the women of MUSAB

snapshot of Bamenda

From Commercial Avenue in Bamenda, one can just barely see the dome of a new mosque being slowly erected at the top of the hill known as Old Town.  Like most religious structures, it stands as a reminder of faith and community.  In this part of town however, it looks to also be a centre of the heart and soul of a community using small businesses to come together and take care of each other.

Walking down the muddy dirt road leading down and away from the mosque, meandering between two-room cinder block homes, I startled myself with the thought: “this is where real development takes place”.  Of course, MUSAB’s work is no more real than any other organization’s work looking to make improve lives in one way or another.  But this feels more personal.

Heather and Patu at MUSAB's office

MUSAB stands for Muslim Students Association of Bamenda and has been operating since 1990, actively engaged in the community by focusing on social and economic development including supporting people with HIV/AIDS and orphans and vulnerable children.  Heather, a fellow VSO volunteer, has been with MUSAB for just over a year now, assisting in the development and strengthening of the organization. Although the organization is involved in many different projects, I had asked Heather and her colleague Patu, if we might visit some of the women benefiting from the Income-Generating Activities (IGA) assistance MUSAB provides.

The IGAs are a very basic form of microfinance assistance.  Essentially, women receive an interest-free loan to start or expand economic activities to meet their financial needs and that of their families.  We visited two women who received these types of loans recently.

Hawa Bouba

Our first visit was to Hawa Bouba. Her two-room home, where she has raised 7 children, is one-half of a larger building which also houses her husband’s second wife, who herself has 8 children under her care. Many of these children are orphans adopted into the household. Hawa Bouba makes koro-koro – a peanut-based snack she sells at the market.  The children still in her care also help with the enterprise when not in school.

Like many other clients of MUSAB, she also receive some food assistance in the form of oil and rice.  The food assistance is often funded by UNICEF but is not provided on a regular basis.  Therefore, women like Hawa Bouba, cannot depend on this extra helping hand. So, her IGA becomes quite important to her household.  Heather and Patu worked quite hard on drafting a list of priority assistance for household with orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs)  Supporting women in running IGAs more directly provides more longer-term sustainable income options.

Patu herself engaged in IGAs with the assistance of MUSAB.  She started by selling food products at the market, and then moved onto other goods such as shoes.  So she’s very well placed to understand MUSAB’s clients and I suspect that is in part why she donates so much of her time to the organization.

Hawa Mohammed and two of her daughters

Next we made our way further down the hill to Hawa Muhammed’s home.  Her household includes 5 children –2 of them adopted.  She has been engaged in income-generating activities, with MUSAB’s assistance, for some time.  She makes koro-koro as well, but also whips up fish rolls. Not only did she generate enough profits from her activities to repay her loan and pay the children’s school fees, but she also purchased a sewing machine for one of her adopted daughters.

peanut-based koro koro

Therefore, Hawa Muhammed’s IGA also provides at least one daughter the opportunity to begin developing her own path to self-sufficiency and empowerment.  Now that’s forward-thinking!

Though only a short visit, it was a truly powerful experience for me to shake hands with these inspiring women.  They may not be changing the world, but they are showing a truly great commitment to their children and the welfare of their households.  Selling koro-koro sticks at the market may seem small, but it is proving significant enough to make a difference in their lives.

Walking back down from Old Town, I had to conclude that yes, this is one of the real faces of development: women engaging in economic activities to the benefit of their children, their household and – in turn – their communities. These women have also opened their homes to orphans, sharing not only a house, but also a dedication to hard work and determination.



~ by Caroline Spira on November 4, 2010.

2 Responses to “the women of MUSAB”

  1. Very inspiring Caroline.
    (now in rural Ethiopia)

  2. Very inspiring!

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