Though free basic education policy adopted by the government of Cameroon in 2000, many children remain out of school or dropout mid-way into their training program due to financial constraints.
While more than 90% of school-age children enrolled are in primary school in 2009, less than half completed education and the problem persist to date.
After a year into implementation, Goodness and Mercy Missions is sponsoring the education of 313 needy children in Belo community through its project entitled “Children Education through Women Empowerment”
An innovative idea, surfaced at the 2011 Cameroon Development Marketplace competition, brought approximately 100 women together to embark on an income generating activity supporting the education of needy children in Belo community. These women sold 106 barrels of palm oil with a start-up budget of XAF 6,000,000 (US $12,000) and earned XAF 12,767,000 (US $25,534). With benefits made (XAF 3,881,000 - US $7762), women from the community are sponsoring the education of 313 needy children of Belo community for the academic year 2012/2013.
While it is assumed that the free education policy would stimulate greater demand for education at primary level, this is not always the case, especially for the girl child of poor family background living in rural areas. Financial constraints (such as PTA fees at primary level or tuition fees in secondary school, and high cost of textbooks, etc.) associated with education plague the success of this policy. Therefore, improving household’s income would have a great impact on enrollment rate in school especially for the girl child. How to do this remains a challenge.The concept developed by Goodness and Mercy Missions uses women to impact on the life of children and the community at large. It operates as follows:
i. The project identifies a scarce though highly consumed commodity in the community and neighboring villages (e.g. palm oil);
ii. Organizes a sensitization campaign to invite women’s group to mobilize around children’s education;
iii. Barrels of palm oil are purchased and shared amongst women’s groups for sale using capital made available through the grant;
iv. Money collected from the sales is saved while waiting for the beginning of the academic year so savings can be shared amongst the groups;
v. Throughout the year, income generated while waiting for the beginning of the academic year can be used to run a short-term lending scheme for women of the group reimbursable on a monthly basis. No interest is charged to members;
vi. At the beginning of the academic year (which marks the end of a cycle of activities), capital invested is subtracted from income and the profit made is shared amongst groups in relation to the quantity they sold;
vii. Group members jointly identify and provide scholarships to needy children of the community for their education.
Results of this pilot initiative have performed well beyond expectations: 106 barrels of palm oil has been sold over 50% above the initial target, and 313 children were sent to school.
The table below gives you more detailed information on the amount shared and number of scholarships offered per group of women.
“Children Education through Women Empowerment” is a good example of an innovation with high potential for replication and development impact. The capital provided will continue to help these groups of women as the years go by, and the annual benefit made from their income generating activity will serve to send needy children of the community to school. In Cameroon, obligatory fees associated with education in secondary school amount are still insufficient to cover all the costs2. Nevertheless, this project is first of its kind in Belo and is highly appreciated by the community.
“This project has strengthened our social ties. We bear each other’s burdens, and because of this project our family lives have improved” asserted the leader of the group called Charity Sisters. Besides the culture of togetherness developed through this project, community members acknowledge improvement not only at the level of children’s education, but also nutrition as it is now possible for women to easily access palm oil which has been a scarce product even in neighboring villages.
If such a project continues along the same path as it started, it is believed that in years to come, no child of this community would be uneducated because of lack of finances and the dropout rate will decrease as the success or failure of children’s education in the community becomes a common responsibility. With increasing demand from neighboring communities and financial support from funding partners, the private sector or the state, such an initiative is likely to grow in scale and have an impact on a much bigger population.