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A Young Activist Carries On a Legacy of Women’s Empowerment

Ms Yonga Nelly-Shella

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

She wanted to be a banker but by chance, she became a women’s advocate.

At 25, most girls exude youthfulness and participate in activities that are personally satisfying to their young lives. In Cameroon, Central Africa, women’s empowerment is an unusual path for a woman to embrace at this prime of her life.

But for single and soulful Yonga Nelly-Shella, rocking her life means carrying on the legacy of the projects began by her deceased mother.

In the small town of Buea, at the foot of the Mount Fako in the southwestern region of Cameroon, this young woman continues the mission to bring gender equality and add value to the lives of women and girls.

Nelly-Shella has led the battle against HIV/AIDS, initiated a micro business loan program for women, and currently runs a leadership training program for young girls.

Her mother, Yonga Beatrice, was born into an impoverished family and had no access to formal education, even though she badly wanted to study. As she grew, she sought ways of learning and attended several training programs. Her quest landed her at the Pan African Institute of Development for West Africa (PAID-WA) in Buea, Cameroon. And so, a peasant became an empowered woman.

During her studies at PAID-WA, Beatrice began a Non-Governmental Organization to help rural women who remain underdeveloped due to lack of education. This birthed the Rural Women Development Center (RUWDEC), an initiative aimed at promoting and fostering gender equality and promoting improved livelihood for women and girls in the southwestern region of Cameroon.

However, Beatrice died in 2010, leaving her NGO in the hands of her daughter Nelly-Shella, the third child of four siblings. Now her spirit of activism lives on through her daughter.

“I got into women’s empowerment by chance,” says Nelly-Shella, a graduate of Banking and Finance.

After graduating in 2009, she began volunteering at her mother’s organization.

“When she passed away, I had no choice,” she says. “It’s like you just jump into a river and you have to float.”

As the Coordinator of RUWDEC, Nelly-Shella worked hard to keep the relationships that her mother had already built. Today she has become so fervent in her quest to better women’s lives, that one could hardly tell that she did not choose to be a women’s activist from the start.

“Dealing with the rural women was challenging because some were uneducated and it was hard to break the barrier and understand the dynamics that make it easier,” she says.

One of Nelly-Shella’s current projects is a micro credit program that provides micro loans to women to enable them start small businesses. These women are also trained on how to carry out small business projects.

“We focus on women because they are excluded financially, socially and this makes them feel that they do not have the ability to contribute to the growth of the economy,” the activist explains.

“I believe in the potential of the woman to help the man to take care of the community,” she continues.

Under Nelly-Shella’s leadership, two grandmothers were sent to India to receive training to become solar engineers. They attended the Barefoot College in Tilonia India, and their success is an exciting achievement for the young activist.

This successful training allowed Nelly-Shella to finish another project that her mother designed some years back. A hundred solar panels were procured and distributed, and 98 households in a remote community called Munyange Trouble gained access to electricity.

Situated in the Bomboko area behind Mount Cameroon in the southwest region of Cameroon, the community is an agricultural settlement which produces cocoa for commercial purposes but is hindered by lack of electricity.

The electrification of the region with solar energy was a step into modern times that helped business expand, bringing economic relief.

More importantly, the training of these two aged grassroots women has boosted women’s access to education and their right to prominent job opportunities.

Last year, Nelly-Shella ran a program on HIV/AIDS called Telling Our Story. Here, art was used to communicate issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS.

Apart from helping others, this young activist devotes quality time to developing herself so that she can, in turn, give out to others. She attended a sustainable development and micro enterprise program in Tanzania last year. She has also received online training on youths, leadership, sustainability and ethics.

Perhaps, one of Nelly-Shella’s biggest projects is “D Girls Initiative”, a program in which she teaches young girls leadership skills, career orientation and home economics.

“We want to create a platform for young girls to get skills and knowledge that they’ll not get from the classroom,” she says.

Since January of 2013, Nelly-Shella has taught these skills to about 12 young girls. She believes that being a strong woman does not mean a woman should neglect her duties in the home. She therefore stresses the importance of being a balanced career woman.

“I have seen girls express themselves and I have learned a lot from them. I hope to establish a center in the future solely to continue this training,” Nelly-Shella says.

Despite the many challenges that arrive in different forms, this young woman is no quitter. She collaborates with several local and international organizations to achieve her goals.

In 2011, Nelly-Shella was recognized by the Moremi Institute of Leadership as one of 25 outstanding young women in Africa. She says that women’s empowerment remains her passion, and she will continue to work hard to continue her mother’s legacy and empower women and girls in her country.

It seems likely that when Nelly-Shella’s mother meets her in the other world, she will salute her and say, “Well done, daughter!”

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Iryna's picture

Well done, Precious!

It's a very beautiful story, Precious, so touching and full of nice feelings. It's a big honor to be among 25 outstanding young women of the whole continent! And it's obvious Nelly-Shella deserves this.
I also notice that mothers play important role in lives of women, the connection between two closest women bring amazing things to life!

Thank you for the story,
Greetings to you and Nelly-Shelly from Ukraine,
Iryna

Precious M's picture

She deserves it

Thank you so much Iryna and yes, she really does deserve to be among 25 outstanding young women in the continent. Thank you for dropping this feedback!

Regards,
Precious

My pen speaks

Nakinti's picture

You are a true citizen journalism

My precious Precious,
Once again you made me read between your always resourceful piece.
I heard about this solar panel project in Munyenge Trouble but never knew who was the brain behind.
Kudos to Nelly and her late mother for making this possible.
Note:
--There is one spelling error. The name is Munyenge Trouble [I have been this village, it just a few kilometers away from where my parents live, where we grew up after dad's retirement.
--Also note that a few years back [about 10 years back], the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon changed the name of that village from Munyenge Trouble to Munyenge Peace [they thought is it was unrealistic to call a place 'trouble' or worse still Presbyterian Church Munyenge Trouble]. So the new name is Munyenge Peace, I wonder how popular the name has become.
--Another thing, take a look at this great quote
***“We focus on women because they are excluded financially, socially and this makes them feel that they do not have the ability to contribute to the growth of the economy,” the activist explains.
“I believe in the potential of the woman to help the man to take care of the community,” she continues.***
The quotes above should be put into one paragraph not two because it is not proper to separate them when there are no [How can I put it?] lines/phrase that describes the next. So, it should be:
“We focus on women because they are excluded financially, socially and this makes them feel that they do not have the ability to contribute to the growth of the economy,” the activist explains.“I believe in the potential of the woman to help the man to take care of the community."
Yeah, one paragraph like this, and no need to add the 'she continues' part of it since it is a flowing quote.
Or like this
Nelly thinks a women centered approach is best to empower women
“We focus on women because they are excluded financially, socially and this makes them feel that they do not have the ability to contribute to the growth of the economy,” the activist explains.
She thinks men and women should work as development partners.
“I believe in the potential of the woman to help the man to take care of the community,” Nelly says.
I HOPE I GOT IT RIGHT ANYWAY. THIS IS MY LITTLE CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR PIECE.
All in all darling, your piece touched the activist intention. You rock!
Will shout you when I come to Buea.
Love.
Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

Precious M's picture

Very helpful

Hi Nakinti,

Thank you once again for encouraging me with your comment.
Thanks for all the suggestions.
I had no idea about the change of name and Nelly-Shella did not mention it to me. The flyer she gave me had the spelling I used and had "Trouble" not "Peace."
I am wondering if the new name, Munyenge Peace is the widely known and recognised name.
Well, I'll find out.
I'll be waiting when you come to Buea.

Much love,
Precious

My pen speaks

Ayunnie's picture

Amazing Young Leader

This piece about Nelly-Shella is so inspiring! congratulations having interviewed and brought her life in the lime light for sure there is light at the end of the tunnel.

@ Nairobi KENYA
Women have impeccable character, if tapped society realizes quantum leap in development

Precious M's picture

Amazing Indeed

I am glad the piece inspired you. I hope to see more young leaders like Nelly-Shella.
Thanks for reading.

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

Maura Bogue's picture

Nice job!

Precious,

I am very impressed with your first draft! You did a nice job integrating quotes and narrative, while keeping an objective voice. Keep up the good work!

Best,
Maura

Precious M's picture

Thanks Maura

Dear Maura,

Thank you so much for your comment. I already tagged my assignment as my final post. I am wondering if I could make some corrections before making a final post. Thanks again.

