DOUALA, CAMEROON – Judith Jöelle Mbondji worked for the African Union for more than five years auditing in West, East, Central and South Africa before returning to her home country, Cameroon, in 2011.
It was then that she decided to give back by volunteering at the supplementary learning center that had helped her develop academically and personally as a 17-year-old in secondary school in Douala, the capital of western Cameroon’s Littoral province. The Rubisadt Foundation Learning Center is a supplementary school that trains girls between the ages of 11 and 19 who show promise and interest in science and technology.
“Beyond what I could have enjoyed elsewhere, I think this is where I need to be,” Mbondji says of coming back to Cameroon. “I ought to give my contribution to my nation, no matter how difficult it can be sometimes to live in.”
Mbondji, who has a Bachelor of Science in computer sciences and a Master of Business Administration in finance from two different universities in Kenya, emphasizes education for girls and women as a development tool.
“So far, I have volunteered at the foundation because I do believe that change or development will only happen through education – and mostly through education of women and girls,” she says.
The foundation intertwines both academic and personal development in its training, Mbondji says. For example, the teachers train the girls in ethics because they believe it is important to teach them who they are and how to best make their own decisions. This approach enables the girls to excel in the fields they choose as well as to be considerate of their families, their friends and their environment.
“I was able to reinforce my academic knowledge in all my subjects in school,” she says with conviction. “But I was also privileged to have people who listened to me, listened to my problems, and helped me build my personality and also to be more assured of myself, to be more self-confident. And it helped me boost my self-esteem.”
Mbondji thanks the center for encouraging her to pursue higher education and the career she envisioned for herself.
“They gave me skills and tools to face the world,” she says.
She strives to do the same for other girls through her volunteering there.
Access to formal education is limited for girls in Cameroon, especially in rural areas. So the government and nongovernmental organizations have launched training centers throughout Cameroon to offer a supplement to or substitute for formal education. Advocates tout women’s education and economic empowerment as the key to the country's future.
The net attendance ratio for secondary school is 37 percent for girls in Cameroon, according to UNICEF. The literacy rate for females ages 15 to 24 is 77 percent.
Limited access to education is one of the key areas hindering women from having equal access to economic opportunity in Cameroon, says Kah Walla, a member of the coordinating group of La Pietra Coalition, a global advocacy group for women’s economic empowerment.