Updated: Jan 10, 2020
I must share with you the work of a wonderful organisation called Girls Excel. Yesterday I had a WhatApp conversation with their energetic founder, Ms Delphine Konda, and I was quite amazed at all the work the organisation was doing to empower adolescent girls in Cameroon.
Ms Delphine is from Cameroon. There are many displaced people in Cameroon. It's a country of simmering tensions that have their origins in colonial divides and today masquerade as a difference in language (French and English) but of course, are deeply political and about inequality. Inequality between Francophones and Anglophones, between city dwellers and rural farmers, between northern Cameroon and southern Cameroon, between different tribes. Strangely enough, not between Moslem and Christian. Ms Delphine has a Moslem father and Christian mother, and she felt able to join in with the feasts and celebrations of both religions
Ms Delphine was a radio presenter but in 2015 her work took her to Refugee camps where she witnessed girls 'free-bleeding' because they had no access to menstrual products. The shame only added to their low self-esteem. She researched further and found that the problem was widespread. Displaced girls in the forest were using leaves as menstrual products. Even settled families in the rural areas were too poor to afford specialist products, and girls used old rags to absorb the blood, leading to chafing and possible infections. Many girls stayed away from school, as they would be required to stand to answer a question, which could expose their stains. And it had to be kept a secret. Menstruation was seen as 'dirty' and not to be talked of. Realising that period poverty and stigma were large factors contributing to girl's health and education throughout Cameroon, she set up the social impact organisation Girls Excel to encourage policy makers to create menstrual health policies that would improve the lives of girls. She herself embarked on a Master's Degree in Media, Communication and Development at the London School of Economics.
Girls Excel has become a grassroots organisation working with communities in rural Cameroon, setting up Girls Clubs to promote Menstrual Education, alongside Pad-making workshops. In four years, Delphine estimates they have reached 10000 girls!
Girls Excel has adopted a human rights approach, and has expanded their programmes into sexual and reproductive health, and tackled issues such as GBV Gender-Based Violence. I was really impressed to hear about their innovative interventions, such as the 'bus to bus' sensitization campaign, where volunteers are crossing the country on commercial buses to spread the word.
I really enjoyed talking to Delphine and learning about all of the wonderful work she and her colleagues are doing in Cameroon.