8 employees were selected by lottery to participate in the Solidarity Leave in Cameroon in June 2017. Over 10 days, they discovered the work of the NGOs Tropical Forest and Awely supported by the Maisons du Monde Foundation.
These two NGOs focusing on biodiversity protection are working on the northern edge of the Dja Biosphere Reserve located in southeastern Cameroon. The reserve, the largest conservation area in the country, is threatened by the pressure exerted by human activities. Poaching has decimated the gorilla and elephant populations residing there. Likewise, slash-and-burn agriculture and cocoa cultivation, the primary means of subsistence of the populations living in the reserve, contribute to deforestation. The challenge for Tropical Forest and Awely is to support local communities in developing economic activities that enable them to improve their living conditions while reducing their impact on the forest.
After a first stop in Yaoundé, the group visited the Méfou Primate Park, a sanctuary for great apes victims of poaching. They then visited Tropical Forest’s product processing centre, before moving up the production chain to meet growers in the villages in the Dja Reserve.
Tropical Forest works with 15 villages on the border of the Dja Reserve to encourage production of non-timber forest products such as cocoa, wild mango and Moabi oil. After visiting the villages of Kabilone II, Malen II and Malen V, the group helped the villagers of Malen II plant more than 100 cocoa seedlings. Similarly, the group learned how to perform grafts on mango trees in order to maximise fruit production.
The employees really appreciated meeting the teams of Tropical Forest and the villagers:
“The solidarity leave enabled me to discover other cultures far off the beaten track. I was amazed, surprised, awestruck (…). If I had to describe the trip in one word, I would say encounters. Encounters with the villagers who welcomed us warmly, encounters with the staff of the NGOs whom I will never forget (Roméo, Pierre, Lionel, Bill, Donald, Marie, Mélanie and Théo) who showed us what they do and with whom we shared so much, encounters with my colleagues who each with their own personality helped the group develop a strong sense of team spirit.”
Aurélie Cassou, Store Manager in Tarbes Ibos.
The participants then left for the village of Doumo-Pierre, where Awely has built a school to educate the local children about environmental protection in this region where poverty and illiteracy are rampant. The Jean-Marc Vichard school today welcomes 93 primary school children. In addition to the usual subjects, the children learn about protecting the forest to safeguard the gorilla habitat. The participants saw how the children and teachers live, and talked with Donald Mbohli, the Field Coordinator, about the Arrondi round up at the register project implemented in all Maisons du Monde stores in France.
The last few days were spent participating in the life of the community, by building a traditional house for a village family, working in the fields, and learning more about the biodiversity of the forest surrounding the village.
“The solidarity leave was an amazing experience. It made me want to engage in more solidarity initiatives and learn more about biodiversity conservation.”
Marie-Elyse Jacquemin, sales clerk at the store in Claye-Souilly
The Solidarity Leave helped build bonds between colleagues and acquainted them with the commitments of the company and the Maisons du Monde Foundation. Finally, the participants were impressed by the humility of the villagers and the teams of the NGOs, and, according to Alexandre Reigner, sales clerk at the store in Lyon Saint Priest and CSR officer, “Do you know where the word ‘humility’ comes from? From ‘humus’, the earth…”.