October 15, 2008, marked the first International Day of Rural Women, an event geared towards celebrating and honoring the contribution of rural women to their communities.

In Kumbo, the day is celebrated with a conference of women’s groups from surrounding villages. It gives the women a chance to meet and to share ideas on agriculture and microenterprise. This year, the Himalayan Institute’s Sacred Link Jewelry (SLJ) team joined over 30 women’s groups at their meeting place, a field in Shisong Village, to share with them the success of the SLJ vocational training program.

Research conducted by the World Bank and the United Nations has shown that investment in rural women has the highest rate of return, as well as the greatest impact on the factors often considered barometers of poverty: food security, family size, and child mortality rates. Their conclusion is that rural women are key to solving much larger problems.

At the conference, each women’s group set up a stand offering the best of its produce, handicrafts, or needlework.

“It is great to come here to be with other women,” said Victorine of the Bongkisheri Women’s Group. “Most of our women are today at the job site. Very often it is the women who are suffering on the farm to make the school fees. The men are looking for work in town, and when they have extra you see them drinking, some of them every day.”

Shey Wongibe and Mary Nyar of Himalayan Institute Cameroon (HIC) encouraged women to come to monthly SLJ jewelry-making classes to begin learning a profitable trade skill.

In her opening speech, President of the Kumbo Women’s Network Bibian Singeh said, “The rural women of Bui Division make up about 90 percent of the farming population. Therefore it cannot be denied that the entire Kumbo population relies on the rural women for their food supplies.”

For her part, Shey Wongibe spoke at length about the success of HIC’s Sacred Link Jewelry program in training local women to become self-employed making jewelry. She added that this year’s World Rural Women’s Day theme, Climate Change: Rural Women Are Part of the Solution, is something that HIC’s School of Energy Farming is heavily focused on. She urged everyone to bring back news of the Energy Farming program to their respective villages.

After a speech on climate change by a local teacher, the girls of Shisong’s Sacred Heart Primary School performed a number of songs for the conference. In one they sang:

“Let us work together to find ways,
Ways to exploit our environment sustainably.”

Big words for 8-to-12-year olds. Still, the girls of Sacred Heart live in a different world than the one that first suggested the idea of having an International Day of Rural Women back in 1995. Since then, lasting solutions to poverty have come to be demanded over mere relief, and the phrase “climate change” has gone from classroom abstraction to real-world challenge to something that millions of rural women are now seeing as an opportunity.

HIC’s Mary Nyar shows off some of the jewelry made by Sacred Link Jewelry technicians.

HIC’s Mary Nyar shows off some of the jewelry made by Sacred Link Jewelry technicians.

Students of Sacred Heart Primary sing a goodbye song in Lamnso dialect.

Students of Sacred Heart Primary School sing a good-bye song in Lamnso dialect.