Cameroon - UN Women's Gender Road Project
Pictured: Dorothee Mbogo operates a “call box” roadside retail stand in Batchenga, Cameroon.
A 200-kilometre road (124 miles) project stretches between the townships of Batschenga, Ntui and Yoko, in central Cameroon. The road crosses farms, forests, water bodies and pastoral areas that sustain the mostly agrarian economy of nearly 40 villages and three towns.
The road, a basic infrastructure that many countries take for granted, literally shapes the lives and livelihood of the people living along it. It decides whether a small entrepreneur will get her products transported on time, and at what cost, and whether more people will come to a restaurant that another has invested in. It determines what markets a woman farmer can access and how often a working mother can visit her daughter who is studying in the city. The red dirt road, waiting for asphalt, will determine if food, income, job, healthcare, livelihood will come, when, and to whom.
UN Women’s “Gender Road Project”, funded by The Development Bank of Central African States and the Government of Cameroon, is aiming to reach at least 20,000 women by 2020, living in rural communities along this road, to prepare them for a better future and access to bigger markets once the road is built. The project teaches them financial and entrepreneurial skills, improved farming techniques and facilitates their access to public services and land rights.
“I grew up in Batchenga. It used to take us 3-4 hours to travel 48 Km (30 miles) from Batchenga to Yaoundé, the capital, before this part of the road was paved,” says Dorothee Mbogo, 38-year-old single mother and owner-operator of a small business. Like most women in the area, she’s also a farmer.
“Now it takes 45 minutes to an hour. When the rest of the road is finished, we will be able to transport our produce to Yaoundé easier.”
Mbogo grows cassava and watermelon in less than two hectares of rented land. She goes to the farm three days a week, works all day and comes back to open her little “call box” business in the market in the evening. It’s a small, mobile stand where she sells cigarettes, candies, snacks and operates a pay phone.
“Every day, between 10 – 30 people use the call box. When the town has no electricity, more people come to use the pay phone because I have a solar panel and can charge mine using solar energy,” she shares.
Mbogo started the phone call box business in 2018, after participating in a training supported by UN Women on setting up and managing small businesses. “I learned many skills during the training—how to market the products, how to present the business, keep a register of income, expenditure and profits. I fill the register daily.”
This isn’t Mbogo’s first attempt at starting a business, but it’s the first time that she’s making a profit. She started the business with an investment of 110,000 CFA franc (USD 190) and today she makes about 50,000 CFA franc (USD 86) daily. Learning to budget and save has been key to her success.
Everything that Mbogo does is for her daughter, who is in the first year of high school in Yaoundé. “My parents died when I was barely two and I was raised by my uncle. It was very difficult not having the affection of my mother… so I work very hard to make sure my daughter gets everything that I didn’t,” explains Mbogo.
It helps tremendously to have a paved road so that she can visit her daughter on some weekends, and now it takes only 45 minutes.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown