“There’s nothing greater than the feeling of helping another human. That’s what motivates us.”
Stephen Ndzerem, Founder and Director General, SHUMAS
At Building Schools for Africa we have always been aware of the effectiveness of our exclusive partnership with Strategic Humanitarian Services (SHUMAS), a development and humanitarian NGO in Cameroon. But it wasn’t until we reviewed our achievements for a recent funding application that we recognised just how astonishing the size, scope and impact of our work together has been.
Because of this we wanted to put the spotlight on SHUMAS and its unique model of development and humanitarian response in times of conflict, which we think should be shared more widely. Ours is a symbiotic relationship: we couldn’t have achieved anything without SHUMAS and it couldn’t have achieved as much as it has without us.
The story of SHUMAS
Stephen Ndzerem Njodzeka set up SHUMAS in 1996. His early years exposed him to extreme poverty in the town of Kumbo, located in the beautiful Northwest highlands of Cameroon. From the age of four his mother involved him in the care of the poor and sick and this experience made a lasting impact on his life. Despite his early career as a teacher and legal advisor, and the many lucrative opportunities that followed, he decided to set up SHUMAS to enable him to help those in most need in his home country.
SHUMAS is a Development and Humanitarian NGO. Through its vision of “a Just One-World and Sustainable Development”, SHUMAS focuses on Integrated Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Response with the aims of protecting lives, ensuring wellbeing, reducing poverty and empowering people to realise their full potential without jeopardising the ability of future generations to realise theirs.
To achieve this, SHUMAS has 12 programme areas: Agriculture, Education, Early Recovery, Environmental Protection and Management, Food Security, Gender Based Violence (GBV), Health, Nutrition, Social Welfare, Water Sanitation and Health (WASH), Shelter and Volunteering.
Over the last three decades SHUMAS has built a strong reputation across all of these programme areas and is well known and highly respected throughout Cameroon in government and national and international NGOs.
Now is a time of considerable tension in the country and diplomacy is essential. SHUMAS has made the effort to work on projects in both anglophone and francophone regions of Cameroon in order to show no favouritism and it treads a careful path between government and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) to be able successfully to deliver essential humanitarian projects. SHUMAS is currently working closely with UN agencies as it is virtually unique in its level of access to remote communities in the war zone.
The solutions SHUMAS delivers are designed to help communities help themselves, as simply giving aid can be counter productive and disabling. SHUMAS motivates villagers to contribute as much as they can towards projects, in terms of local materials and labour: this commitment to participation is required to be part of a project. SHUMAS is assiduous in monitoring and reporting on its initiatives, which is crucial to understanding their effectiveness and making any necessary improvements.
While Building Schools for Africa remains a major funding partner, SHUMAS has now forged close links with major international funding bodies and UN organisations, including Manos Unitas, Energy Without Borders, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and UNHCR.
How Building Schools for Africa works with SHUMAS
We have been in exclusive partnership with SHUMAS since 2007, having been introduced to its school building projects by one of the coordinators of AidCamps International (a UK charity that focuses on International Development projects). Three of our founding trustees saw, at first hand, the dramatic impact this model of development has in rural Cameroon while volunteering on a SHUMAS project. On returning home, they raised funds to build a school through SHUMAS and, due to the incredible response, decided to set up Building Schools for Africa as a funding partner.
As our understanding of rural communities in Cameroon grew so did the scope of our projects because there are many factors that contribute to getting a child to a classroom. This not only includes the health of the pupils themselves but also those of their families and wider community. The building and provisioning of health centres became an obvious need as well as the provision of clean water sources.
2016 saw the start of a political crisis in the country which has escalated into war between English-speaking secessionists and the French-speaking government. This has had a profound impact on the communities within the war zone with all schools closed, villages destroyed and almost a million people (mainly women and children) being displaced.
People have been traumatised and disempowered by losing their homes, incomes and family members. Since then the focus of our work has inevitably shifted towards helping the Internally Displaced People (IDP) regain their livelihoods and thus be able to send their children to school again.
Looking to the future
SHUMAS is needed now more than ever. As an organisation with a wide network of key individuals and other organisations throughout the country, it can deliver programmes where the need is greatest.
The current context in which SHUMAS operates is incredibly challenging. The demand for emergency humanitarian response is overwhelming and is coupled with a lack of infrastructure for education and healthcare in rural communities. Finding a balance between these needs has been a priority for SHUMAS in the first few months of 2023.
The two key areas of focus for this year are supporting IDPs fleeing the war in the Southwest and Northwest and also IDPs in the North and Far North of Cameroon, for whom attacks and clashes with armed groups, intercommunal conflicts, food insecurity and a very challenging climate are all daily realities.
Building Schools for Africa is committed to continuing to support SHUMAS by raising awareness of the challenges facing the communities in Cameroon and raising funds to build access to education and health for future generations.