Dear Friends of Cameroon RPCVs:
Greetings from the Peace Corps’ Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services! We are excited to be collaborating with RPCV groups to encourage participation in Peace Corps’ Third Goal, sharing world cultures with Americans. As such, we are happy to distribute the following message from the Friends of Cameroon:
‘Greetings from the Friends of Cameroon
Our RPCV group is committed to helping Americans better understand the cultures where we served, and we would love to connect with you to pool our collective efforts in furthering the Peace Corps’ Third Goal. Several of us came together in 1987 for just that reason, with the idea that together we could stay in touch with Cameroon and each other, and be able to share our experiences with others in the United States. I am proud to note that we have supported more than 40 village-based development projects, large and small, in all ten provinces worth more than $35,000. All of these funds were raised by Cameroon RPCVs, and every project has had PCV involvement and collaboration.
We hope you will reach out to us via e-mail links at , or check our website to learn more about activities and projects: . Feel free to share what you have been doing on our website also. We are always open for new members, and the Board of Directors is due for refreshing, which would allow you to take an active role to ensure Peace Corps’ Third Goal is going strong between the United States and Cameroon.
Thanks, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Bill Strassberger (Njinikom/Bamenda, 1982-86)
President, Friends of Cameroon
by Mia Pskowski
Policy Mic, 5/2/13
A few weeks ago, I found myself lost with two friends in the middle of the Bakossi National Forest in the southwest region of Cameroon. We were hiking to a remote village on our way to a cultural festival in a town called Eboko-Bajoh on the other side of the forested mountains from where we live, and after eight hours of uphill hiking on a tiny, barely-used hunting path, we were exhausted and frequently losing our trail as it grew dark. My mind couldn’t help but wander to home, thinking about how I could instead be sitting at a bar with my friends enjoying good drinks and food, all with a nice hot shower at the end of the day. What in the world was I doing here, anyway?
As a Community Health Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon seven months into my service, my life is anything but typical right now out of the average American 20-something’s. Though I am lucky enough to have running water and electricity in my house, I have still given up most of the comforts of my previous life in San Francisco to come to Muambong, Cameroon, a small community of a few thousand people populated mostly by coffee farmers living in wooden homes. As a health volunteer, I am working to educate surrounding villages on behaviors to prevent HIV and malaria, improve maternal health, promote good nutrition, and a variety of other topics relating to public health.
While I do love my time spent drinking palm wine with farmers, traveling the country, and even to an extent the excitement that comes with getting lost in the Bakossi Forest, there’s a tendency to idealize time abroad as one big grand adventure, and one that all young Americans should have. In some ways, I do agree with this, but the fact remains that very few Americans travel abroad and even fewer ever spend time living and working there. How can we create a millennial generation that is cognizant of the problems throughout the world, that has seen the different living standards throughout the world, and that truly understands the impact of international politics on people in countries beyond the borders of America? These are things you simply cannot learn by sitting at home and reading about them.
However, there’s a much larger picture to all of this adventuring around Africa, and although getting lost in the forest makes me miss the comforts and ease of life at home – where instead of being in a jungle at night I could be having those beers with friends – that’s not what has given me real pause at the end of the day in questioning why I am here in Cameroon. While I was prepared to deal with loneliness, isolation, or homesickness coming here, it has instead been encountering the realities of the rampant corruption and a broken aid system that has made me question at the end of the day if my being here as a volunteer is really a good thing.
Cameroon has been consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, and this is something I witness every day. It permeates every level of society here, not only of the government in Cameroon, but that of the NGOs as well as the aid industry in Cameroon. I’ve seen first-hand how Global Fund and PEPFAR money (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, established under the George W. Bush Administration) has done little to alleviate the problem of HIV/AIDS for vulnerable populations, despite the fact that $29 million was given to Cameroon in 2013 to help prevent Anti-Retro Viral (ARVs) stockouts and provide vulnerable populations with free HIV testing and care. I’ve seen main hospitals that are constantly experiencing supply shortages of ARVs. I’ve seen nurses charging patients for ARVs when they should be free (they usually do this because the government has failed to provide them with a salary for months or sometimes years).
I’ve seen a fellow Peace Corps volunteer counsel an orphan to get tested for HIV – thinking that it would be free to enroll her in the HIV treatment program given she is classified as a vulnerable population – and instead end up paying 48,000 CFA in total for all of the tests and procedures plus transportation costs that were needed to get the young girl enrolled in the HIV-treatment program (to put this in perspective, her caretaker’s monthly income to feed herself and three children is 29,000 CFA per month). This same volunteer then had to agree that the caretaker not get the sibling, who is not in good health and is likely HIV positive, tested and enrolled in the program because there is no possible way for the family to afford it and feed the other children. And I’ve seen how meanwhile, the government agencies and NGOs and religious organizations simply ask for more donations and more money to be funneled in when anyone on the ground can clearly see that this is the last thing a country like Cameroon needs when there is so much dysfunction.
