This summer I had the opportunity to continue my spring semester HR credit internship with the Bekondo Foundation in Three Corners Bekondo, Cameroon. Jenna Gimbar (BSILR ’16) and I were able to travel to Cameroon with the funding we received through the ILR Travel Grant.
The Bekondo Foundation, a new and growing nonprofit, strives for sustainable development in rural agricultural communities in the northwest region of Cameroon, an area dependent on the cocoa crop. My internship involved hands-on application of my ILR background, supplementing my coursework and interests nicely. I applied my knowledge of HR functions and tapped into my Organizational Behavior background as well to evaluate the foundation’s potential and structure. I was able to witness firsthand management within a transnational nonprofit organization as well as labor in an African economy.
Within the organization, my role was to work in HR and to facilitate the foundation’s growth in various other ways. This was an empowering experience for me because I had autonomy in constructing what I believed my role should consist of. My main projects included conducting interviews for current and potential employees/interns, leading organization meetings including co-founder meetings, conducting SWOT analyses, administering personality tests, facilitating working sessions in the village, discussing unique challenges with US/Cameroonian HR processes, gathering data and analyzing the performance of the foundation, creating organizational documents to increase efficiency, and working with the community through women’s workshops on empowerment, self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurship.
In our free time, Jenna and I spent a lot of time playing with the children in the village. We also enjoyed learning to cook local dishes from several of the women in the village, picking up simple pidgin phrases, attending church services, testing out various Cameroonian foods, and wading in flooded rainwater.
To me, this experience meant more than work. I developed a sense of self-awareness in a new cultural context and found meaning in being an active citizen. Such an experiential trip taught me the meaning of “think globally, act locally” and what it means to be a socially aware. I learned how to focus on collaboration and provide resources to a community to allow them to be more self-sufficient rather than trying to “solve” problems I saw in the village myself. The village of Bekondo welcomed me with open arms, and I felt what family means in Cameroon. I am humbled to have been part of a grassroots initiative like the Bekondo Foundation, and in particular to have worked so closely with women in the village. Forming personal connections within the village made my time in Cameroon unforgettable.
Despite the (often difficult) cultural adjustment, I would highly recommend international travel to interested students because of the vast personal growth, reflection, and intercultural understanding that experiences such as this offer. This was a challenging adventure but one with many rewards! I learned a lot about myself as well as the African lifestyle. My incredibly rewarding experience this summer was made possible by the International Travel Grant award, and for that I am incredibly appreciative.