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Leaving Footprints

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted August 24th, 2010 | Africa

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So the story ends back on a train, this time headed to Vermont, not from.

I flew back into the States a few days ago, and have been attempting to regain my bearings ever since.

The last week or so in Cameroon were as busy as could be expected.  I often find that once you hit the ‘one week’ mark, you start to almost hear the seconds and minutes tick by.  My ‘to do before I leave’ lists started to look a little manic and overwhelming.  But, I have learned that it always does get done, even if not as gracefully as one might hope…

Amongst a myriad of loose-end tying, my last week also involved another Human Resources training, organized by CBWN (pictures found here).  Food and networking followed.  It was well attended, and both Marguerite and our new Hub Manager Dominique were present to ‘spread the good word’ about the Association.

HR Training - Marguerite presenting the CBWN, Dominique in the foreground
HR Training - Marguerite presenting the CBWN, Dominique in the foreground

I also finally completed the Vital Voices-drafted member survey.  While I did not quite meet the respondent number I was hoping for, I think it is a good start and can be expanded upon as CBWN’s membership grows these next few months.


Speaking of growth, it was fascinating to witness the development of this Association, even in just the 10 weeks I was in Cameroon.  With new staff members, official committees established, action plans written, and trainings attended – it is clear that this group of women (and one man) will be moving the Association forward, and at an impressive pace.  I only hope I was able to contribute something of lasting value to this network of noble and admirable ambition.

Me with Marguerite, and Isabelle (who led me through many a market and even dropped me at the bus station when I left Douala)
Me with Marguerite, and Isabelle (who led me through many a market and even dropped me at the bus station when I left Douala)

I personally leave Cameroon with some rediscovered ‘joie de vivre.’  A ‘joie’ that was found amidst the humidity, the rain, the moto-taxis, the road-side beignets, and the interviewing.  A ‘joie’ that was tucked in between bodies on a bus, in a cup of palm wine and most certainly enveloped in the laughter of my colleagues (now friends – sisters, even?).  I came to be reminded of the real, everyday heroism that exists in the untold stories hiding in a kitchen or behind a sewing machine.  I was reminded.  I came to find out what can be done in the face of discrimination, hardship and a lack of resources.  I found it.

There was a sign on Mt. Cameroon that said, “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but foot prints.”  I wonder what other than foot prints on Douala streets I am leaving behind.  I know what I am taking with me, and it’s a great deal more than photographs.  There’s the ‘joie,’ but there’s also a deep sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for the people who came into my life this summer.  How can I thank Clémence, who traipsed around Douala with me for weeks on end, or who made me laugh everyday?  How can I thank Frieda for inviting me to her home in Elogbatindi and taking 7 hours to braid my hair?  Dominque for the philosophical discussions, and advice as to what to see and do in Douala during my visit.  Marguerite for her support and enthusiasm in all things CBWN.  All the members who invited me into their work places and took the time to talk to me.  All the wonderful people who helped me find a cab, lead me through a market, fed me, teased me, escorted me at night – let me use their wifi (or laundry machine).  How can I really thank you, all of you?

I am grateful for the summer I had.  I am grateful for the people I met.  And you can be sure I will continue to follow, support and spread the word about a group of women who are very much emerging from the proverbial shadows, and reminding us all what is to be a ‘femme battante.’

My last weekend, with the girls in Kribi
My last weekend, with the girls in Kribi

2 Responses to “Leaving Footprints”

  1. karmaloop says:

    Fantastic Stuff, do you currently have a myspace account?

  2. keep helping out. Ive wanted to visit Cameroon for so long, i hear the people there are so nice.

