

And yes, I am in Peru now, and to prove it, here’s a little taste of things to come (it’s a female so it fits the theme).

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Haiti, Heifer International, Peru, Women | Tags: , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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