Last January, I was given the opportunity with my dear friend Lisa Leibfried (BSILR '16) to begin working with the Bekondo Foundation, a newly developing non-profit organization that strives to promote sustainable development from the cocoa crop in the village of Bekondo, Cameroon. At the time of applying to do Human Resources for this foundation on campus, my understanding of the Bekondo Foundation was limited. At the time, though, I was excited to be working on a mission that promoted a humane cocoa crop that would allow me to love the chocolate we eat while knowing that it was harvested through fair trade. Additionally, as a self-proclaimed chocoholic, I was ecstatic to be offered this opportunity, but to also find out that I would be working alongside my friend and travel partner from India the summer before made working with the Bekondo Foundation even sweeter (no pun intended).
Through the process, I learned of the wonderful natural resources in Cameroon that if properly integrated, would help foster a healthy community that not only would bloom from the cocoa crop, but also would enable the entire country to do better. By demonstrating awareness and creating a sustainable work arena, we helped turn the Bekondo Foundation into an endeavor that contributed not only to the humane treatment of workers, but also to a lifestyle that would support families and in turn the community.
From this internship, Lisa and I both learned the value of Human Resources when it came to keeping an organization together foundationally. Together, we utilized our different skill sets to evaluate how the foundation could be stronger from the bottom up. We started with leading organizational meetings with the four co-founders to find out how they could, most importantly, become better communicators as they embark on managing the foundation from different parts of the world. This became especially difficult as one co-founder was from the US, one was currently living in Spain, and the others were from different parts of Cameroon. It was and still is a challenge, but together we were able to analyze our strengths as a team, and we continued to remind ourselves about what made this mission so special to each of us.
Lisa and I took on this role with much ambiguity, but as we had learned the summer before from Donna Ramil, ambiguity was something to be embraced. Because of this, we were able to really look at the organization from an outside perspective and share what we felt would be the most beneficial during our 6 weeks in country. We organized interviews for both internal and potential external employees, lead team exercises on strength building from the results of a SWOT analysis and personality tests, as well as created databases to track the foundation's goals and financial performance. With the help of our Cameroonian partner and Bekondo Foundation intern, Coretta, we developed a new program called Women's Initiative for Village Entrepreneurship in which we held weekly meetings for women to come learn a new skill or learn how to be more sustainable with the readily available resources in the village.
Unbeknownst to me, the Bekondo community was a family. We lived in a community surrounded by strangers that we had no idea would soon become lifelong friends. We bonded with children daily over hand clapping games, swimming in the local watering hole, and singing. This experience was one full of growth, and it helped me to once again understand the importance of respecting cultures outside of your own. Despite the difficulties in adjusting to a country that was entirely foreign to me from every other aspect of my life, I will forever smile at this experience. I am and always will be grateful for Donna Ramil and her guidance throughout this entire process. Thank you to the ILR Travel Grant committee for funding me to embark on what was truly a journey of a lifetime.