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Meet Margaret Litumbe

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted August 13th, 2010 | Africa

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Introducing: Dominique Yamb Ntimba

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted August 13th, 2010 | Africa

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As previously mentioned, CBWN has finally been graced with the presence of our new Hub Manager, who I present below:


Dominique Yamb Ntimba was born in 1974 in a small village called Makondo, a few hours drive from Douala.  Dominique received both his primary and secondary education in Edea; at the age of 15 he attended the ‘Lycee Classique d’Edea,’ where he received his baccalaureat and was named Top Student of his school, and second in the Littoral region as a whole.  In 1992 he attended the University of Yaounde, and the following year moved on to the University of Douala.  There he studied philosophy, and later focused more specifically on political and comparative philosophy.  In 1997 he received his Masters Degree in Philosophy.

Between 1998 and 2002, Dominique taught philosophy at the University of Douala, and during the latter two years was also the Head of the Publicity Department for TV Max – a television broadcasting company.  In 2002 he became the CEO of Bel-Air Cameroon, an IT company in Yaounde, and over the subsequent two years helped Bel-Air grow into a large enterprise.  In 2005 he returned to Douala and became the Head of the Department for Communication and Training for AFECAC, an accountancy firm, for two years.

In 2007 Orange Cameroon, an affiliate of France Telecom, appointed Dominique as the Project Manager for its’ tracking solutions.  He then became an Operations Management Consultant for Smartrack, a tracking partner of Orange, then subsequently moved on to become the Account Executive for Douala1, a Network Service Provider.

Finally, in July of 2010, Dominique was hired by Vital Voices to take on the role of Hub Manager for the CBWN.

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Taking Stock

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted August 8th, 2010 | Africa

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The past few weeks have been busy.  With Breakfast Meetings, trainings and a myriad of committee, sponsor and partner meetings – the CBWN plate has been rather full.

Dr. Marguerite Limagnack gives a presentation on CBWN at a Human Resources training on July 24th (provided by CBWN
Dr. Marguerite Limagnack gives a presentation on CBWN at a Human Resources training on July 24th (provided by CBWN

Dr. Marguerite Limagnack gives a presentation on CBWN at a Human Resources training on July 24th (provided by CBWN)

It’s been interesting to watch how something small can step by step, become gradually bigger.

For starters, CBWN’s new Hub Manager officially began work last Monday, the 2nd of August.  Tall, charismatic, driven and brimming with ideas, Dominique Yamb Ntimba has hit the ground running – despite being the only male staff member (and the only man in our little four, sometimes five-woman-army of an office).  CBWN has also been blessed with yet another staff member, a young woman by the name of José, to help Clémence in all of her ‘Executive Secretary’ type activities and responsibilities.  And so in one week we went from a ‘President/Executive Secretary/AP Fellow’ type operation to a five-person team!

I remember on my second day here in Douala I realized I had accomplished two things: I had purchased a cell phone and acquired a small desk in a back room.  Progress.  That is one of the things I am being forced to remember here.   You must take stock of every move forward – even something seemingly as insignificant as realizing you now have FIVE whole phone numbers in your new little cell phone.

CBWN now has five whole staff members in its expanding rolodex.

Marguerite and Dominique together are quite the ‘tour de force.’  Committees have been established, chairs designated, and trainings, workshops, outreach programs and networking events a-plenty are being calendared.

Marguerite and Dominique, meeting with three Committee Chairs (not pictured) - Jose in the background
Marguerite and Dominique, meeting with three Committee Chairs (not pictured) - Jose in the background

Marguerite and Dominique, meeting with three Committee Chairs (not pictured) - Jose in the background

I have even had a chance to hold a few brief trainings, for staff and members alike, on the use of Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.  Video interviews, profiles and case studies are being written and finalized.  The Website is being raked over, tweaked and rebuilt, much thanks to Dominique and his expertise in this area.

Increasingly rapidly, CBWN is moving forward on the shoulders of its staff I can count on one hand, and its ever-more-involved membership.  Excited to be a part of it, albeit on the sidelines with my running commentary and attempt at capturing it all in words and photos.  Even more excited to watch it continue to grow, which it inevitably will.

Clemence, Frieda and I have fun with the 'Photo Booth' feature of my Mac - we aren't all work and no play...
Clemence, Frieda and I have fun with the 'Photo Booth' feature of my Mac - we aren't all work and no play...

Clemence, Frieda and I have fun with the 'Photo Booth' feature of my Mac - we aren't all work and no play...

Keep your eyes out for two more brief profiles to be put up this week, not to mention a few more videos…

2 Responses to “Taking Stock”

  1. Tess Perselay says:

    Joya, this all sounds wonderful; great to hear it!!

    Look forward to reading the profiles and watching the videos later this week!

  2. dhivya says:

    Nice to hear this..

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Video Blog: A Glimpse of CBWN’s Training and Breakfast Meeting

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted July 30th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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This week I put together some footage I took at the most recent CBWN training and breakfast meeting.  Please take a minute to check it out!

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A few thoughts on women in public spaces…

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted July 22nd, 2010 | Africa

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As I slowly get to know the members of the burgeoning Cameroon Businesswomen’s Network, its board members, and its staff (currently just Clemence, the Executive Secretary), I am also trying to gage what daily life is like for Cameroonian women.  Yes, it differs from area to area, it differs based on socio-economic standing, and it differs along other lines, that can be drawn within every country on the globe.  But I am nonetheless trying to get the women I speak to, from the President of CBWN’s own dental assistant, to the Executive Director of a development NGO, to describe their experience as a woman, in Cameroon.

I am of course then left with anecdotes, which do not amount to scientific research and/or data, and I am certainly no anthropologist.  However, it is these anecdotes, and every conversation I have ever had with women of all nationalities and creeds, that keep me thinking at night.

One particular theme has been prominent for me, of late.  Allow me to indulge.

I experience Cameroon as a white, Western woman.  This means certain things for my every day existence.  It means I am constantly having things hollered at me, from the innocent to the virtually pornographic.  And when I say constant, I mean constant.  It means I am inevitably approached if I dare sit anywhere by myself, with a book (although admittedly, women sitting alone here in public spaces is rare, unless she is selling something).  It even means I have my arm grabbed from time to time.

Now, I grew up in South Asia –I am more than familiar with what it means to stand out and attract a great deal of (largely unwanted) attention.  None of this is new (nor is it particular to Cameroon, of course).  However, it is a phenomenon that more and more over the years has fed into how I experience the world around me, and is one I think worth mentioning.  I also am very aware of the privilege that is associated with being a white, and namely American, woman in much of the world.  I just find it…interesting that I can be simultaneously perceived as someone of a higher socio-economic status, and yet also worthy of being spoken to like either a zoo animal or an exotic dancer.

Clémence, another 26-year-old young woman, from Cameroon, experiences her home differently than I do (obviously).  Tough as nails, Clémence has no problem navigating this city, at any hour of the day or night.  If I were a guy, I wouldn’t mess with Clémence.  That being said, she has told me stories, for example, of having been assumed to be a prostitute, if maybe eating at an expat-frequented restaurant, or seen talking to a white man.  As she and I left a restaurant together recently, a man out front told her to go elsewhere to find ‘clients’.  This apparently is not uncommon.  Unlike me, whose temper and patience can be lost at times, Clémence takes this commentary in stride and tells me that I cannot stop people from ‘expressing themselves.’

But can’t we?  I know that one of the complaints of the women working in market places here, is the way they are treated, and harassed by men, when trying to sell their produce.  I know that women, in public spaces, the world over, are susceptible to all kinds of harassment, from the seemingly ‘innocent’ cat-calling, to physical or sexual assault.

I feel like this is an issue that is brushed aside.  It is assumed that this is ‘just the way things are,’ or how men are programmed to operate, or perceived to be innocent bravado, etc.  But I am not convinced that it is a non-issue, and I know that a great deal of men out there don’t appreciate it, nor do they want their own sisters/mothers/cousins/wives/girl friends spoken to in a demeaning or overly sexualized way (or worse, of course).  So why is this still a part of most women’s daily existence, the world over?  From Washington D.C to Douala?

