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HomeInterview with Ajomuzu Collette Bekaku – Founder and Executive Director of CAPEC

Interview with Ajomuzu Collette Bekaku – Founder and Executive Director of CAPEC

August 25, 2017 660Views

Cameroon Association for the Protection and Education of the Child (CAPEC) is one of Develop Africa's Partner in Cameroon.  Below is an interview with Ajomuzu Collette Bekaku – Founder and Executive Director of CAPEC

 
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was the original interest in the protection and education of children?

I grew up in a community where child labour was perceived as “normal”. It was a time in Africa, especially in Cameroon, when it was normal for children to help parents at home with little household chores like sweeping the compound, selling fruits to raise income for the family, etc., just to name a few. However, it was also a time when it was normal for children to work on banana and rubber plantations. It was also normal for them to carry very heavy loads on their heads (which impairs their health and growth), and it was normal for them to work under hazardous conditions full of dangerous chemicals and insecticides (which also impairs their education, health and growth). As a result of seeing this situation in my community i.e. child labour, I became motivated and pushed myself to become an advocate for children’s protection and education.

I personally believe that children should be educated, offered opportunities for their development and not used as labourers.

What was the inspiration for the foundation of the Cameroon Association for the Protection and Education of the Child (CAPEC)?

I grew up with a single parent (my mum), in Mambanda Village, who was a primary school teacher. The majority of people leaving in this village were peasant farmers who were working in Banana and Rubber plantations for the Cameroon Development Cooperation (CDC), who were paid according to their daily productivity. In order for them to increase productivity and make more money at the end of the month, parents were obliged to use their children as labourers in the plantations. Children worked under hazardous conditions. As a 10-year-old girl, I went through this hardship and pain like other children in my situation. During this phase of my life, I organised storytelling events among fellow children aiming to focus our respective visions on life. This enabled me to understand that children, even while poor and living in hard conditions, all had so much potential and vision. This motivated me to promote the rights of children in poor, rural communities like where I grew up. This story and history lives in me, and my actions are still guided by my passion for a community where child rights are promoted and respected. Immediately I graduated from university, and in conjunction with my work within various communities, I thought of formalising and sustaining the response to challenges faced by children by creating CAPEC, which is a growing, reputable and non-profit organisation. I started CAPEC in order to protect and educate underprivileged children living in various communities across Cameroon.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was the original interest in the protection and education of children?

I grew up in a community where child labour was perceived as “normal”. It was a time in Africa, especially in Cameroon, when it was normal for children to help parents at home with little household chores like sweeping the compound, selling fruits to raise income for the family, etc., just to name a few. However, it was also a time when it was normal for children to work on banana and rubber plantations. It was also normal for them to carry very heavy loads on their heads (which impairs their health and growth), and it was normal for them to work under hazardous conditions full of dangerous chemicals and insecticides (which also impairs their education, health and growth). As a result of seeing this situation in my community i.e. child labour, I became motivated and pushed myself to become an advocate for children’s protection and education.

I personally believe that children should be educated, offered opportunities for their development and not used as labourers.

What was the inspiration for the foundation of the Cameroon Association for the Protection and Education of the Child (CAPEC)?

I grew up with a single parent (my mum), in Mambanda Village, who was a primary school teacher. The majority of people leaving in this village were peasant farmers who were working in Banana and Rubber plantations for the Cameroon Development Cooperation (CDC), who were paid according to their daily productivity. In order for them to increase productivity and make more money at the end of the month, parents were obliged to use their children as labourers in the plantations. Children worked under hazardous conditions. As a 10-year-old girl, I went through this hardship and pain like other children in my situation. During this phase of my life, I organised storytelling events among fellow children aiming to focus our respective visions on life. This enabled me to understand that children, even while poor and living in hard conditions, all had so much potential and vision. This motivated me to promote the rights of children in poor, rural communities like where I grew up. This story and history lives in me, and my actions are still guided by my passion for a community where child rights are promoted and respected. Immediately I graduated from university, and in conjunction with my work within various communities, I thought of formalising and sustaining the response to challenges faced by children by creating CAPEC, which is a growing, reputable and non-profit organisation. I started CAPEC in order to protect and educate underprivileged children living in various communities across Cameroon.

What tasks and responsibilities come with being the executive director of the CAPEC?

As the executive director and vision bearer, I am in charge of the overall supervision of the organisation. I manage the relationships between the technical team and the Board within the organisation, as well as the relationship between the organisations and its partners. I also oversee the heads of each department of CAPEC, including fundraising, program development, HR management and accounting. I also oversee the public relation the organisation maintains outside office and normal business hours. Furthermore, I attend and also host a range of fundraising events, new program inaugurations and public-relations events. I often speak directly with reporters, donors, government representatives and members of the community at these events (spending a good deal of time acting as the public face of the organisation).

What is the current size of the staff and those cared for by CAPEC?

We have twenty-four staff in Kumba and Yaoundé office, five outreach officers, fifteen in the CAPEC Education Project (Teachers/Administrative staff), and four work in the office on CAPEC-related projects

For those that don’t know, and many simply won’t because grassroots work is learned through action, what difficulties arise in the midst of grassroots organisation?

CAPEC carry out a lot of projects in rural communities ranging from HIV/AIDS, wealth creations, education, gender/capacity building. Apart from the individual challenges we faced during executing these various projects, there are other general challenges and difficulties we face as a grassroots organisation, such as:

Difficult terrain: Most project areas are very difficult to assess during mid raining season, and thus needing a four-wheel drive vehicle to be able to reach these areas – which we cannot afford.
Social challenges: Weak community leadership and a difficult mindset rooted in the people living here, especially concerning the HIV/AIDS Program. A lot of people living in rural areas believe HIV/AIDS don’t exist, and consider it witchcraft. It’s difficult to convince them to get tested and actually get a sustained buy-in from community leaders.
Money: CAPEC need money for operations. We face difficulty in raising adequate funding to support our programmes and operations. There is no direct correlation between increased work and increased income; unlike a for-profit company where the work you do is directly sold for revenue. So NGOs have to put a lot of its resources into creating successful media campaigns, getting the right connections, filling in tons of forms and paperwork for grants, aid and taxation. Not to forget, of course, the hassle of getting an NGO recognised as an NGO, and finding a secure way of getting tax-exempt donations. What all this results in is a lack of focus. The people created the NGO to solve a problem and now the focus is on doing things that get attention to help raise money. This leads to disconnect between vision and work. The funding environment for Cameroon is getting more and more challenging with more donors reducing funding interest for the country. NGOs struggle to mobilise resources in response to community needs and CAPEC is also faced with this challenge.

What are some of the eventual emotional difficulties and rewards?

NGOs like CAPEC are typically mission-driven advocacy or service organisations in the non- profit sector. Currently, NGOs are critical contributors in global efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, the growth in the number of local and international NGOs in this sector has made it very difficult to secure funding to maintain staff and meeting our organisation objectives. Competition has become extensively stiff, especially with the presence of international organisations everywhere. This has made local NGOs engage in more and more fundraising activities to sustain their activities. The members of staff often work long hours and yet the works itself has proven exhilarating and exceptionally rewarding as it is critically important to causes served.

CAPEC is not governmental and is a non-profit organisation. You founded the organisation in 2002. You work with young people, parents, and various governmental and intergovernmental bodies, and your main aims are the promotion of community welfare. What values and principles inform community welfare for CAPEC?

CAPEC operates with a primary focus on and responsibility for the providing of a higher, broader, and more public level of help for vulnerable children, adolescents, girls and women.  This principle is further attached to the integral values of the organisation that includes but is not limited to: i) respect for human rights; ii) the maintenance of our vision; iii) cooperation beyond borders; iv) public mindedness; v) accountability; vi) truthfulness; vii) transparency; and viii) non-profit integrity. 

