By Jennifer Brookland

Eighty parents, teachers and local officials from across Northern Cameroon convened to identify the 150 schools that will benefit from Counterpart International’s new school feeding and literacy program.

The global nonprofit received more than 400 applications from primary schools in the four divisions of Cameroon’s North Region.

The workshop, held Dec. 12 in the regional capital of Garoua, brought together state education officials, school inspectors, mayors, PTA chairpersons,and representatives of partner organizations.

Counterpart held the workshop to provide a general project overview to relevant stakeholders and to discuss with them the criteria for selecting the schools to include.

The three-year project, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, seeks to improve food security and education for more than 74,000 children through food distribution, community-run gardens and school construction projects.

Counterpart included residents and local authorities in the selection process to ensure the community supported and took ownership of the project, to maintain a high level of transparency, and to guarantee local knowledge played a role in decision-making.

Desire Yameogo, Counterpart’s Country Director for Cameroon, opened the workshop with an overview of the project, mentioning Counterpart’s previous work in the country, project objectives and key activities.

“This project was developed with your full participation so that your children and your communities shall in the year ahead continue to benefit from the fruits and impact,” said Yameogo. “This is your project and we are strongly committed to work with you to sustain it.”

He also explained the criteria for selecting the schools, which must be geographically distributed across the four regional Divisions the comprise Cameroon’s North region. Each Division then formed a working group to review applications from schools within its area.

Using the selection criteria and geographic quota requirements, the groups debated and struggled for two hours to make their selections for schools to recommend for inclusion, plus five to place on the wait list.

Print, radio and television journalists from five media organizations covered the groups’ presentations to the plenary tasked with agreeing on the final selection of 150 schools.

The intense debates over the choice of schools demonstrated the participants’ recognition of the seriousness of the project goals, as well as their collective resolve to see to it that their children and communities benefit fully from the project.

The stakes are high: A similar project implemented by Counterpart in 92 communities of North West Cameroon fed more than 27,000 schoolchildren and achieved dramatic increases in school attendance and national exam performance.

Though that project ended in July 2012, about 40 percent of the beneficiary schools have continued school feeding and growth monitoring with no direct Counterpart support—evidence that the project created sustainable positive change for communities.

Concluding the workshop, Yameogo said he was grateful for the impressive turnout but reminded participants of the daunting task and challenges ahead. He called for their active and unalloyed support for the project.

The participants left visibly satisfied with the transparent nature of the selection process and appeared determined to collaborate with Counterpart in implementing project activities in their communities.

Counterpart will continue to engage local stakeholders to channel the enthusiasm and resolve evident at the workshop, and make sure it translates into concrete participation on the ground.

Reporting contributed by James Njong, Counterpart-Cameroon school feeding manager