These are just a few anecdotes.  They don’t amount to much.  But there isn’t a woman out there who isn’t familiar with what I am talking about.  For most women, walking down the street is just DIFFERENT than a man walking down the street.  Not always worse, just different.  And instead of assuming that certain things are just the way they are, I am wondering if maybe we can’t start having a more frank conversation about what it would be like if I, or Clémence, could walk down a street, in any country, and not be treated like anything other than a living, breathing, dreaming, loving human being.

A living, breathing, dreaming, loving human being

One Response to “A few thoughts on women in public spaces…”

  1. Kerry McBroom says:

    Thanks for the great post, Joya…I can totally relate.

    Change is possible…(and necessary)!

    The New York Times recently ran an article about a grassroots art project, Blank Noise, that works to combat daily sexual harassment in India. In addition to creating some amazing artwork, the group is making real progress.

    Check it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/world/asia/04iht-letter.html?_r=3&ref=global-home


    Take care,


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CBWN reaching out to members

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted July 14th, 2010 | Uncategorized

CBWN continues to move and shake…

All of last week, the Cameroon Businesswomen’s Network was graced with the presence of Yvonne Finch, a consultant with Vital Voices who is currently overseeing the VV Hubs in Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon.  Clemence and I had the pleasure of meeting with her on and off throughout the week, as we waded through paper work, budgetary tasks and other administrative needs.  Mrs. Finch’s guidance is especially useful for Clemence, as she is currently the sole CBWN staff member, and clearly doesn’t have enough hours in the day to get it all done (on top of traipsing around Douala with a certain Advocacy Fellow of the American variety).

I was also able to get Mrs. Finch’s input and advice concerning CBWN’s advocacy needs and agenda.  It has become apparent that at the moment, given how recently the network was established, the initial pressing need is to determine exactly what are the obstacles and difficulties facing women in business in Cameroon.  It is already becoming clear in the conversations I have had thus far with CBWN’s members, that there are certain reoccurring themes, and it is these very themes that the Network as a whole can work to address.  As they say, there is power in numbers…

So, in addition to the Vital Voices baseline survey, and acquiring visual material, I have been, and will be, asking the women what they have found to be the biggest obstacles in the world of business here in Cameroon.

Just yesterday, Clemence and I spent some time at “Les Ribambelles,” a nursery and primary school founded and run by Marthe Abesollo, one of CBWN’s newest members.  Mme. Abesollo received a degree in children’s education in Switzerland, and shortly thereafter opened Les Ribambelles, which has now been teaching students of Douala for 30 years.  Not only does this institution provide a solid education to those in attendance, they also reach out to orphans living in the area: raising money and clothing for them, and including them in various activities and performances.

Unsatisfied with simply running a school, as well as a family comprising of 6 children, Mme. Abesollo is also part of an Association that focuses on the education of young girls, especially young mothers, who wish to return to school.  In addition, she runs a business which cleans and restores historic buildings in Cameroon, with several remarkable successes under its belt.  Mme. Abesollo is also an extremely active member of her Church, and a grandmother of 17 children.

This past weekend I had the privilege of being escorted through one of the local markets by Mme. Abesollo and her daughter, Isabelle (who is also a teacher, primarily of French, and currently teaching at the American school here).  At one point, when crossing a busy street, Mme. Abesollo actually reached over and grabbed my hand to lead me across.  Enough said.

There are still others in need of an introduction, but I will save that for another day.  In the meantime, do check out the pictures posted on CBWN’s new Flickr site, and if you haven’t already, take a look at an interview I recently posted on their YouTube page, of another inspiring member.  That’s all from Douala, still wet with daily rainfall…

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Video Interview with Mme. Ebene on YouTube

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted July 11th, 2010 | Africa

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My first video interview/profile is up on the new CBWN YouTube site.  It is of Jacqueline Ebene, the founder of MERENSO who I wrote about in a previous entry.   I hope you all enjoy it!

