The Unstoppable Peace Builder Meeting Sally for the first, third or 17th time, there is something you will not mistake about her. MBOUMIEN Sally Maforchi epse Ndeh will strike you with her shinny skin head – so cleanly shaven and you would think she came fresh from the Barbar’s shop. In local parlance, she has a “crow bow” head. Whilst women spend long hours in beauty salons, struggling to look good with artificial hairs, nails and eye lashes, Sally would have had a cold shower, driven herself to a workshop, work place, market or social gathering. Shaving off the eye brows may be in vogue for women but not for Sally. Her family genetics has blessed her chin with a few hairs. Barbers often ask if they should cut off the few hairs on her chin. Yes, they would shave it smooth. Tell the dark-complexioned woman she’s got big eyes; and she would retort: “yes my eyes are big. I have large eyes to see the world.” Breaking into good laughter, and revealing her gap tooth, her dimples would deepen in her cheeks. Let’s leave Sally’s headful looks alone. Let’ see what’s inside her brain box. The Bamenda-Bafoussam-Yaounde highway is one of the busiest and most challenging, only the very brave and skillful drivers can tear-track on. Sally the driver is one of the few Bali Nyongha women who can do it better and safer than men; and of course on record time, day or night. Aged 39, Sally Maforchi Mboumien is a native of Bawock and Bali Nyonga in Cameroon’s North West Region. She is married and when she is not on an outdoor peace campaign or holding discussions with women, she spends time with her four kids – three girls and one boy. The trained secondary teacher, sexual and reproductive health rights advocate and peace builder went through primary, secondary and tertiary education in the North West Region where she has dedicated her life to the community. For those who know Sally, it is small wonder she is called The Fighter. Yes, a woman fighter! Many say she is at her best when challenged. Perhaps no woman loves challenges more than her. And there have been plenty of challenges in her life. The Fighter Growing up among three boys as a lone daughter would have made Sally Mboumien a Queen, but she did not have the luxury of queenly treatments. “Yeah I had to fight to survive male dominance”, a spirit which later turned out to be the base of her life as an activist or social advocate. Life in a polygamous family as Sally puts it is a glaring example of living in conflict which can either be violent or non-violent. “This greatly influenced my life as young girl and a married woman.” She therefore grew up to become a fighter; one who is always conscious of the fact that social injustice should be abhorred at all levels of society. She became a troubleshooter, the one who will never miss an opportunity to seek peace. “What brought me into the field of peace building are the skirmishes between the people of Bali and Bawock,” she says. Interestingly, Sally is a native of Bali and Bawock. Her mother is from Bali Nyonga and her father is from Bawock. When the Bali/ Bawock Crisis came to a head in March 2007, Sally had to put her troubleshooting skills to the test. Being a product of both communities, she felt the burden weighing on her shoulders. It was in the heart of the crisis that she started talking to the people of both communities on why they should bury the hatchet and let love lead. “It is at this point that I discovered there was power in peace building,” Sally says. The outbreak of the crisis in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions pushed Sally to intensify her peace building efforts. She would later join the South West North West Women’s Task Force to broker for peace. She started off as the assistant Regional Coordinator for North West and oversaw the organization of the first lamentation campaign. The tense condition that characterized Bamenda on the day of the lamentation campaign revealed to Sally that working for peace is indeed even more dangerous than fighting a war. The Bridge-builder It has not been a bed of roses for this crusader of peace. Under the umbrella of the South West North West Women Task Force, Sally and her peers lobbied women to come out and use the nonviolent approach to communicate the urgency for dialogue. Becoming the North West Regional Coordinator for SNWOT, Sally had the opportunity to lobby government and the international community, as well as the Non-State Armed Groups towards a return to peace. Through radio programmes on peace to one-on-one peace discussions, Sally has taken the peace effort to a whole new level. The peace builder has been putting to use the knowledge sharpened through crash programmes on mediation in times of crisis. She has benefited from the social media space through which she continues to articulate on issues of peace and peace building. It has not been an easy ride for Sally given that peace builders are often caught between warring parties. Because they work on the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence, their identity is often mistaken as that of an opposition. But preaching the gospel of love and compassion for humanity has always done her the magic. Sally agrees that it is a difficult thing for women to assume leadership position, given that they have to break stereotypes. The Cameroonian society is one often taken by surprise when women emerge as leading voices. This accounts for why women like Sally have had attacks on their personality and dignity. But she says staying focus and being relevant has made her brand her peace message to the admiration of many. “The best part of my life is the sacrifice, the ability and the opportunity to be a peace builder in times of armed conflict where divergent views because it is so intriguing. There is the risk, there are challenges, but you serve as a source of hope to other women,” Sally says. She reminds whoever