By Claude Essomba Minlah (YES 2014-2015, Cameroon, hosted by PAX in Cordova, TN)
About a year and a half ago, my mom became a fan of a woman giving tutorials on natural soap and lotion making on her YouTube channel, Bell'idee. We began to watch the videos together and make some of the products when we had the ingredients at hand. One day, while watching one of these videos, I had a wonderful idea. Not only could I make my mom's dream of being trained by the Bell'idee's team come true, but I could also train many other women like my mother who might benefit economically from a training program that gives them a means to entrepreneurship.
Around 50% of Cameroon’s population is made up of working age people (16- to 65-year-olds), but only 10% of this demographic has the type of jobs that are counted in Cameroon's employment rate. The other 90% are “employed” in the informal economy, mostly women and youth “bayam sellam," people who buy goods, mostly imported, and resell them.
Inspired with my idea, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant. I could not believe it when I saw the email with “congratulations” followed by my name in June 2019. After three preparatory meetings in August with my alumni project team (including Patricia Meche YES ’11, Nouredine Mama YES ’16, Nike Ange Djiade YES ’17, Jalane Tsague YES ’17, Claude-Audré Tchouagne YES ’17, and Stephane Kamtchuing YES ’13), sharing information with our volunteers, and other preparation for the workshop, we officially launched the project on August 28, 2019 with our first workshop at Saint Monique Parish-Makepe.
The workshop kicked off with an introduction of the YES program by iEARN staff Donfack François, then Nouredine and Jalane introduced the group to the YES alumni community. The trainers began by introducing participants to the processes of making soap. After lunch, Mirabel Ngong, our first guest speaker and YALI scholar, spoke to the participants about the importance of pursuing one’s dreams and goals. She shared her own experiences and achievements and encouraged participants not to keep the knowledge they gained “under their mattresses.” Our business coaches David Tchatcha and Kamwa Fabrice followed with a presentation on the steps necessary to start a new business and gave participants tips on running a successful business. The day’s final module was on making body lotion, after which we distributed the soap we’d made and certificates among the 42 participants. The day was a great start to our project, and the participants showed much interest and enthusiasm.
On August 29, we held the second day of our workshop at Japoma Government High School, following the same training agenda as the first day. It was another successful day with a total of 22 new participants trained. August 30 was the final day of the workshop and took place at Nyalla Government Bilingual High School. For the closing remarks, guest speaker Gleeny Nkar, a young entrepreneur with a fruit business, talked about why she started the business, the difficulties she faces, and how she overcomes challenges.
After the workshop, I created a WhatsApp group for participants, alumni, and trainers to keep dialogue about the training and their progress going. It was amazing to see how active the group was. Participants continued to ask questions, and the whole group was engaged in answering questions and offering advice and suggestions. They were all hungry for both the “know-how” and the “let-know.”
In the end, our project taught entrepreneurial skills to a total of 96 participants. The feedback from our participants was splendid.
Michelle, a 25-year-old student said, "The program was enriching, and it really motivated me to become an entrepreneur. I really love the idea of making products for our basic needs."
Miss Axelle added, "Very good training. This training gave me more confidence in myself, to dare and learn.”
My dream is to see one of our participants build a business out of what they have been taught and that our participants will continue to spread their knowledge to others. Applying for a YES alumni grant was a great experience – not easy, but worth it. The experience reminds me of a proverb that says, "You can't tie a knot with only one hand." Our project team was not only a team for this project, but a team for life.
I also learned that a sincere “thank you” is worth more than great treasure. This project would have never been possible without my marvelous team. They supported and provided encouragement throughout the project. I wish to thank Patricia Meche for guiding me through the application process, our venue Saint Monique Parish, the government high schools Nyalla and Japoma for providing us with meeting space, our Bell'idee trainers Essengue Barnabe and Nke Jules, the founder of Bell'idee and the inspiration for this project Ms. Claudia, speakers Mirabel Ngong and Gleeny Nkar, business coaches David Tchatcha and Kamwa Fabrice, our outstanding volunteers Kabeyene Stéphanie, Edvain Tsafack, and Abouem Renée, YES program staff, and my wonderful mother, Nssi Hortence. On the behalf of all participants, teammates, and myself, I sincerely thank the YES program, my placement organization PAX, and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring this project and enabling it to come to life.