Eveline Angonwi - leader of the Cameroon National Committee of Women with Visual Impairments.

Eveline has a way of drawing people in. She talks very quietly and quickly, and in such an unassuming way that it’s easy to miss the power of her words and the strength of her feeling.

We meet her at home in Cameroon’s capital of Yaoundé where Eveline leads a group of 30 women with visual impairments who live across the city.

Eveline wishes she could have more members but finds that very few women with disabilities have the resources to leave their homes.

“Women with disabilities have a very low income base, some have no income at” she says.

“Many are obliged to go with men without protecting themselves and are forced into sexual activity that they don’t want” she says. “Often [they are] left to raise children alone.” Eveline believes that it is this poverty which leads to more with women disabilities testing positive for HIV.[1]

With the support of international charity Sightsavers, Eveline campaigns with her local group and runs occupational training workshops to teach women with visual impairments how to generate an income.

Today’s workshop focusses on making cocoa butter from raw beans bought from a local market. The butter can be used in cosmetics and cooking and any cocoa powder left from the process can be used in hot drinks.

It’s a popular item. Eveline says for every 11540 XAF (£15) spent on the materials, a woman can sell it for around 50 XAF (£40).

These workshops also provide an opportunity for women to build their confidence and make friends.

Today’s group is run by Marie Marguerite, 49, who is also blind and has been teaching people to make cocoa butter since 2014.

“I really hope that these women can make money out of the training because they, like I am, are vulnerable as we are visually impaired. We don’t want to stay with our arms crossed – stay at home and do nothing because of our impairment - we need to be able to sustain our lives and our children.”

People are always very surprised that people with visual impairment can do these sorts of things, they think it is impossible that we could make cocoa butter.”

To people who assume that, I would simply say that they should not underestimate us because we are people with great capacity and we have the potential to do lots of different things and given a chance we can contribute a lot to society.”

More about Eveline

Evelyn lost her sight very suddenly when she was celebrating International Women’s day nine years ago.

“Here it’s a big feast” she says. “Women go feasting and drinking it up. So that day I was unfortunately to take this glass of whisky that did much damage to my sight.”

Cameroon’s government banned the production and sale of whisky sold in sachets and canisters in 2016 after it emerged that this popular and more affordable drink sometimes contained methanol[2], a type of alcohol that is used to create fuel and antifreeze.[3] This can cause irreversible blindness within hours or days after ingestion. [4]

Eveline is unsure whether it was this that caused her blindness or whether it was because the hospital she was taken to initially misdiagnosed her with malaria and gave her a shot of glucose which had a bad effect on her diabetes.

The impact that blindness had on Eveline’s life was almost immediate. Once her employers realised that she was not to regain her sight they stopped returning her calls and she was left without income. Her long-term partner left her, and her children became ashamed to be seen with her in public with her white cane and distanced themselves.

Due to the loss of support and income, Eveline had to make huge financial sacrifices until she was able to turn things around for herself and move into the flat that she currently lives in with her sister.

She describes this “devastating” episode of her life as a kind of awakening.

“I don’t want to say I like my condition but I would say that I have learnt much and I think that I am a better person now then I used to be. I am much more courageous…” she says.

“I saw how my life changed from what it used to be to almost miserable” she pauses. “So I came to understand what the other women were going through and I saw, that when we came together, it was better for us to be together.”

“We shared our problems and our difficulties we encouraged each other and somehow it led us to want us to bear our problems.”

Eveline now lives a happy, comfortable life after her long struggle to overcome the barriers that society put in her way. She is determined to give more women with disabilities the opportunity to do the same.

“In our community when someone wants to brag about being an expert an expert in a domain he will say “I can do these things with my eyes closed.”

Our eyes are closed and yet we do things well. So we are the experts!”

Eveline Angonwi, 50 years old, is the President of the Cameroonian Committee of women with visual impairments. She went blind on the night of International Women's day nine years ago after drinking a glass of whisky while she was partying with her girl fr info
Before loosing her sight she used to work as an administrative assistance in an office. Among the different income generative activities that she has put in place such as cocoa butter making  and honey she also  raises chickens to sell them. Eveline has a info
Eveline, received this smart phone as a gift from a friend some time ago. Since then her life as a person with visual impairments, has completely changed. She uses her phone in voice control mode which allows her to read and write her emails, write projec info
Eveline is teaching her nice Odette, 26 years old, how to cook some dishes. Odette just got a job a few days ago to work for Eveline as her housekeeper. When Eveline is alone she cooks only simple dishes that do not require a lot time. She knows by heart info
Twice a week Eveline leaves her home to go and do the groceries. "This  is the most difficult thing to do as persons with visual impairments, she says. I don't have a guide so I go alone to the market". info
When she has do make change for her groceries  she always starts her shopping at Solange's boutique, a woman  who she trusts and who tells her the amount of money she has before she goes in other shops. info
When shopping alone Eveline has to rely on the trust of shop owners who tell her which bill to use. info
Eveline is getting dressed while her boyfriend Singe is laying on the bed. Singe is also blind, and works as a humanitarian  in an organisation that helps people with disabilities.  They have known each other for 4 years. Eveline taught him how to use the info
Like every other woman, Eveline takes great care of herself and has  a passion for clothes and high heels. She loves wearing nice dresses, combing her hair and putting on makeup. info
"I want to look nice as any other woman with sight would want to be. I used to be a role model for my children before going blind, now they admire me even more  for the great opportunities I was able to build" info
Eveline has set up a meeting with the mayor of the 7th district of Yaounde to discuss with him some project proposals. She is walking accompanied by her nice Odette and Quinta, a volunteer helper who comes to do some earrings for her from time to time. info
Eveline is hugging her youngest sister Fidelia who has a shop not far from her home. Fidelia,  who used to live in the north west region of the country,  has moved in Eveline's home recently to escape from the violence and troubles that have been hitting info
Eveline meets with the Mayor of Yaounde's 7th district, Mr Augustin Tamba, to discuss  a project proposal she has written to set up  income generating actives for people with visual impairments. info
Cocoa beans are grinded to make cocoa powder. After being mixed with hot water and put to boil, it produces an oil which solidifying becomes butter. info
Marie Madelaine is the training leader for the cocoa butter making workshop which is taking place at Eveline's home. In the picture she is coming out from a shop where the cocoa beans were grinded. Marie Madeleine has been blind since the age of five. Aft info
Beatrice, Mireille and Bernadette sitting in Eveline's living room  during the workshop. They are invited by the training leader to touch, smell and taste the cocoa beans before starting the process. info
Workshop's participants are invited to hold cocoa beans to feel its texture, smell and taste. info
The learning experience is taught in a multi-sensory way, smells, sounds, texture and taste, all are taken into account in the process at the same level. Quinta is volunteering during this workshop and assisting Marie Madeleine who is the training leader. info
Cocoa powder and hot water are mixed together and put to boil. While Beatrice is mixing Mirelle in the background is paying attention to any noise produced by the boiling of the oil that is obtained  during the cooking. info
After boiling for some time with water,  cocoa powder produces an oil which is then filtered and purified before being stored in a bottle. Once the oil cools down it solidifies and becomes cocoa butter. info
After going blind Eveline lost most of her friends. Only few stayed by her side but the relation couldn't stay at the same level, she says. Mireille, Beatrice, Martine, Bernadette, and Marie Madeleine became her family and are now part of her life. "I wan info
Bernadette, Mireille and Martine walking together   towards the closest taxi station after the workshop. info
Despite all difficulties and barriers  faced because of her condition she fells a stronger person.
"Thanks to Sightsavers and other partners I did a lot of workshops and trainings, I build my capacity, I met important people, without having this disabilit info
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