Post-independent Cameroon is still struggling with an undemocratic structure and problematic procedures for providing security and social services to the underprivileged. The victims who suffer the most under this system are ex-convicts and homeless children. The lack of a social security structure to take care of these marginalized individuals is a problem faced by many communities. For instance, after serving prison terms, many find it difficult to re-acclimate into society and provide for themselves since they often have no practical skills or trade to rely on. Because of this, they are often pushed to commit more crimes simply to survive. It is common for crimes to be committed out of severe starvation, due to the poverty caused by continual unemployment. We determined that one solution to these problems is to make vocational training skills available and thus offer these individuals a way to support themselves, so we began providing this skill training. Our goal in providing practical carpentry skills to ex-convicts and street children was to empower them with the lifetime ability for socioeconomic development.
Our organization carried out needs assessments (research) in the community to identify social and economic problems plaguing youths in our society. We discovered that the most intricate issue is the lack of care for ex-prisoners (who have no trade to depend on for their livelihood) and street children, which leads to high crime rates in the communities. The information that we received from the communities helped us decide to offer the practical skills training, and our next step was to seek resources from our funding partners abroad to support this project.
We invited community leaders to be a part of our planning process, and we took their input into account as we coordinated the project. Our mission is to assure the functional capacity and moral values of the underprivileged to improve public health and security. To accomplish this mission, we established an objective to provide vocational training skills to ex- prisoners, prisoners, and homeless/street children to create opportunities for self-dependence and growth.
Once we established our objective, we visited local groups to identify their specific needs. We also held meetings with local traditional leaders, administrative officials and other stakeholders to work out the details of putting our ideas into practice, and to determine how community members and other stakeholders could participate in the activities.
We have evaluated the project by comparing the actual project outcomes with what we had initially planned; we evaluated in this way both during the project and after its completion. To enhance objectivity, external evaluators were also invited to carry out end-of-project evaluation by interviewing the beneficiaries. Additionally, project staff carried out on-going monitoring and evaluation by asking trainees questions about their feelings and experiences during and after the training. We also routinely invited funding partners to visit the project and advise us on areas in need of improvement.
Since our focus is to provide sustainable training skills to the underprivileged in our communities, we have created carpentry, plumbing and welding workshops. We are thrilled that as our program has grown, many of the trainees who have been through the program are now running the workshops. These graduates of the program, together with other apprentices, often also complete jobs for members of the community which they are paid for. The money that they receive is kept in a special fund for allowances and sustaining the project.
The community now reintegrates ex-prisoners in important societal issues. The community also now has an atmosphere of security and stability. Social centers are being opened by the government to take care of delinquent children. However, these social centers handle the problem of reformation and rehabilitation of delinquents without providing substantial skill training. Therefore, the training we have given to these underprivileged children provides them with practical skills which are very useful and are a means of livelihood to them and their families.