The CAMFED Association (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. The young women in the CAMFED Association (CAMA) — the network of more than 150,000 leaders educated with CAMFED support — are breaking the cycle and driving real change in their communities, through activism and philanthropy.
A lack of prospects beyond school
52.2 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school. There are many barriers to girls’ education — most related to poverty and gender inequality. So even when girls are given equal access to education as boys, 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, young women's prospects are limited. Such personal challenges appear insurmountable when faced in isolation.
A network of women empowered to tackle challenges together
CAMFED, the NGO that supports marginalized girls in Africa to learn, thrive and lead, is unlocking the talent within of motivated, engaged and aspiring young women. Established in 1998, the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support, is a unique 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 co-ordinate structured activities, fighting for not only their future, but that of the next generation. By working together in an organised and democratic way, the CAMFED Association ensures that it works effectively for those who need its help most. Increasing numbers of CAMFED Association members are stepping into leadership positions in community and civic life — as well as spearheading CAMFED’s programmes across five countries — driving change, for good, both in their communities and countries.
A powerful sisterhood of thousands across Africa
CAMFED’s movement of deeply committed young leaders is having a significant impact. Members are stepping up as professional leaders and role models for girls in rural communities, launching sustainable 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. In 2019, CAMFED accepted the UN Global Climate Action Award in the ‘Women for Results’ category, for the CAMFED Association’s grassroots action on climate change in rural sub-Saharan Africa.
CAMFED Association 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 CAMFED Association (CAMA) members. 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 the CAMFED Association’s role in supporting CAMFED’s pledge to help one million girls through secondary school, by 2019. The Association, which we call CAMA for short, is now at the forefront of CAMFED’s programmes, and because Association members are using their own resources, and galvanising community resources, they are actually supporting more girls through education than CAMFED is through donor-funded bursaries.
In 2019, CAMA reached the 150,000 members mark, with each young woman supporting on average another three children to go to school. This means we need to grow our ambitions to keep up with members' passion and activism. The grant from The Queen's Commonwealth Trust is helping us multiply our 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,’ 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, while 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 government 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 support of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust, we are able to grow young women’s activism and 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.
CAMFED Association (CAMA)
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 CAMFED Association is achieving great things, and for us to play a small part in helping these young leaders 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 their courage, resilience, energy and hope. CAMFED’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.
The CAMFED Association started with a burning ambition to help other girls who faced 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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