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

libudsuroy's picture

Great work on woman with 7 hands

Hi, Precious,
You have a soulful story here. Here is what the poet Pablo Neruda would describe as ''la mujer de siete manos'' (the woman with seven hands) -- how women are capable of multi-tasking at the same time, how we manage to achieve many things in a day, in a lifetime.
And I look up to you for having finished the assignment early. I am still wrestling with mine.

Blessings,
libudsuroy/Lina Sagaral Reyes
Mindanao, The Philippines

''Every Day is a Journey and the Journey itself is Home.'' (Matsuo Basho)

Precious M's picture

Nice analogy

Hello Libudsuroy,

You are one phenomenal lady. I love the poet's description. Some women really do have seven hands. I wish you the best as you embark on finishing your assignment on time. Thank you so much for your useful suggestions.

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

I am sure her mother would be very proud. May she rest in peace.

It delighted me to read about the two grandmothers she helped in becoming engineers. ENGINEERS :)
Really I am so glad to hear that.
It sometimes is great to be done and over with mothering soon enough so that we can concentrate on doing other things before we go frail. The biological clock often plays havoc on women's life when mothering is left for later. (I guess that's something that I should remember to write about)

BUT back to your profile post - I like the idea of doing new exciting things as a grandmother :)

And I liked the way you have brought out Nelly-Shella's balanced attitude towards career-women & making a home at the same time.

The overall writing is superb. Nakinti has already talked about quote.
The only thing I can suggest for a change is the arrangement of this sentence:

"Yonga Beatrice, was born into an impoverished family and had no access to formal education, even though she badly wanted to study."

How about changing it as follows:
Yonga Beatrice was born into an impoverished family, and even though she badly wanted to study, she had no access to formal education.

Great choice of subject Precious. I liked the entire piece.
And I am glad to have 'met' one of the 25 outstanding young women in Africa through you.

Salaam
Aminah

Precious M's picture

Thanks Aminah

Nelly-Shella is very proud to have completed this solar energy project that was began by her mother.
That sounds like a good topic to me. I look forward to reading your post on that.
Thanks dear sister for your suggestion.
Have a great day!

Precious

My pen speaks

pelamutunzi's picture

overjoyed

im overjoyed to see a 25 year old woman take up such responsibility and do it so well. this is indeed a like mother like daughter story. i am inspired to work hard because of nelly-shella(and such a beautiful name as well). thanks for writing her story.

i really felt connected to the good wotrk she is tackling in her community.

you did well and like libudsuroy i have not yet compiled my final draft. thanks for the piece

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

Precious M's picture

Like mother, like daughter

Indeed Pela, it is a like mother like daughter story. Her mother succeeded in carving her legacy in her daughter's heart.
Thanks and I wish you the very best as you finish your work.

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

pelamutunzi's picture

welcome

you are right. and thank you i have finished writing and posted my profile write up

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

Klaudia Mexico's picture

feeling powerful and proud

I have really enjoyed our choices of leaders. Most of them are very young women who give us hope we're not alone. Thanks for sharing such amazing story

Klaudia González

Precious M's picture

Strength in Youthfulness

Yes Klaudia, young women are not asleep. They are taking action, touching lives and creating a better world. We will keep telling their stories. Thanks for reading.

Regards,
Precious

My pen speaks

Mukut's picture

Wonderful profile

Precious, this is a beautiful profile of a young lady who has achieved so much in such little time. You write beautifully and I loved how you ended the post saying," It seems likely that when Nelly- Shella’s mother meets her in the other world, she will salute her and say, “Well done, daughter!”

Lovely !!!

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

Precious M's picture

Love that end too

Mukut,

When I go through the article, I really enjoy that end too. Seems like that was the perfect way to end it.

Thank you for your encouraging words.

Love and hugs,

Precious

My pen speaks

bitani's picture

touching

This story is very touching. Thanks for sharing it, Precious!

Precious M's picture

Touching

You are welcome Bitani. Thanks for reading.

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

Deb Busser's picture

Inspiring profile!

I love the quote you chose to start the piece. And what an inspiring woman Nelly-Shella is in carrying on her mother's legacy. I love the mother-daughter connection, and also loved how you ended the piece. Well done, you!

Deb Busser
ENERGY SPRING Leadership
Office: 978.649.1788 * Mobile: 978.790.3909
http://www.linkedin.com/in/debbusser

Precious M's picture

Thanks Deb

Thank you so much for your kind words, Deb. This means a lot.

