It was not uncommon for Eric Chiaga to go to bed hungry. Having lost his father at a young age, Chiaga and his five siblings were raised in poverty by their widowed mother in a rural community in the Northwest Region of Cameroon.
Chiaga remembers those harsh times vividly: “When I lost my father, my poor mother was left alone with 6 children to cater for; all she was left with were few family farm lands we had to depend on. I saw the difficulties she faced in her effort to feed us and provide for our basic needs.”
As a result of that childhood experience, Chiaga—who, after his mother became ill from stress, had to help take care of the home and put himself through school—felt a deep calling to help others in his community escape his family’s fate.
“Having experienced how it feels to go to bed hungry and the effects of poverty in my family, the desire to see the poor and vulnerable in rural communities become economically empowered and live productive and fulfilling lives was born in me and this passion is what keeps me going even amidst tough times.”
For Chiaga, this passion translated into starting a Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in 2014 in his local communities to help fight against the spread of malnutrition, unemployment, and poverty.
The project empowers vulnerable rural women, especially windows, and unemployed young people by building their capacities in sustainable market gardening. By providing fruit and vegetable seeds and basic farm equipment, CEP enables the women and youths to establish and manage fruit and vegetable garden plots. This food is both for household consumption, which supports nutrition, and for sale, increasing families’ income levels.
“The goal of this project is to curb malnutrition and alleviate extreme poverty among vulnerable women and unemployed youths, while restoring barren landscapes through the promotion of sustainable farming practices,” says Chiaga.
As a TPP Impact Grantee, Chiaga has been awarded $4,000 for his efforts—and has seen incredible results. Just since 2015, CEP has trained 160 women and youth in sustainable market gardening, agroforestry, and business management, providing them high-yielding vegetable and fruit seeds and gardening equipment, resulting in the establishment of 136 gardens in four communities and the planting of an astounding 1,500 trees.
Despite these remarkable accomplishments, Chiaga remains ever humble, always mindful of his difficult upbringing and aware of the work that still needs to be done: “[I want] to bridge the wide, existing gap between the rich and the poor in rural Cameroonian communities. I dream of a society where no child goes to bed hungry for lack of food and of communities where women and youths are economically empowered, able to meet their personal and household needs.”
Chiaga, who is also a TPP Grant Advisor, wishes to thank TPP for their “encouragement and funding support, without which it would have been virtually impossible for my project to have grown this far.” He also acknowledges his local partners and community members for their support and credits his team of volunteers as the “machinery behind this success story.”