Hooper: Project aids women in Cameroon

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2011

By Cynthia Hooper
For the Salisbury Post
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a project that, in the end, will help to empower the women of Cameroon.
I was asked to take a disposable camera and capture 25 images. In one day, through those 25 photographs, I was to tell the story of me: who I am, what defines me, what I love and what I am passionate about; what makes me, in a word, me. The “Who Are You?” project began last May during an Obakki Foundation trip to Cameroon. Treana Peake, founder of the Obakki Foundation and wife of Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake, distributed disposable cameras to a group of women in Filipe, a tiny valley village, and asked them to take 25 pictures of the things that made them who they are. Peake told the women that she intended to take the photographs, publish them on the Internet and make them available for people around the world to see. The goal of the photographs was to help to raise money to help the women start their own businesses and in turn better their lives.
The women left for the night and were to return the following morning with the cameras; but with only moments left before Peake’s departure from Filipe, none of the women had returned to meet her.
Peake spoke of her disappointment in her blog.
“With 15 minutes to spare, not one camera has been returned to me. As the group prepares to leave, I sit in the clearing, despondent and demoralized. I had such high hopes for this project. I suspect the rigors of their day impeded the women, and it’s like a vicious circle that can’t be broken. This trip has been harder on my body and heart than any other — I miss my family so much and I begin to wonder what kind of difference we’re really making.
“And then, it happens. All of the women emerge from the jungle at once; cameras in hand; faces beaming; and eyes aglow. I collect the cameras of these strong, brave women. They’ve taken a chance with me and I will not let them down. They’re all now very excited to be a part of this hopeful, creative and inspiring project. I thank them, saying, ‘You will no longer be silent. You can finally tell the story of you.’ ”
Upon the group’s return to Vancouver, British Columbia, the film was developed, and the photos were remarkable. Peake found herself so inspired by the women and their pictures that she decided to include women from other countries in the project as well, hoping, she said, to further demonstrate our universal similarities, regardless of location or conditions.
When Peake asked for volunteers, I offered right away. Though we have never met personally, we have worked on projects together in the past, and it started with her helping me.
In 2007, I spoke with an old friend from high school about her cousin who was stationed in Iraq. He had recently had the opportunity to call home from Iraq to speak to his wife. Instead of talking about himself during the call, he could not stop talking about the Iraqi children who lived near where he was stationed. He was deeply bothered by their lack of educational supplies. Basics like pencils and paper were nonexistent, crayons were a dream; sticks and sand, that was what they used to learn. He and others in his troop hoped to find a way to help them get some of the supplies they so desperately needed.
I wondered how these children would have a future if they didn’t even have the basics for an education.
Then all of a sudden, I decided to do something about it. I organized a school-supply drive, asking my local friends, as well as people I had met on the Internet, to help. The response was great and donations came in quickly. While gathering supplies, an online friend that I had met at a Nickelback concert joked around, suggesting I should ask the band Nickelback to help with my school-supply drive. Having met the band on several occasions previously, I knew that they would if I asked, so I used the power of the Internet to ask them, in a roundabout way.
I knew that the wife of the band’s guitar player, Ryan Peake, ran a charity for children in Canada and I contacted her through the organization with the request. We emailed back and forth several times, and she spoke of her and her husband’s desire to do something for the children of the world and that they were currently working to find a project that would enable them to make a large impact. She spoke with her husband and they offered to send some things for the troops to include with the school supplies. A few weeks later, I received a package filled with autographed goodies from the band for the platoon.
I knew then, from our emails, that Treana Peake was going to make a huge difference in the world and that someday we would end up crossing paths again.
In 2009 Peake, also the owner of Obakki Designs Inc., created the Obakki Foundation based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Obakki Foundation partners with international organizations whose goal is to empower individuals, groups and communities at a grassroots level to make a positive change. In her first blog post, she explained why she formed the Obakki Foundation:
“I started the Obakki Foundation because of the 2-year-old orphan girl I met living on the streets in Romania, because of the baby that died of malaria one night when I was in Cameroon, because of a homeless Vancouver man that bought me a Christmas present.
