Determining when your light will shine is barely impossible. It’s just a matter of patience, commitment and continuous personal development over time- not forgetting your professional development.
In the African context, the means for the youth to gain accurate competencies to build their expertise and professionalism in various sectors, generally depend on the system and environment they find themselves in. In all the five regions of Africa, it is a real challenge for youth in the Central African States. It’s surprising to see the potentials and assets in this region which could help include the youth in the development processes and practices.
I recall when I was awarded my Master of Science in Plant Physiology and Improvement at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, my home country in October 2014. I wondered, “What next? Staying glued only to the training I have acquired will keep me off the field. I don’t want to be restricted to the laboratory.” I asked myself how I was going to amass some invaluable experience to boost my career and land a job. The first thought that came to me was to try agriculture and see if I would find a way. I got this idea so aptly since my research project focussed on the cocoa value chain.
In June 2013, a year before my graduation with an MSc, a classmate invited me to attend a regional workshop which was organized by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), Cameroon under the leadership of Ntiokam Divine. It was there that I met Nestor Ngouambe, the current country representative for YPARD Cameroon. At that time, I had no idea what this network was all about. All I knew was that it advocated the involvement of youth in agriculture- that it is a movement by youth for the youth. And this is where my journey began.
Nestor and I became good friends after our first encounter and he taught me more about the agricultural sector. Since our first meeting, I have been committed to our country’s chapter of YPARD and its activities. I registered on the YPARD’s website and created my profile. I was like a baby who had been enrolled in a higher education institution at that time as there was so much to discover on the YPARD website. It was easy to get lost among the pictures, notes and links on the webpage. I remember the first picture I saw was that of Nawsheen Hosenally in an article introducing her introduction as Web4knowledge Intern with YPARD. With time I developed more interest in the website and kept checking the site from time to time, learning and getting informed. Those days I spent much of my time on social media channels as a basic user with no special objective.
Throughout 2014, I was one of the most active members of YPARD Cameroon. I was always present at field activities organized by the country such as presentations at workshops. There were a few times when I got the opportunity to represent Nestor when he wasn’t available. Nestor coached me on event reporting skills. Nestor’s encouragement coupled with my little effort has helped develop my interest in agriculture. When the opportunity to be trained on “Web2.0 and Social Media” came up in June 2014, I couldn’t help but apply for the opportunity. This training was organized by Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in partnership with GYIN-Cameroon and YPARD Cameroon. I was happy to be selected for this great opportunity. At the event, I met other young development actors who work in other organizations, with much more experience than I had and of course, the power of these tools was like a revelation to me. Resonating in my head, I identified a niche of interest and I dived into it.
In the year 2015, I was granted the opportunity to become a Remote Web4knowledge Intern at YPARD Global Coordinating Unit. Amelia Onchoa, the Communication Office at that time trained me on every aspect related to web and digital communication, content editing, post and publications, community management among others. During that same period, I became an intern in a national farmers' organization and had field surveys to carry out. My training with YPARD lasted six months after which Amelia left YPARD. It was challenging to handle both online and onsite activities simultaneously. It is so unfortunate that I never got to meet her face-to-face, but I hope to see her soon
Another aspect that widened my interest in some agricultural development issues was when I came to know about the CTA and the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) Annual Meetings. My tasks with YPARD while editing content for the website and having more access to information made get to know about CTA. When I visited their main webpage, was amazed at the diverse areas their work covered and working on, especially aspects concerning youth, ICT and agriculture. Immediately, I followed all their pages and created a specific Google alert to be able to keep up with their updates. From nothing, “I deeply felt that desire to have the opportunity to work with CTA, no matter the position given.” I perceived what impact it could have on my career in agriculture. Also, after seeing a picture someone posted on Facebook of Nestor Ngouambe having attended the 6th GFRAS annual meeting in Kyrgyzstan, I was interested to find out what it was all about. So I searched for more information about it. Thereafter, my areas of interest became clear: ICT4Ag; YouthinAg; Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services (AEAS) and digital communication.
I personally began tracking opportunities offered by CTA while doing an internship as a field agent at the National Cocoa Producers Confederation- where my skills in extension and advisory services, as well as farmer organization management and development, kept growing. As time went by, I participated in more events organized by the CTA such as online social media certificates and applied for the various internship opportunities advertised but without any successful return. But I did not lose hope.
With advice from Nestor, my mentor and my determination to learn more and to and participation in online and onsite activities, I made it to the 7th GFRAS annual meeting that was held in my home country, Cameroon. It was very insightful. I learned a lot as it was my first time attending an international event of that caliber. As God knows best, in this meeting, I came to meet the senior programme coordinator of Knowledge Management (KM) at CTA, Krishan Bheeknick and his intern Israel Bionyi. They made me discover what KM is all about and how it’s inclusion in agricultural processes and practices, could be an added to capture experience capitalization. It was just fantastic. After having expressed my interest to be trained on this approach in another context, was called upon to be a local KM core team member during the first regional forum of the cassava value chain in Central Africa, #cassava2016. Where again, I met other CTA staff one of who was the ICT4Ag programme coordinator, Ken Lohento. I was excited to meet him for the first time since he is the one who signed all my social reporting certificates since 2015 though I had never met him in person.
It has been a long journey but it is finally a reality. After a long period of yearning to fulfill my dream, I applied for the fifth time for an internship at CTA in February 2017 and after months of patience and stress, this two-year dream has finally come true. And yes, thanks to years of efforts, commitment, patience and deep hope, I was granted this undeserved opportunity to be an ICT4Ag intern at CTA.
Never give up your aspirations and dreams cause when you work positively for it to become a reality, no man can stop you. I don’t know how my stay in this prestigious institution shall be, but what I know is that everyone wherever I found working people will discover the great potential of youth in agriculture.
Photo credit: Marc Ghislain Bappa se