The latest installment in our Notes From the Field series comes from Renee St. Jacques, who has been serving as a Peace Corps Agribusiness Volunteer in Cameroon. Renee recently coordinated the distribution of LuminAID lights to families in the village of Beka-Hosséré. Renee shares her story below:
Sharing the LuminAID lights with Cameroon
Light has come to Beka-Hosséré! Thanks to LuminAid, over 30 solar lights were given to families in my village who do not have electricity! The idea started when my mom bought me a solar light to bring to Cameroon and another friend sent me a similar one when I arrived at my village. I gave one of the solar lights to my neighbors since they were always asking to use my flashlights or candles. That small gift made their evenings so much brighter. Not only did the light help them cook and do homework, but also they could see each other’s faces better as they sat in a circle on the matted floor eating their meal of cous cous. It became clear to me that more solar lights were needed in Beka-Hosséré.
My neighbor, Zakiatoo helped me give out the solar lights and explain how to use them in Fulfulde, the local language
Beka-Hosséré is located near Ngaoundéré, the capital of the Adamawa region of Cameroon. Since it is so close to a city, electricity is available to those in the village who can afford it. Unfortunately most people cannot afford to have electricity and also send all their children to school. Just like in America, we choose what we spend our money on. Most of the families are Muslim with 1-3 wives and many children. I want families to choose to pay for education before lights in the house.
Whether a child goes to school or not can have a direct impact on the happiness of their life and also on the improvement of their community. If a girl does not go to school, they will probably never learn French, most likely be married by 16 years old, and like most Muslim wives, they will hardly ever leave their compound around their house. They will spend their life cooking, cleaning, and having children. But if a child goes to school, they will learn French, maybe English, and maybe, just maybe they will dream and make goals. Cameroon needs citizens who receive an education and then go back to help make their communities a safer and healthier place.
Solar lights not only give light, they give ideas. Just like when we look up to the stars and wish for our dreams to come true: those solar lights are stars in the homes of my neighbors. As a father helps his young daughter with her homework in the pale shine of their solar light, she is not only learning, she is making goals and realizing that she can still value her culture along with broadening her horizons.
Nothing says thank you more than a usually serious Cameroonian woman jumping up and down saying “Useko!”: thank you in the local language of Fulfulde. Thank you LuminAID for making it possible for my village to see through the darkness; you gave some new stars to wish upon in Beka-Hosséré.
Renee St. Jacques is a Peace Corps Agribusiness volunteer in Beka-Hosséré, Cameroon. Her work focuses on a Soy Project where farmers learn how to grow soy, transform it into milk and tofu, and sell it at the local market. Her hometown is Argyle, New York where she grew up raising a variety of animals and showing them in 4-H competitions at the Washington County Fair. She attended SUNY Adirondack for an Associate’s degree, SUNY Oneonta for a Bachelor’s in English and SUNY Plattsburgh for a Master’s in Leadership. She hopes to work in the area of agriculture and non-profit management in the future. Just as Cameroon needs its citizens to support their communities, Renée wants to continue to grow her own community in the US after completion of her Peace Corps service in December 2016.
Now that spring is in full swing, the warm weather is wonderful motivation to bring your team outdoors and make a local impact. Service projects and volunteering opportunities make for great team bonding experiences that also help strengthen your local community.