I am delighted to introduce Glender Favour Nkezi Fombo, a 20-year-old student from Cameroon. Glender has been chosen as the delegate by the African Union for the 2012 G(irls) 20 Summit. It is a huge honor to be part of the Summit –- the committee only chooses 22 young women from around the world each year to meet and discuss gender equality and economic and political empowerment ahead of the G20 Summit.
Glender has come a long way –- and not just in the geographic sense. She was born into a poor family, was raised in a rural village, and her father discouraged her from going to school. But thankfully her mother, a farmer, encouraged her to keep learning and keep dreaming.
“Finances in the hands of a woman are an investment for the family and the nation,” she told Glender. Glender stuck with her dreams, listened to the great advice of her mother, and now, she is an accounting student at the University of Buea in Cameroon, and is the first girl in her community to achieve an advanced level certificate in education.
In this interview, Glender talked to me about her plans after graduation, her female mentor and her NGO (yes, she has her own NGO at the young age of 20!).
Caitlyn: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What was your life like growing up?
Glender: I was born and raised in a rural village. Growing up in impoverished circumstances, my dream was to have an education. I learned from my illiterate mother that “finances in the hands of a woman are an investment for the family and the nation.” Women and girls are not the problem; they are the solution. As a young girl, I lived without running water, electricity and had no hope for my future.
I remember very well my father pointing to my brothers and the other boys in the village and saying: “these are the breadwinners of tomorrow. We need to educate them. We need to send them to school. The girls will get married”. Desperate to learn, I secretly did my brother’s homework. Soon, my secret was exposed, and the teacher begged my father to let me learn. My mother, a farmer, valued education for girls, and she encouraged me to write my dreams on a piece of paper. I placed the list of my education goals in my wallet, and it reminded me daily. Though I’ve had my share of hardships in life, I refuse to let my past define who I am.
I was the first girl from my village and the eldest female in a family of five to attain an advanced level certificate. Growing up, I always admired and was motivated by women who served in various leadership positions and were engaged in occupations that were previously predominantly male.
What do you want to do after you graduate?
I plan to focus on developing the role of women and children’s leadership in Africa, interact directly with impoverished communities and positively impact the lives of those seeking guidance through mentoring.
With constant education and support through barriers, young girls, girls and women will win if action is taken together to be heard and show that barriers can be broken to bring change. Empowerment within will lead to empowerment throughout.
What compelled you to apply to become a delegate to the G(irls) 20 Summit?
I see the G(irls)20 Summit as a tremendous opportunity to collaborate and create dynamic, innovative plans for the future of women and girls. As a passionate advocate for my country, I have acquired and taken a number of leadership roles, communicative and interpersonal skills. I am determined to contribute to the G(irls)20 Summit with the aim of developing peace and gender equality around the world, an opportunity to raise my voice on behalf of the women of my country.
Who is someone in your life who has served as a role model and mentor to you?
My grandmother who raised me was uneducated, but she identified my potential early in life and instilled the belief that I can go places if I have education. My grandmother taught me to look up to people others looked down upon, because we are not so different. My mother and grandmother inculcated values of discipline, hard work and faith in achievement, that my life is not my own, but a gift to be lived in service of others. The foremost among the values was their constant claim that nothing is for free in life, there is no easy way that is effective, the importance of hard work, perseverance, use of failure as a new energy and the guiding light of prayer. I believe that it is these values ingrained in me since childhood that shapes my life and defines my goals.
What is your core initiative? What issue(s) do you think most negatively affect women, globally, in the world today?
My core initiative is HIV/AIDS. As an inspiring young leader, I have founded and co-founded a number of initiatives including StopAIDS Cameroon, which is an NGO with the mission to empower young leaders with skills, knowledge, resources and opportunities they need to scale up HIV/AIDS interventions amongst their peers.
It supports community responses to HIV/AIDS through community capacity strengthening and in-depth partnerships in order for communities to reduce HIV/AIDS incidences, improve access and adherence to treatment, provide adequate care and support, and mitigate the impact of the epidemic.
What skills and knowledge are you hoping to develop at the summit to contribute to your future work and efforts?
I hope to acquire sills of how girls and women can help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges, work together to develop tangible solutions and participate in various workshops addressing financial literacy, media relations, problem solving, and how to utilize social media and technology to communicate globally. At the end of the G(irls)20 Summit I will be mentored, supported and empowered to live up to my commitments and make social change a reality in my home country, Cameroon.. The end goal is to ensure that girls and women can have a positive economic and social impact in their communities and globally.
Tell us something interesting about yourself — an experience, anecdote, etc.
I am constantly trying to change the world for the better. I currently meet with 70 to 100 youths weekly to provide a forum for discussion and concerns about global issues such as HIV/AIDS education, child trafficking, and global warming. I have dedicated my time to an after-school tutor center, participated in many youth programs, and sat on my school’s student council.
Send a message of encouragement to Glender by leaving a message in the comments section below. And be sure to stay tuned to the G(irls) 20 Summit by visiting their website and following the hashtag #girls20summit on Twitter.