CAPEC’s vision is to allow children to realise their full-potential. What other sub-visions stem from this?

Other sub-visions include increasing the impact of activities centred on the promotion of child rights. This is achieved through a high-level advocacy in conjunction with a coalition of associations and NGOs with a similar vision. In this regard, I have contacted a host of leaders of associations and NGOs who have accepted and are motivated to be co-founders of such a coalition. It is hoped that this initiative will have an influence on programming from individual association and NGO perspective so that child-right programming will become a reality.

What are the main activities, campaigns, and initiatives of CAPEC?

Core Activities:

The gender and Capacity Building Department:

Gender awareness/Human Rights training.
Training in group dynamics and leadership.
Skill training for women/youth groups (e.g, soap making, tie & dye, production of bakery products, mushrooms, nutrition, etc.)
Training in starting and managing small business for affiliated groups.
In-house training for both national and international volunteers

Health/HIV/OVCs:

Ongoing basic health training focusing on hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.
Provision of care and support to OVCs and PLWHAs
HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention sensitisation working alongside community-based groups, young people and schools.

Education Project:

Elementary, Primary and Secondary Education:

Under our Education Projects there are several subprograms that seek to develop children and surrounding communities as part of CAPEC’s primary mission. Currently, CAPEC has the following schools: Bitame Lucia Nursery and Primary School (BLIS) and Bitame Lucia Secondary School (BLIC)

Your targeted objectives utilise the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child without regard to tribe, sex, religion, or origin to protect children of sexual exploitation, forced child marriage, and child labour. Your work focuses on centres for the disabled and street children, orphanages, and prisons and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. How do these look on-the-ground?

It’s not an easy task, considering that they look upon themselves as not acceptable in their society. It makes it difficult to approach them. Lots of talking and sensitisation needs to be done in order to get them participating in those important activities that concern their well-being. It is very difficult working with people with different religions and traditions. They have their entrenched way of thinking and their own entrenched lifestyle. However, we have been able to get some of them listen to us. Our long commitment to hard work and the determination of our dedicated team is proving to be fruitful.

Some of the activities we do to get street children and orphans to listen to us include: arts and crafts; painting; dancing and music – which are activities that can distract their minds from their present predicaments. With such simple and interactive activities, we have been able to get them interested in our activities.

What are your future hopes for growth, expansion of initiatives, and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Children in different parts of Cameroon suffer from different forms of abuse, violence and torture. For example, in Akwaya sub-division there’s a lot of children being forced into child marriage at a tender age of 10. This is because of the impoverished state that their parents are usually in. My intention is to expand our programs nationwide and to target other forms of abuse suffers by children; not just child labour.

In 2009, CAPEC started a school for orphans and children from low income families to provide them with quality and affordable education. According to CAPEC, education is not only the main solution to poverty but it also stands at the heart of sustainable human development. However, the present formal education system in Cameroon is not functioning properly and is a serious contributory factor to dropout and failure. The current curriculum in government schools lacks relevance. The child-teacher ratio is too high (80-100 children per class), and slow children are never taken care of: “once you fail, you have failed.” CAPEC school offer youngsters in Cameroon from 4 until 12 years and adolescents from 13 till 18 years old a high-quality education.

CAPEC intend to expand this child-centred education to other regions in Cameroon. With high-quality education and the holistic development of children, we believe that their dreams can be realised.

For those that want to work together or become involved, what are recommended means of contacting CAPEC?

For those who would like to volunteer in CAPEC’s Projects or work in partnership on specific programs can contact us via

BP 20646 Yaoundé-Cameroon

Tel: (+237) 242030163

Mobile: (+237) 677751606 / 675036025

Email: info@capecam.org / cbekaku@yahoo.com

Website: www.capecam.org

 https://www.facebook.com/CAPEC20/?fref=ts

 https://www.facebook.com/Nkolfoulou/

Thank you for your time, Ajomuzu.