“I started the Obakki Foundation because of the little boy who held my daughter’s hand in Mexico City as he was dying, because of my seven hour walk with six village women to get water for their children, because of George, who died because his disabilities didn’t qualify him for a heart transplant.
“I started the Obakki Foundation so that people like you and I can come together and through small actions create big results.
“The Obakki Foundation is a place for compassionate people to share thoughts and ideas that can help make a difference — in distant corners of the world or their own backyard.
“The Obakki Foundation offers people hope, empowerment and a chance to learn and grow. It’s about giving people the opportunity to be creative—using thoughts, ideas, art and fashion to stand up and participate in improving the lives of those who need it most.
“I started the Obakki Foundation because I don’t want to wait a single moment longer before starting to improve the world. I hope you will join me in this adventure. Please check in often and let us know what you are thinking and how you would like to participate.”
In no time at all, the organization was building schools in Cameroon and bringing fresh water to places it had never been before. They assisted with medical needs, and their impact was immediate. It was impressive the success they had in getting things done so quickly and efficiently. The other thing that impressed me was that 100 percent of all donations made go directly back to the projects that are supported by the Obakki Foundation.
The members of Nickelback were one of the first major contributors to the foundation and donated over $500,000 from ticket sales to help further the success of the organization. Ryan Peake has made several trips to Africa with his wife to check on projects that are ongoing there.
In December 2009, Peake asked supporters of the Obakki Foundation for donations of school supplies to take to the villages where they had been working. I immediately went into fundraiser mode, a payback of sorts for her having believed in what I had been doing a few years earlier.
My friends were kind enough again to make donations and, using my unbelievable shopping skills, I was able to turn a small amount of money into over $600 worth of kids’ books, backpacks and school supplies. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that I could return the support she had given me when I asked for it. It took nearly a year for the supplies to get through customs and reach the remote villages, but when I saw the pictures of the children in Africa, with the things I had sent, it was fantastic.
I knew when I was given the opportunity to participate in the “Who Are You” project that I would actually be helping someone half a world away without making a cash donation or by physically helping to build a school or dig a well, but just by being myself, and a great sense of worth came along with that.
My disposable camera came in the mail and I got ready to take pictures, but all in one day? One day to sum up my entire existence? Forty years all in 24 hours, there was so much to try to fit in. My husband, my children, my family and my community all in one day. My many jobs — writing for the newspaper, managing an online book business and being a hands-on historic restoration-ista. Then there were the many things that I am passionate about, like keeping the earth clean and recycling. But all in one day, I wasn’t sure how I would do it.
With my husband on camera duty, I started on the roof of my 120-year-old house, which is in mid-restoration, tearing off aluminum siding someone had installed over the original clapboard and then another picture of me scraping the peeling lead paint from the original crown mouldings under the eaves. Next I went to the scrap yard, where I asked a stranger, who must have thought I was pretty strange, to take a picture of me unloading the metal debris from the truck, the giant mountains of crumpled cars and old claw foot tubs behind me as far as they eye could see.
After that, we took the kids down to the creek at the neighborhood park and filled up a few trash bags with garbage that was laying around and took a couple more pictures. We played some basketball and took a break on the swings for a few minutes.
There is a picture of our dogs, our house, the family just being silly, some of me working at my computer and even one of me climbing the library ladder to pull books for shipping. I also took a picture of newspaper articles I have written.
It was a long day, but in the end I realized that there is not much difference between my hectic day and the way the women in Filipe spend their days. We all seem to love our families and work hard to make their lives better, and we all want to do our part to make the world a better place.
You can learn more about the “Who Are You” campaign and all other things Obakki by visiting obakkifoundation.org.