CAMA: young women in Africa working together to create a brighter future for vulnerable children
In rural Africa, the cycle of poverty and exclusion, and its impact on children’s education and their aspirations, is relentless. CAMA has created a network of more than 100,000 young women who are breaking the cycle and driving real change in their communities, through activism and philanthropy.
A lack of prospects beyond school
Camfed, the NGO that supports hundreds of thousands of girls in Africa to get the education they have a right to, is also unlocking the talent within motivated, engaged and aspiring young women. But when they leave school, the community around them hasn’t changed – poverty, rural locations, high unemployment and the resulting pressure of early marriage, mean that despite achieving an education, their prospects are limited. Such personal challenges appear insurmountable when faced in isolation.
A network of women empowered to tackle challenges together
By bringing together Camfed graduates, CAMA has created a network of like-minded young women, united by their shared experiences and knowledge of local challenges.
Together, they share ideas of how to tackle poverty and exclusion from school, and plan and coordinate structured activities, fighting for not only their own future, but that of the next generation. By working together in an organised and democratic way, CAMA ensures that it works effectively for those who need help most. Increasing numbers of CAMA members are stepping into leadership positions in community and civic life, driving change – for good – both in their communities and countries.
A powerful sisterhood of thousands across Africa
CAMA’s movement of deeply committed young women is having a significant impact. Members are stepping up as professional leaders and role models for girls in rural communities, launching businesses to support themselves and take their families out of poverty, and developing independence and control over their life choices.
By dedicating their time and resources to keep children in education, sharing skills and knowledge, and working with local school and community leaders to improve safeguarding for children, they demonstrate the power of giving back. By the end of 2017, CAMA members had collectively supported more than 780,000 children through primary and secondary school.
CAMA founding member and Camfed Executive Director – Africa
How did it all start?
In 1998, the first 400 Camfed graduates – myself included – met. We decided that together we could turn the tide of poverty, isolation, marginalisation and despair. We knew we lacked resources, but decided to start with what we had – our experiences – and our shared desire to make real change.
So, we all went back to our communities and talked about our experiences – what it meant to grow up poor and what it took to stay in school and succeed. We were not just talking to girls in schools, but also to parents. We asked ourselves, ‘What are the skills you need to have? What would you have wanted to learn in school and when you left school?’ This was the origin of Camfed's Learner Guide Programme, led by CAMA. With The Queen's Trust’s support, we were able to launch in Ghana and Tanzania.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
I'm most proud of CAMA's role in supporting Camfed’s pledge to help one million girls through secondary school by 2019. CAMA is now at the forefront of Camfed’s programmes, and because CAMA members are using their own resources, and galvanising community resources, they are actually supporting more girls through education than Camfed is through bursaries.
In 2017, CAMA reached the 100,000 members mark, with each young woman supporting on average another two children (not in her immediate family) to go to school. This means we need to grow our ambitions to keep up with CAMA members' passion and activism. The grant from The Queen's Commonwealth Trust is helping us multiply CAMA's impact and continue to be more ambitious.
What was your greatest challenge?
To build trust in the communities in Malawi when I led the roll-out of the Camfed programme there. When you no longer look like where you once started from, you need to convince people that you truly understand their issues. We sat under a tree with all the elders, and they looked at me with some suspicion. Some of them said, ‘You don’t know how difficult things are here’ so I told them I was sent through school by this organisation I was now representing.
I had to convince them I was one of them. They challenged me to a traditional task – pounding maize – which proved to them that I was a rural girl. That’s how I gained their trust. The challenge we continue to face – and overcome – by working closely with Camfed, is to meet everyone at their level.
What’s next for your project?
My vision is a world in which every child goes to school, at a school they want to go to, with the number of teachers they need, with the resources they need, without the fear that this could be taken away from them, without begging their way through school. There is a lot more work that needs to be done.
Our Learner Guide Programme is bringing support for vulnerable children into schools. Our Transition Programme is bringing support for graduates into the communities, enabling them to develop the business and leadership skills they need to become independent. And through the CAMA Fund, supported by The Queen's Commonwealth Trust, we are able to grow CAMA's philanthropy, unlocking more resources to help yet more marginalised children get the quality education they need – working toward my vision for the future.
What top three things helped your venture succeed?
Outrage. We were driven by outrage at the injustice of girls' exclusion from education due to poverty. It provided great motivation.
Commitment. We realised that we could do something about it. That commitment came from our lived experience, our outrage, and our desire to pay forward the education we had received.
Partnership. We realised that we couldn't do it fast enough alone. We needed partners at every level. Even if it meant partnering with those who had denied us our rights in the past.
On these three 'intangibles' we built plans and structures, in partnership with Camfed, parents, schools and governments. We ensured that we had adequate resources, detailed plans and a very robust system and structures to back our joint commitment.
CAMA (Camfed graduate alumnae)
To donate to this project, learn more or find out how you can help, please get in touch.
+44 1223 362 648
Working together to make a difference
The CAMA network is achieving great things, and for us to play a small part in helping them offer more to vulnerable children has been a huge privilege. We have learned a great deal from working with Angeline – not least gaining an extraordinary insight into CAMA's courage, resilience, energy and hope.
CAMA's governance and systematic way of working, with a clear accountability to the children they are supporting, is an inspiration to us and an example to the wider sector.
CAMA started with a burning ambition to help other girls who faced the challenges and risks many of us cannot begin to imagine. Not trying or giving up, even in the face of substantial obstacles, simply was not an option for this uniquely powerful movement. Our work has shown us just what can happen when partners aligned around a common vision come together to pool resources, ambition and drive.
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