gives her a listening ear that her dream and ambition remains to see women come on board and take up leadership positions in areas believed to be reserved for men. Hear her: “Women are usually the most affected and should be able to take charge of their collective destinies.” The change maker Sally is that one person who believes in change to the point where she can change the topic of discussion wherever she finds herself. She says if she could cut down her weight considerably in three months, then her determination, patience and discipline can take her places. She blends her peace crusades with training and coaching women on dieting so they can put off weight and boost their self-confidence. “These components have helped me to understand that in the society, being a woman leader, you have to be proactive to the things that happen to your society so as to be a solution provider,” Sally avers. She bubbles with a lot of dreams for women to take decision making positions to change the situation. But she is faced with the giant problem that slows down all women with big ambitions, Money. She lacks financial and technical support to bring these dreams to fruition. Sally says though the course she has chosen seems deadly, she won’t stop because it is a passion and a divine assignment. I prefer to die for something rather than die for nothing. When next you see her in a barber’s shop, waiting to take her turn to shave, be sure she will engage the manly conversations typical of barbing shops. And yes, before she leaves, many male chauvinist or abusers would have had a good dose of mind-changing education from the crow-bow woman fighter. ‘Empower Me Don’t Blame Me’ In 2016, Sally decided to create her own organization Common Action for Gender Development, COMAGEND, which seeks to uphold women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. Sally says women don’t develop their full potentials because of poor management of their sexuality. It is for this reason that she has been running the Empower Me Don’t Blame Me campaign aimed at bringing every stakeholder on board to discuss issues of sexuality which is a taboo subject in almost every household or community. This campaign has taken her to many communities within Cameroon. The go-getter Sally’s goal is to uphold the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls for as she puts it, “if women and girls do not have autonomy to their sexual and reproductive rights, they won’t be able to develop their full potentials.” She believes that women have to be well educated and economically and politically empowered to stand the challenge of time. She has thus been a champion for women’s rights to freedom of expression and social inclusion. “I aspire to see a society where women take up every space of decision-making, policymaking and decide for themselves. Women should be able to design, implement and evaluate policies for society. They should be able to have the power of the pen and make political decisions,” the women’s rights champion says. Every Girl For Any Girl Initiative, My Sister My Friend Project As a girl child Sally had a normal life. She took her education seriously and is today pursuing a PhD. The pressures from polygamy made this lone daughter of Nah Yeba miss mother-daughter talk on her sexuality. A void which created a pit she fell in. It’s a mistake that almost destroyed the fine woman she is today. “At the age of 17, I had a crude illegal abortion at the backside of a drugstore which almost cost my life,” Sally says. “This act which was not uncommon among her peers has now become the foundation of her life as a social advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and full participation of women in political decision making. Sally started reaching out to adolescent girls and young women on issues of their sexuality as far back as 2004 when she joined the teaching corps in Cameroon. She worked as mentor in girls’ leadership clubs and other women social groups. This service to women and girls proved insufficient as women and girls continued to be victims as they made tons of uninformed decisions regarding their sexuality. The life she has chosen as a community change maker has sure given her many opportunities to serve humanity. From her humble beginnings as Impact Leader for World Pulse, Sally would later become World Pulse Ambassador, a free online platform where women tell their stories and support each other. This may well be her motivation for engaging into field work in the community to help women and girls come out. The “Every Girl For Any Girl Initiative” made it possible for girls to sit in a leadership club and talk about their differences. With Sally serving as their mentor and facilitator, she takes the position of an elder sister to the girls. As such, they discuss sexuality in a bid to guide the young girls make informed decisions and choices. The Every Girl For Any Girl Initiative” morphed into the “My Sister, My Friend” project which has established clubs within schools and communities in a bid to help girls discuss, prepare and package themselves as leaders. With more than 10 workshops and over 1,000 girls touched, Sally says she is not stopping yet. Her “Empower Me, Don’t Blame Me” campaign drew along of commendation from local communities. The inclusive campaign targets parents and adolescent girls and young women to understand that it is imperative for them to talk about their sexuality without which many girls will take the wrong directions. As facilitator in no fewer than 15 workshops within the framework of the “Empower Me, Don’t Blame Me” campaign, Sally has worked with other organizations to make the voice of the girl child and woman louder. She has mentored young women leaders, molding many others to be able to come out and take leadership roles.
This story was submitted in response to GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable.