From dark to light
VSO volunteering journey in Cameroon
Participation & Governance
Continuous work. Challenges faced. Successes achieved. I have my plane ticket in hand – the plane ticket that would whisk me back to India and away from the Ndu Council where we had spent the last two years working together to move towards the bright future and development. Looking back at my time here as an Institutional Development Advisor with VSO Cameroon, I realize that, yes, I had to go. After all, I had accomplished my work. However, the picture was entirely different, much darker, when I first arrived.
My journey started two years back, at the airport in India on October 13, 2008. Arriving in Yaoundé late in the evening, the Cameroonian capital’s airport offered a frightening first impression where random security personnel asked for spare dollars. Luckily I spotted VSO’s placard beckoning to me from across the room. Momentarily relieved, I went to retrieve my luggage only to find that only one piece had arrived. The bad news: I would have to manage with one dress for the week it would take to usher the remainder from their resting place in Nairobi.
Having barely arrived, I immediately launched into a brief In Country Training in Yaoundé and then departed on the next stage of my journey – to Bamenda with Ibrahim, VSO Cameroon’s Participation and Governance Programme Manager. Waiting for my partner from Ndu Council turned into a much-needed recovery week at the Baptist Rest House. One fine morning a lady came to collect me and inserted me into my first public Cameroonian public transportation for an hours-long journey over horrible roads fraught with many ups and downs.
My first sight of Ndu was, fittingly, of darkness. Excited to see where I would spend two years living, working, and navigating a new culture and language, I saw little. Arriving at 7:30pm, a delegation from the Council took me directly to their rest house that was supposed to be my home for the next two years. That was not to be as a resident drunk man put my security at risk. After a few pleas, the Council found me another house to rent and I settled in at last.
My first meetings to discuss VSO Cameroon’s Institutional Development (ID) process with the Council’s executive revealed a troubled state of affairs. Councilors were not happy with the Mayor and even less excited about my plans to visit each village in the area. Things grew worse as I realized that anger and hatred raged through the veins of Councilors who targeted the Mayor for removal from office. In fact, only 9 out of 41 Councilors still supported the Mayor and this opposition came largely from within the Mayor’s own political party. As a result, they rejected any proposals put before the Council and even refused to approve a budget.
Starting my work in this scattered condition, my challenge became to figure out a way to change this state of affairs and move forward with the agenda of institutional capacity building. I piqued Councilors’ interest by talking with them about how VSO was looking to strengthen their council’s ability to deliver quality basic services to community members. I explained that by emphasizing transparency, accountability and participation, we would move development in the area forward, from a dark state into the light.
Over the next three weeks I visited each village in the area and then developed plans to carry out workshops on Institutional Development in early February 2009. The Mayor and I together sent invitation letters to all Councilors, the Village Development Associations, and different groups of influential elites, NGOs and Common Interest Groups (CIGs).
The morning of the workshop arrived and I had no idea whether the Councilors would even show up. To my surprise everyone arrived! This proved the first time they had all assembled since the elections over a year earlier! Apparently, my signature on the invitation– as a VSO volunteer – helped bridge the gap and give confidence to participants that change might come to the Council. VSO’s status as an international organization focusing on good governance really made a difference. In the end, 74 people participated and those gathered chose the main opposition leader – Mr S.K. Umarou - to chair the TAP (Transparency, Accountability & Participation) committee that would drive forward the Institutional Development process and bring plans for change to the Council.
After this first success, I worked side-by-side with the different members of the TAP committee to carry out a series of interviews with stakeholders and conduct reviews of the Councils documents and IT resources. As we moved forward I still had to be particularly careful to avoid making the situation of disunity worse, so I tried to include members from each camp. The Mayor, unfortunately, remained doubtful about the process and was not very open with me. This meant I struggled to complete the process and build the capacities of the Council to deliver improved basic services.
However, the community really pushed for the process to move forward. Throughout the interview phases, they relished the opportunity to be involved and, for the first time, saw the council coming to them for their views on issues affecting the community’s development. They realized that they – as tax payers - had the right to influence and speak out about the council’s work and to review the council budget, income and expenditures.
I used the interest of community members to help push forward changes in the Council and convince Councilors to suspend their animosity and work for development of their community. When the Council twice refused to adopt a budget, I approached the councilors and stressed that VSO brought volunteers from far away to work with them in order to help them deliver basic services to residents, especially to disadvantaged groups. I also reminded them that community members elected them to office and they would be very disappointed if movement on their issues did not occur. “If nothing is accomplished for the community’s development, how will you be able to present yourself to the people when the next election happens?”, I asked.
Facing strong demand from community members, Councilors gradually began showing interest in working for development in the community. To the astonished happiness of residents, the Councilors reconciled themselves in November 2009. In Council sessions they approved accounts they had previously rejected and the Mayor began delegating decision making power and responsibilities to the deputy mayors and standing committees. This fundamental change in the way the Council operated – a key component of VSO Cameroon’s ID process - increased Councilors’ motivation to monitor effective use of budgetary resources. This, in turn, made residents very happy.
The TAP committee and I continued interviewing citizens and analyzing the data we collected. Concluding workshops saw everyone working together to develop action plans for the upcoming year as well as the next five. They even adopted a new vision for Ndu Council that squarely focused on development for all:
To cope with the changing time, Ndu Council works to improve the standard of living of the population of Ndu sub-division in social, cultural, economic & political domains reflecting transparency, accountability and participation.
Looking back two years later, the Council, VSO and I worked together to realize change. We changed not only the situation of a council in crisis, but also brought citizens closer to their local government. Change, however, was not limited to Ndu Council. By confronting this long struggle, I too changed. At first I felt very uncomfortable when confronted with discord and in charged situations. I have become bolder and am now ready to face any challenge in the future. This change in my personality is a gift I will take from Ndu.
In the end, I realize that, yes, the last two years saw me accomplish my work. However, what I will never forget is the love and respect the community showed me. As I start my journey back to India, I realize just how hard it is hard to say goodbye.
Nili Majumder,VSO Volunteer
6th November 2012
CAMEROON ANTI-BULLYING COMMON INITIATIVE GROUP, CABCIG.
A Sound education is the foundation for development in any society and the youth’s attitude towards unity, peace, education, work, democracy and all the ingredients of stability, dictates the future of every nation. Every student in every school deserves the best education that we can possibly offer them, and we must find ways to make them achieve this.
Not a single day passes without cases of bullying, violence and abuses being reported in schools in Cameroon. In the western world at large in spite of the very stringent regulations put in place, more than 50% of high scholars have been bullied or have bullied, according to a 2010 study in Los Angeles.
I am an administrator and social worker by profession, employed by the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family in Cameroon. Besides my routine work in office, I do volunteering in the communities as well.
My experiences so far are briefly: - mobilise women to pay visits to orphanages; do solidarity calls to encourage well-to-do persons in society assist financially, morally, materially and intellectually, the less priviledged women, girls and families in society; organise demonstrations to teach safer sex practices for men migrating for work purposes and widows; sensitise and organise collective marriages for couples living in free union; organise training sessions for women and girls on carrying out an income generating activity for financial autonomy; educate my target population on preserving soils and a healthy environment; organise educative sessions in partnership with religious leaders in their communities on gender equity and equality issues; animate debates on local radio stations...
Nom: Nyanda yamo emile (Volontaire au Cameroun)
Pour moi, Le volontariat désigne le statut juridique sous lequel des personnes peuvent s'engager dans un travail, dans l'intérêt collectif, le plus souvent à vocation humanitaire, sociale, sportive, culturelle. En quelque sort de favoriser les initiatives de solidarité internationale. C’est ainsi qu’en tan que volontaire j’interviens sur plusieurs points : la santé, l’éducation, les droits de l’homme, en passant par l’environnement ou encore les activités génératrices de revenu. Ma mission est Accompagner, laisse vraiment le pouvoir de décisions à ses partenaires du sud, participant ainsi directement au rééquilibrage des relations Nord Sud. Apprendre, choisissent de s’immerger dans la culture du milieu, et adoptent une démarche de compréhension, d’observation, d’écoute, de ressenti, pour s’étonner et changer. S’adapter, être le partenaire local s’entendent pour répondre de façon pertinente aux envies et besoins de chacun. Agir, Concrètement pour un vrai changement, de façon durable, via un transfert de compétences.
A l’examen d’une situation environnementale, sociale et économique du monde qui regorge d’importantes ressources naturelles et ses multiples zones écologiques renferment une diversité d’espèces, tant végétales qu’animales sans cesse dégradante, ma amener de mener des actions volontaire en vue de la protection environnementale et la gestion durable des ressources naturelles. Je me suis proposé de mobiliser la jeunesse autour d’une vaste caravane sur la problématique de l’environnement. Ainsi, la région de l’Extrême–Nord a été retenu cadrant avec le temps des congés afin d’une mobilisation accrue des jeunes. Cette activité visant la participation à l’opération Sahel vert, sous tendu par la vulgarisation des énergies propre.
Les objectifs de la caravane étaient sur le renforcement des capacités, la promotion du volontariat bref d’accroitre la participation et l’implication effectives de la jeunesse dans les divers changements qui s’opèrent, de promouvoir les talents, idées et initiative des jeunes pour un développement durable. De ce fait, la mobilisation, l’animation, la sensibilisation, le reboisement, les visites, table rondes, expositions, la rencontre avec les autorités locales et la conférence de presse, ont été des principales activités qui ont agrémenté la caravane durant les deux (2) jours dans la région. Les femmes, les enfants, les braconniers, en restent les principaux bénéficières qui peuvent être directs ou indirects. L’initiative à permis aux populations bénéficières de comprendre l’importance du reboisement, l’utilisation des marmite solaire, des plaque solaire l’utilisation des foyers améliorer et bien d’autres.
En effet, dans le cadre du volontariat, mon plus grand désir est d’accroître la participation et l’implication effective de la population dans les divers changements qui s’opèrent au niveau local, national et international, de promouvoir des talents, idées et initiatives des population, de susciter en eux le sens de la pro activité, de la créativité, de l’accompagnement et l’appui dans les processus de mise en œuvre de la politique de la nation a travers sa force de proposition et les actions concrètes de terrain c’est ainsi qua la prise de conscience de tout un chacun pour le développement durable, reste la clé du succès pour atteindre les objectifs du millénaire. C’est pourquoi, il est important que la jeunesse qui est le fer de lance des nations doit s’implique d’avantage et activement dans les activités du développement durable pour un futur monde meilleur.
UN espace permanent de rencontre pour faire reculer la Misère
Par G. NONGUE
Un projet ouvert et innovant par lequel le Comité international 17 Octobre propose aux acteurs engagés sur le terrain avec les personnes confrontées à la misère, de créer des espaces autonomes, permanents, officiels, intégrés au tissu social et culturel local, où des réflexions et des actions concrètes seront développées pour lutter contre la misère. Cette dernière entendue comme une violation des Droits de l’homme.
Ce sont les Comités nationaux ou locaux 17 Octobre.
Ouvert et respectant dans sa composition, l’équilibre entre les personnes confrontées à la misère et les autres, chaque Comité national/local 17 Octobre doit mener de façon autonome, des activités fondées sur les valeurs et l’esprit de la Journée mondiale du Refus de la Misère (17 Octobre).
Impliqué dans la création du Comité national 17 Octobre - Cameroun en tant que membre du Forum permanent du Refus de la Misère, nous espérons d’ici peu, avec la bienveillance des Autorités publiques compétentes, légaliser cette structure et en faire un outil supplémentaire de lutte contre la Misère qui touche encore, selon les estimations du Rapport PNUD sur le Développement humain de 2011, un grand nombre de Camerounais.
NEIGHBORHOOD SANITATION: KEEPING OUR ENVIRONMENT CLEAN
In the past two years, our Association Friends of Peace, “Amis de la Paix” Non Governmental nor political group, which works to improve the quality of life in different neighborhoods in Yaounde, promotes the education of the young girl and raising small funds to help the needy. Today, our association has assisted in solving some community issues, thus bringing progressively solutions environmental problems.
But many obstacles still hinder our accomplishments in the field. For now, the association is operating in less privileged neighborhoods, from the poorest social sector. The population’s participation in these activities remains unfelt. In some neighborhoods, inhabitants find it difficult to breathe fresh air. This is due to bad smell from overflowing sewage in the area.
Despite the smell, people go about their daily chores freely. What was the major cause for worry is that the area is almost surrounded by sewage holes which are full and neglected. As a result, sewage oozes out uncontrollably. The stench it emits causes a lot of havoc. Inhabitants in these areas go about with handkerchiefs which they use to cover their noses to avoid the smell.
People living in the area are often ill due to the stench from sewage holes in the place and the presence of mosquitoes. When the rain falls, the smell is reduced. But after the rain, the odour gets worse. “It is not easy. When the sun is hot, people run away from the environment because they cannot bear the stench.
Usually, our Association “Friends of Peace” organize ourselves to keep our clean environment. Some of our point of focus are:
• The development of water points (wells, springs) and their upkeep;
• The garbage collection;
• weeding the edges of highways and shallows;
• sweeping and backfilling of the roads;
• the cleaning of gutters;
• The development of green spaces;
• The cleaning of the river bed "The Mfoundi" near the homes so as to get rid of mosquitoes.
Today, people from these neighborhoods speak out their satisfaction, to our association for the work and effort in cleaning up these sewage holes, putting of some trash cans in specific areas so as to enable the population to throw their waist products. Also, the sensitization of the population on the importance of keeping their environment clean. Many houses have declared that, mosquitoes are almost inexistent, and the number of sick people has dropped considerably within these past months.
Our Association has applied to be a UN volunteer and we are ready for any task which will be given to us so as to make us active volunteers. However, we shall continue with our volunteer activities in our communities. I am Helen Bessem, executive member of the Association, and active member for volunteer actions in Yaounde. We are inviting all volunteers worldwide to join www.volunteeractioncounts.org to promote UN Rio+20.
Strengthening communities through Social Inclusion, Rights, Livelihoods and Welfare
The living conditions of elderly people in villages are currently characterised by extreme poverty and transmitted to subsequent generations. They are affected by situations of social exclusion, lack of opportunities to participate in development activities, extremely limited access to health care, good water, good sanitation, no electricity, non existence of social security benefits, scarcity in social service networks and their poor housing situations do not meet minimum conditions of dignity.
Poverty and social exclusion remain the main stumbling blocks to the realization of the human rights of poor older people. Poor elderly people, often face abuse, neglect, exclusion, and poverty. This denies them access to, and benefit from their rights and entitlements. Gender, ethnicity, disability and age, are already creating scenarios of discrimination among the elderly in Cameroon.
CDVTA is using a rights-based approach to both address the self-identified needs of marginalized older persons, to create lasting changes at structural level in the following areas:
1) SOCIAL INCLUSIONS:
Empowering older persons and enabling them to feel more included and cared for by their communities through
- Creation of elderly social clubs,
- Regular volunteers/staff home-visits
- Inter-generational learning and sharing with school children
- Integration with their families.
