“It was a painful experience, but I had to endure"
Inspiring sustainability education project making a difference in CameroonJune 09th, 2017
“It was a painful experience, but I had to endure.” Meet Hilary Ewang Ngide, a 31-year-old PhD research student at the University of Buea and Head of the Center for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD), one of the winners of the 2016 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development.
Hilary was born in 1986 in Ekanjoh-Bajoh, a small village in the sprawling tropical forest of South West Cameroon. Hilary’s parents were poor, “very poor” he specifies. He worked on the farm with them. At harvest, he carried head loads of plantains or cocoyam and trekked 20 kilometers barefoot to the nearest town market at Bangem.
“I did all the trekking on the bush forest path to Bangem barefooted,” he says. “That was the only means to have some money for my parents to buy basic school needs and pay my fees. I only got my first ever pair of leather shoes when I was about to get into secondary school.”
Today, the hardships Hilary experienced as a child help draw him closer to young people undergoing similar distress in their lives. He is using Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to provide capacity, sense of focus and hope to the socially and economically challenged youth in his country.
Hilary started his drive as change agent by volunteering in his community in the area of hygiene and sanitation. At university, he volunteered for NGOs. Galvanized by his experiences, Hilary decided in 2004 to create his own platform – CCREAD – through which he could help improve the lives of the underprivileged, “marginalized” and vulnerable.
Buoyed by this ambition, he carved an all-embracing content for the ESD programme in Cameroon. It includes ESD in school and communities; sexuality education and family planning; environmental education; climate change adaptation and resilience; entrepreneurship; leadership and good governance, and sustainable agricultural trainings. “Through this all-embracing programme, we want to reach out to as many people in as many sectors as possible; kind of giving every youth in any sphere of life a chance,” Hilary says.
The record of the programme’s reach so far is impressive, with 39,000 students in 147 schools, 260 teachers and administrators, and 3,640 households. On the magic behind achieving so much with so little resources, Hilary explains:
“As an organization, the implementation of projects is not totally dependent on funding. We prioritize the energy from the beneficiary groups to make a change with or without external support. The organization is more of a facilitator of the process of youth empowerment. Our main actors are therefore the local youth groups, municipal administration, traditional village rulers, local partner organizations and international partners who provide the basic support needed to expand and consolidate our interventions.”
This approach of positioning young people as main actors in the process of their own change has “regenerated” and transformed the lives of many in a deep and long-lasting manner.
The story of a beneficiary couple attests to the transformative power of ESD programme in Cameroon. Keka Grace, 28, holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Seoul in South Korea, and her husband, Njoh, 31, has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Buea in Cameroon. For local standards, the couple is considered high academic achievers who could be working for the government in the capital Yaoundé. However, they have become farmers, market gardeners to be precise in order to conquer the challenge of unemployment.
Keka Grace was the first to be redeemed by the ESD programme. “After graduating from university, I was unemployed and I lost my sense of purpose, self-esteem and dignity,” she says. “I learned about CCREAD and I decided to attend a series of ESD trainings on sustainable agricultural practices.” Her husband Njoh, who was also jobless, was not convinced just yet but he was always fond of farming. After the trainings and conferences, Keka Grace explained the concept to him and he was immediately interested. The couple opted for organic agriculture.
Njoh started thinking and dreaming big about their new venture in organic farming for commercial purposes. “CCREAD gave us the know-how through training and also gave us farming tools and seeds,” he says. The couple started by growing tomatoes. The revenue from the sales gives them the basics to live on, but they want to expand and engage in large-scale green production of soya beans, corn and pepper. “We want to develop a sustainable green agricultural enterprise to employ others and help develop our society: we just need to have the land,” he says beaming with hope.
Through this experience, Keka Grace who at one point toyed with the idea of going out of the country has learned an enduring lesson. “Thank God, the ESD programme has made us realize that the answer to joblessness is not moving out to Europe and North America in search of greener economic pastures like many African youths do today and sometimes perish on the way,” she says. The couple is now settled under the firm shelter of their farm at Ekona, a small locality at the foot of the eastern flank of Mount Cameroon.
Hilary is all smiles as he watches Njoh and Keka Grace, once unemployed graduates, now happily harvesting tomatoes for the market. He philosophizes on an eternal truth: “When you are part of somebody’s success, it is what gives you joy, real deep joy”. Hilary is one of the winners of the 2016 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) empowers people to change the way they think and work towards a sustainable future. UNESCO aims to improve access to quality education on sustainable development at all levels and in all social contexts.