Community Forest making dreams of Baka girls come true
Baka are indigenous forest people living mostly in the East and South Regions of Cameroon numbering some 25,000. They depend wholly on the forest for their livelihood. At the start of the 2016/2017 school year, 20 Baka children thronged the school made up of some 120 students, but most dropped out before the end of the first term. Christelle, Edith and three others, however stayed on.
“I want to become a nurse when I grow up so I can treat the sick in my community,” says Christelle. Edith will “like to become a teacher to help improve and encourage her Baka brethren to attend school.”
The reasons behind their dreams are not far-fetched; their village, like other Baka villages, is in dire need of education and healthcare. But these dreams might have been shattered if revenues generated from a Baka-managed community forest did not come in handy to pay for their school fees and needs.
The Yenga forest was the first ever Baka community forest to be created in Cameroon. According to the country's 1994 Forestry and Wildlife law, communities can request and obtain forest portions of not more than 5,000 hectares to harvest and sell timber for a period of 25 years, renewable. They use the proceeds from the forest to finance development projects in their communities. There are over 250 community forest initiatives in Cameroon. WWF helped indigenous Baka to acquire the community forest as a way of improving the living conditions and encourage the participatory and sustainable management of the forest.
According to socio-economic studies carried out by WWF in 2010, 70 per cent of the population in this area lives on less than a dollar per day. “Our parents are poor and do not have money to pay our school fees,” Christelle said on the brink of tears. Today, the duo both in form one are attending secondary school thanks to revenue generated from exploitation of their community forest.
Their parents are members of the community forest management body and they understand the value of education for their children. “We encourage our children to go to school so that other parents in the community can emulate our example,” said David Mbangawi, President of ASDEBYM, the local association managing the community forest.
Members of ASDEBYM are happy their children now attend school. “We supported the education of one of our children who has now graduated as a laboratory technician from a training school in Bertoua, chief town of the East Region of Cameroon. We hope others will follow suit,” Mbangawi said.
In collaboration with a local NGO (CIFED), WWF continues to provide technical backstopping to the Baka community of Yenga to sustainably manage and properly use revenues generated from sales of wood from their community forest. According to the management plan of the forest, education remains their top priority. Part of the money generated is used to pay school fees and provide uniforms and books for Baka children attending school.