- Awareness-raising on issues of community-wide importance like HIV/AIDS, disability, environment and gender
Advocacy and campaigns in support of older persons' rights
- Actions with older persons to increase their civic education in democratic practice through issuing of identification papers to enable them register and vote in elections, travel out of their communities and influence senior government officials and policy makers in regional and national capitals
- Empowering older persons especially women, widows, disabled and indigenous secluded elderly groups to claim and advocate for their rights, while influencing opinion amongst their communities and local leaders.
- Encouraging older persons to use their votes and attendance at advocacy forums [conventions, Rallies & International day of Older Persons celebrations] to influence the Government to uphold their rights through legislation and establish a national policy on Ageing in Cameroon
Improving the well-being and economic empowerment of older persons through:
- Improved techniques in organic farming and gardening
- Donation of seeds for gardens and farms
- Donation of farm and garden tools
- New skills in livestock rearing
- Sustainable Apiary development [Beekeeping]
- Soap and wash powder production
- Medicinal plant cultivation to support both individual older people and clubs to increase their yields and their income levels.
- Small scale loan schemes
- Fruit tree planting
- Club “njangi” [ rotating financial contributions]
- Education improved nutrition
- Education on hygiene and sanitation
- Household chores
- Home visits/ home-based care
- Housing improvement
- Donation of hurricane lamps, blankets and warm clothes to the neediest house-bound elderly
My volunteering has been with a Cameroon-based NGO, Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance, CDVTA which is working with very poor and remote rural communities in the North West Region of Cameroon.
Written by Teboh Sharon Jitto Majorie
I took active part in resolving an inter tribal dispute concerning land in my native area in Cameroon. At the end of the day peace was restored and justice greatly achieved. The parties were all satisfied.
My Name is Aneibu Rockzine, a Cameroonian based in Cameroon. Father died when I was 16yrs leaving 8 of us and the last was 6 months then. My mum passed away too 2yrs ago. We are from a very poor background. My strong desire to make it through life pushed me through the university despite all odds until where I am now. The consistent progress I had in life made me to help many soar through life minimizing their backgrounds especially the orphans and the vulnerable children. Since 2001, I have been volunteering in structures dealing with needy people like 'Jonathan's house, 'Philip Fongod Foundation', Glim, churches etc just to be there for my community to the best of my abilities working with children, youths, women, old people. I sponsored myself to Zimbabwe and Mozambique just to be with friends I met online to see how together we can help through educative talks in schools and churches encourage everyone not to look at the government for help but to look within themselves and see how they could be of help to their communities minimizing all odds. Right Now I am with HOTPEC orphanage and presently coordinating a project of training OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) personnel. We have started with the South West region and planning to train through the 10 regions of Cameroon. My joy is seeing these personnel trained to broaden the smiles of these children.
I pray my story will help someone one do more for his/her community, continent and the world. AND TO GOD ALONE BE THE GLORY AMEN!!!!
As a teacher, I'm a member of the Cameroon Teachers' Trade Union (CATTU), with headquarters in Bamenda, Cameroon. Our Trade Union has been involved in numerous volunteer actions around the country to foster education as a means of sustainable development. We work to ameliorate the working conditions of teachers and learning conditions of students. We especially have in mind the future of our planet and so are focused on the effective education of the leaders of tomorrow. Our vision is a better future for all through effective and global education with particular emphasis on sustainable development and human peace and progress.
I will focus on the most recent volunteer action that we realized. In a village in the Wum area of the Menchum Division in the North West Region of the Republic of Cameroon, pupils of the local primary school learnt under deplorable conditions. They were at the mercy of the elements. There were no buildings but makeshift structures consisting of palm leaves and poles driven into the ground. We went into action by organizing the locals to contribute funds that were used to buy roofing sheets, wood, nails and other building materials. We molded bricks with earth from the area. Now the school has a building with two classrooms in which students learn and teachers teach in ameliorated conditions. This is the sort of volunteer action that makes life better for the less priviledged and makes the world a better place for all.