Documentation Officer at Brooke, IndiaBy James Achanyi-Fontem, CEO Cameroon Link
India, the sub-continent of Asia is home to an estimated 1.2 million working horses, donkeys and mules. India has been a key country for our work with Brooke India established in 1992 - an affiliate with its own board of trustees. I discovered Vartika Singh during a workshop organised in New Delhi, India with the support of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), FIAN India and FIAN Germany. The Executive Director of Cameroon Link met Vartika Singh for the first time in 2008. I have visited India three times since then. After separation from New Delhi, Vartika created the first FB address used today. She did this, to encourage me to start using FB and to remain in contact with friends. Since then, we have remained friends till today. The truth is that I lost contact with all other FIAN workshop participants. Vartika is an open-minded woman with exceptional character, as proven in the interview delivered to Brooke below. You are welcome Vartika…What time does your alarm go off and how do you start your day?
It depends on whether it’s summer or winter. In summer it goes off at around 6am, while the winter gives a cushion of another half an hour’s sleep. I get up, brush my teeth, freshen up and then do Pranayam followed by yoga. This small exercise regime keeps me active all the day until I come back from work. Then I cook my breakfast and pack my lunch for the office.
What are you responsible for in your role at Brooke?
I collect and write case studies, significant and most significant change stories and prepare reports for donors and internal audiences. I also support the field team in developing concept notes which can be proposed to donors for obtaining restricted funding.
How did you get your job?
Being an animal lover, I had been looking for an opportunity to work for an organisation where I could continue my passion alongside my work. I had heard about Brooke and its generous work with working animals. I had experience in documentation and, after completing my Masters in social work, Brooke had a vacancy so I grabbed the opportunity and applied. In September I will have been at Brooke for five years and it has been a memorable journey.
What's your typical day?
When I’m in the office I usually plan each day so that it’s rarely interrupted by unplanned activities. I normally reach the office at 9:30am, look at the list of activities to be carried out that day and then allot time for each. Sometimes I have to perform other tasks and so I keep a buffer for them. This can happen when some urgent work crops up but I always manage to complete tasks based on their priority. There have been occasions when I’ve had to prove I’m capable of managing the pressure and that’s when I give my best.
At 1pm all of my 25-30 colleagues gather together to eat lunch. We share each other’s food and relish the different tastes. Afterward I normally go for a walk with some of my colleagues. During the day, I get to speak to the team in the field over the phone and support them in preparing the draft reports/case studies. By the end of the day, I am able to prepare either a report or a case study or any of the required documents.
When I’m out in the field my day is completely different. Here I get to see animals whose welfare status has been improved through their owners’ awareness or through services the animal has received from the service providers Brooke works with. I also get to meet the women of the equine owning families who have become empowered to come forward and speak their minds. I can easily see the difference between the women, owners and animals we have started working with recently and those we have been working for a number of years. ...love towards a living being can subdue self-interest, despite poverty.
What’s your most memorable work moment?
Whenever I go out into the field to collect stories, I get the chance to meet animal owners and to live their lives for that moment. I have met many owners for whom their animal is not only a source of income - after the animal has grown old or is no longer able to work, these owners will continue to take care of it. This relationship with animals is not money driven, but emotional. This shows that love towards a living being can subdue self-interest, despite poverty.
What's the worst part of your job?
There can be nothing bad about a job which is so close to my heart.
What's the best part of your job?
My contribution towards bringing funds into my country for the most deserving animals in need. It feels good to be able to highlight the status of working animals in my country by writing reports, case studies and concept notes and bringing them before the donors who support us greatly.
What would be your Plan B? What would you be doing if you didn't work at Brooke?
Being with animals is something which gives me immense pleasure. I envision starting a shelter/home for stray or working animals in the future. At this early stage of my career I do not have enough capital to give my dream shape, but I know I will be able to pursue it soon. I have friends who equally feel for the suffering of animals and we share our ideas and thoughts on how we can fulfil our dreams. I am confident that in a decade I will have my own shelter/home for the animals.
What do you do after work?
After leaving the office, I go back home and have a snack and then rest for a while. I then go for a walk and spend time with stray dogs. I like feeding and watering them, especially the pups. I know it is not possible to adopt one as I cannot spare much time so I try to be with them whenever I can. Some days I go to the shops or watch a movie with friends.
What makes you proud to be Brooke?
“Empathy towards working animals” is something which my organisation has instilled in me. Before, my inclination was only towards stray animals but Brooke has made me sensitive towards other needy animals as well.
In our last communication contact this is what Vartika wrote: “Hello James, I always get delighted hearing from you :) even I keep following your activities in one way or the other...if you sometime visit Delhi we may meet and discuss again. It has been ages learning changes in the areas you are contributing and to see how it may be useful in India's context. You might like to read my interview on my organization's website: https://www.thebrooke.org/about-brooke/brooke-people/proud-be-brooke/vartika-singh-documentation-officer”
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.