CHANTAL BIYA: ON HER PASSION TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

The month of March marked women history month, dedicated to celebrate and highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is corresponding with international Women Day on March 8th, which represents an opportunity to celebrate economic, political and social achievements of women while calling for greater equality. This is also a time to recognize challenges and focus more attention on women’s rights and mobilize all people to do their part.

One of the challenges women are facing today in Africa is terrorism related violence. For example, one of the tactics used by Boko Haram is submitting women and girls under different type of violence such as kidnapping, abduction, rape and radicalization.

What does a future hold for women? We dream of a world where each women and young girl can exercise her choices, such as political participation, getting an education, having an income, having access to healthcare and living in societies free from discrimination. We need improvement on strengthening the social and economic rights of women, enhancing opportunities for political participation, working to expand the space for their active participation in the dialogue about peace and security.

This year, I joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in their International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium. What has become clear to me is that, prioritizing the health and empowerment of women is essential to sustaining vibrant communities, strong children, and

economic wellbeing. It is also clear that women will be central to defining and meeting the targets of the new Sustainable Development Guidelines to be decided by UN delegates in September 2015. This year will see the evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals, which did much to unite the international community but left so many problems unsolved.

The month of March was also the time to uphold women’s achievements and celebrate women. A woman that I would like to celebrate this year is the First Lady of the Republic of Cameroon. Since Chantal Biya became the First Lady of the Republic of Cameroon in 1994, she has brought with her another dimension of dynamism, engagement, altruism and philanthropy.

She has dedicated her time to help improve the lives of others especially women, children and youth through her different foundations that she has established through donations and her presence. With time, Chantal Biya’s influence and compassion have grown.

The Chantal Biya Foundation was established for the inspiration, empowerment, education and well – being of women, children and families in Cameroon. Chantal Biya has contributed millions of CFA francs towards providing a better education for underserved students. She has chosen to invest in education because for her education is « the way to move mountains, to build bridges, to change the world ». She also believes that education is freedom indeed.

In 1999, the First Lady started the concept of « Ecole des Champions FCB », modern public school systems that are built in different regions throughout the country: Centre, East, Far-North, West, Littoral and South-West. The idea is to bring quality education to some of the most underserved areas of the country.

Conscious of the disparity and the overcrowded classroom problems, absence of basic classroom materials,substandard public schools, she aimed at a qualitative and better management of classroom with a limited but good number of students to receive education in an environment that allow them to better interact with teachers and other students. She has partnered with the publisher EDICEF to provide school books and didactic materials for literacy and other teaching techniques to positively impact the classroom byincreasing the engagement level of students, boost their level of learning and also allow teachers to focus on the specific needs of individual students. The successful implementation of this educative

concept has helpedthe First Lady to invest smartly in the future of her nation all along.

Ms Biya’s has used her position and status to remind the world of the AIDS pandemic in Cameroon and she has inspired us with her openness, compassion and vision of a better world.

For example, she was able to bring two big scientists (Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo, one French the other American)to work together, while they have been in sterile rivalry for years, and to put Cameroon in their agenda. The speech she delivered on November 15, 2002 was memorable as she gets all those people to refocus on the suffering and sick populations instead of their personal glory as researchers.

As she has always used her position for the advancement of noble causes, knowing very well that she was neither the most educated nor the most experienced person, she built up her network by gathering some of the highest qualified people around her ideals. From there, she is now achieving so many things with a tremendous success.

As a founder of “Synergies Africaines”MrsBiya has demonstrated not only her passion to humanity but also her talent in mobilizing capacities and support. By successfully involving other African First Ladies in the fight against AIDS, maternal health to lower mortality rate and eradicate poverty, she was able to broaden the scope of action and engagement of each of them, thus keeping their common concerns in the picture by mutualizing the resources available.

“Synergies Africaines”has a good record in completing their missions and reaching most of their goals: maternal and newborn health, child health, immunization, HIV/AIDS, autism just to name a few.

The First Lady of Cameroon has been recognized worldwide for her different and numerous commitments towards the poor and disadvantaged, for women rights, peace, education and health for a better Cameroon, Africa and world.

Nationally and internationally, Mrs Chantal Biya has been present where there is a need. CERAC, Synergies Africaines, Foundation Chantal Biya are just some examples of the type ofwork the First Lady has been involved in. MrsBiyais certainly among the people convinced that investing in women, children and youth health means investing in the future and at the same time helping people in need or suffering. It is important to note that while

most international programs and policies devised to improve women’s health in developing countries have been shaped by powerful agencies and development ideologies,MrsBiya started most of her philanthropic mission in 1999 with a passion to serve, to help and to give fair opportunity to the large number;this is how she makes a difference.

There is so much to learn from Chantal Biya.Beyond her style, which is usually what some Medias and international community like to mention, the first Lady of Cameroon is a woman who understands, a mother who cares for her nation, a leader who trains a future generation, a mentor who equips others to use their gifts and talents to contribute to the development of their country. MrsBiya is intentional about leaving her legacy. Her legacy is the child who is able to go to school, a woman who equally be treated as a man, with access to healthcare, a poor woman who can receive free treatment. She is filling many people with hope for a better tomorrow. She is keeping hope alive in the lives of many.

Her work coincides with the Millennium Development goals adapted in 2000 by the United Nations. Thanks to her dynamism and vision, fuelled by passion and charisma, the Republic of Cameroon is working towards these development goals because she has chosen to fill the gaps and complete the actions of the government. A new global investment framework for Women’s and children’s health secures high health; social and economic returns.

Even though, there are still a lot to do, we really appreciate the First Lady’s vision, dedication and compassion.