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Introducing: Olive Fonjeu Fokou

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted July 9th, 2010 | Africa

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After attending the ‘Ecole Supérieure des Sciences, Economiques et Commerciales’ (ESSEC) in Douala, Cameroon in 1990, Mme. Olive Fonjeu Fokou quickly found work as a financial controller, followed by four years as a sales marketer for an insurance company.  During those same years, she became increasingly aware of, and concerned by, what was ultimately an economic and social crisis in Cameroon.  There were many who took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo, and what struck Mme. Fokou in particular was the role of the youth in this civil strife.  However, she felt that these very youth lacked the social education and means to advance their causes.

It was shortly thereafter that Mme. Fokou founded AMCODE, and immediately began to involve herself amongst various governmental Ministries in an attempt to uncover just what programs existed to socially educate the youth, including young women.  In 1995, the issue of HIV took center stage and for the next nine years AMCODE took part in trainings, seminars and programs for the youth on this very issue, partnering with the government, as well as international organizations such as GTZ and UNICEF.

When funding was limited, Mme. Fokou managed to oversee various revenue generating activities, the longest standing of which has been the selling of honey, which after fourteen years, she continues today.

Over the course of the last few years, AMCODE has expanded its mandate from a focus on the education of youth, and awareness-raising around HIV/AIDS, to include such areas as the environment, local governance and gender; and it is through such associations as the CBWN that Mme. Fokou envisions a further expansion of AMCODE’s wide-reaching programs.

Olive Fonjeu Fokou

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Introducing: Marguerite Limagnack Miko, President of CBWN

Joya Taft-Dick | Posted July 8th, 2010 | Africa

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Dr. Marguerite Limagnack is currently the President of the Cameroon Businesswomen’s Network, based in Douala.  The road leading up to this Presidency has been a long and busy one.  After receiving her formal training in France, Marguerite Limagnack became Dr. Limagnack, a dental surgeon and epidemiologist.  Shortly thereafter, she spent three years in Germany, during which time she was also the Managing Director of a gender project on dental health.

Once back in Cameroon, Dr. Limagnack founded her own dental practice in June of 2000.  She also then became the founder and President of SMILE, an association which trains female dental assistants to work in mobile dental clinics.  Since January of 2007, SMILE has trained 20 such dental assistants, and each year SMILE sensitizes and screens around 2,000 people.  Dr. Limagnack also actively takes part in preventative health campaigns in primary schools, in the poorer areas of Cameroon, and is currently campaigning for a project that would make quality dental health care affordable to everyone.

In 2000, Dr. Limagnack formed BORMAR Ltd, an organization that produces publicity materials for companies, and along with her husband, an agro-engineer, she is establishing an integrated development farm that helps small neighborhood farmers improve revenue.  Furthermore, as a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Cameroon, she organizes meetings and discussions with top CEOs in country around the issues of importance to their various businesses.

Finally, Dr. Limagnack is on the board of a magazine called ‘Héra,’ written for Cameroonian, and African women alike, which addresses issues of both a professional and personal nature.

CBWN finds itself in good hands, and will undoubtedly continue to grow with Dr. Limagnack’s guidance.

Dr. Marguerite Limagnack Miko

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Fellow: Joya Taft-Dick

Vital Voices Cameroon


advocacy AIDS Akwa AMCODE American Chamber of Commerce businesswomen Cameroon CBWN CEDAW Dominique Yamb Ntimba Douala Douala1 ETA Voyage expats Government of Cameroon GTZ harassment Hera HIV Human Resources Kribi Marguerite Limagnack marketing MERENSO MORENSO Mt Cameroon Orange Cameroun orphans Photo Booth public spaces Smartrack SMILE training TV Max UNICEF UNICF University of Douala VAW Vital Voices widows women Yaounde




2013 Fellows


Benan Grams
Meron Menwyelet
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Emily MacDonald
Jasveen Bindra
Kelly Howell
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Joya Taft-Dick
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2006 Interns

Laura Cardinal
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2003 Interns

Erica Williams
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