Precious

My pen speaks

Y's picture

What a wonderful and

What a wonderful and wonderfully written story. It inspires me to continue my work with telling the story of my "Mountain Mama" in Appalachia. Thank you for sharing this story and your talents.
Blessings to you.
Yvette

Y

Precious M's picture

Hi Yvette

I am glad to hear about the book you are writing.
Thanks for your lovely words.

Peace,
Precious

My pen speaks

Greengirl's picture

Inviting Opening Lines.........

I found your opening quote quite inviting!

Yonga Nelly-Shella is a worthy role model and I am not surprised about her recognition by the renowned Moremi Institute of Leadership as one of 25 outstanding young women in Africa. She has successfully carried on her mother's legacy in an exemplary manner.

You did great!
Greengirl

Precious M's picture

Role Model

Hi Greengirl,

I admire Yonga Nelly-Shella for her faithfulness in carrying on her mother's legacy.
Thanks dear sister.

Precious

My pen speaks

LatiNegra's picture

Precious, this is a beautiful

Precious, this is a beautiful profile piece. I love to read about a woman close in age to me who is doing such transformative work. So positive and empowering, especially in a world that overlooks the efforts of grassroots people striving to make powerful changes like Yonga. Bravo!!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer
Email: ynanna@thesewatersrundeep.com
Website: thesewatersrundeep.com

Precious M's picture

Hi Ynanna, I am glad to be

Hi Ynanna,
I am glad to be the loudspeaker that has spread the word about this young phenomenal woman in my community.
Thanks darling.

Precious

My pen speaks

delphine criscenzo's picture

Great Pick!

Precious, you picked your leader well. What an amazing young woman. At the same time, I want to celebrate her mother who instilled her leadership skills to her daughter.
You did a wonderful job moving the story along. I was captivated because I knew I was going to be introduced to more incredible actions this young woman is taking to help her community.
I am curious to know how many people she employs, if she does, or how many people volunteer for her. I am simply assuming she is not the only one working towards all these accomplishments, fundraising, organizing, training, etc...(only if you have time to answer this question)
WeLl done!

Delphine Criscenzo
Outreach and Training Associate
World Pulse
www.worldpulse.com

Precious M's picture

I am humbled

Thank you so much Delphine. I am glad the story captivated you.

Nelly-Shella is the Co-ordinator and not the sole worker of her mother's NGO. She definitely has people working under her but I am not sure of the number. I will call her on Monday to find out, then I post the answer here. Once again, thanks.

Precious

My pen speaks

Sustainablefashion's picture

Great job!

Precious,
This is a very well written story of a truly inspirational leader. Thank you for sharing Nelly-Shella's committment to her mother's mission with us. It is clear that she has insipred you and many others to reach their goals. I look forward to learning more about her work and organization.
With very best wishes,
Sasha

Precious M's picture

Truly Inspirational

Hi Sasha,

Nelly Shella's commitment to her mother's dream is a real inspiration. Her organization is quite active and influential in improving the lives of women and girls. She has big dreams for the future and if I get the opportunity, I will not hesitate to keep giving updates on her work.

Regards,
Precious

My pen speaks

Maura Bogue's picture

Great Job!

Great lead! I love you are experimenting with different types of story structures.

Next time, try and focus on a major accomplishment or initiative of your subject to show what makes them newsworthy.

Keep up the great work!

Best,
Maura

Precious M's picture

Encouraging

Hi Maura,

It is good to get such feedback from you. I will focus on some major newsworthy accomplishment next time. I am here to learn as much as I can.
Thank you!

Regards,
Precious

My pen speaks

cricketts's picture

Inspiring!

After reading this piece, I felt the need to immediately Google all of the initiatives that this remarkable young woman is involved in. She's incredible, and I'm so happy you decided to make her the focus of your piece. It's clear to me that her work is only getting started, and now I want to follow her story going forward. You did an amazing job bringing to life her motivations and her need to continue her mother's work. I think this is a perfect example of a well-chosen profile subject. Nelly-Shella speaks directly to the heart of what WorldPulse is about and we're all better off for reading about her. Thank you so much and well done!

Camille Ricketts
camille@kiva.org

Precious M's picture

Inspiring Indeed

Hi Camille,
It was inspiring for me to speak with her. Her passion is contagious. She really wants to create a better world for girls and she is doing just that.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Precious

My pen speaks

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