If that’s the case, is Peace Corps – particularly the health program – really having a positive impact in Cameroon? Peace Corps certainly can’t expect health volunteers to responsibly counsel people to get tested for HIV when we know it won’t be free if needed and that the ARVs won’t be available when they need them. While working in Africa can be a great adventure, it’s also our responsibility to be critical of our purpose of working abroad, the kind of impact we are realistically having on the ground, and whether we are doing good for the people of the country we work in and not just enriching our own lives while ignoring whether it creates truly sustainable development.
However, one of my Peace Corps technical trainers who is a Cameroonian running a local NGO laid it out for me in a positive way. He agreed that although the corruption and the challenges here are so massive (almost to the point of any volunteer work or aid being ineffective), he still believes in the Peace Corps’ mission here. His hope stems from knowing that we are the next generation of people who will be running the Global Fund, managing foreign aid money, or working in U.S. foreign policy, and that we will be the ones who have experienced these things for ourselvesand know better than anyone the reality of U.S. foreign aid and international NGO work.
This is where I can find the most meaningful part not only in my work here, but also more generally in young Americans signing up for programs like the Peace Corps or working abroad in some capacity. Despite these frustrations with Peace Corps and the corruption here, I know without a doubt that being in these villages in Cameroon is the only real way I would have seen these appalling ground-level impacts of development policies. It has challenged so many of my previous beliefs and assumptions about development work and foreign aid in Africa. It has humanized these issues in a way that I could never forget, and will carry with me for the rest of my career. While that has still does not convince me that Peace Corps should remain in Cameroon in the long term, I hope a new generation of Americans exposed to this can begin to change things back home.
Of course, I still have a long way to go in my service and many new lessons to learn from it, and there will no doubt be more memorable adventures involved. Back in the Bakossi forest, after hiking for three hours in the pitch dark forest and questioning what in the world I was doing in Cameroon for the hundredth time, we finally hit the welcome sight of manioc and plantain farms along a more well-tended path at around 9:30 pm, indicating that we had finally reached the outskirts of the village we intended to reach. Despite arriving so late, the villagers still immediately welcomed us, led us to a (freezing cold) stream to bath in, prepared a room for us to sleep, and sat us down to feed us a meal of rice and … smoked bat. It may not have been my preferred late-night burrito, but when in the world will I ever get a chance to eat bat jerky again?
The Palais de Congres was the place to be on March 30th, 2013, to witness the 9th edition of Cameroon’s Annual Music Awards, honoring the best of Cameroon’s vibrant music industry. The audience included prominent figures in Cameroon, ranging from leading stars of the entertainment industry to government ministers, Ambassadors, politicians, and stars of the music industry, past, present and future.
“C’est Notre Hollywood!” Sparkling dresses, flashing cameras, the red carpet, and anticipation in the air. There were thirteen categories of awards announced throughout the night, with many Cameroonian talents were nominated for the prestigious awards. The exciting night featured both memorable award presentations and vibrant performances by the artists. The evening drew to a heart-stopping climax when Cameroon’s Minister of Culture stepped forward to announce the final and most prestigious award, honoring the “Best Male Artist of the Year 2012.”
With suspense tugging on each word, the Minister announced the winner: Prince Ndedi Eyango, a Cameroonian musician, who launched his singing career 30 years ago. After releasing a series of best-selling albums, he toured extensively in Europe and Africa and then moved to the U.S. to expand his opportunities through performances, to study music and enhance his artistic knowledge, and produce a number of upcoming stars.
During 17 years of a music career in the U.S., Prince Eyango performed at major festivals and events in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia, quickly becoming the truly international star that his fans knew him to be already. He was the headline performer for the Friends of Cameroon gala celebrating Peace Corps’ 45th anniversary, and a longtime supporter of FOC. Prince Eyango returned to Cameroon as an American citizen, with one goal–to bring his U.S. music knowledge to expand his career as a musician and producer, and to promote the vibrant culture and musical talent his country of birth, Cameroon. Recognized when he received Cameroon’s Artist of the Year Award in 1987 with his major hit, “You Must Calculer,” he has hit after hit in the years since, and released his latest hit album, “Appelle Moi” in October 2012. With this latest honor, musical historians are certain to note Prince Eyango for his lifelong achievements, just as his fans have done for years!
One evening last summer, as I strolled along the promenade in Limbe, a small, scenic port town in southwestern Cameroon, I was stopped by a well-dressed young man who greeted me warmly and took me by the hand. Read the full story at the Washington Post
Sean Denny is a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon. He recently worked with a team of other volunteers and many stateside supporters to fundraise to bring 22,000 books to students throughout the country.
“My school has done a wonderful job renovating a dilapidated classroom for the books,” Sean said. “The BFA project inspired the village to donate a huge amount of money to renovate this large room and put electricity in it. So community involvement has been great.” The container of books arrived in Douala on December 24, 2012, and though there is still work ahead to unpack, sort, and set up books, everyone is excited to start enjoying the new library!
Learn more about Books for Africa.
By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM
GARMISCH, Germany – When she joined the Peace Corps in 2008 at age 57, Fargo native Kaye Thompson was decades older than the average volunteer, but her hunger to help far outweighed her age.
“For me, it’s really about the people,” she said.
The Peace Corps wasn’t Kaye’s first overseas adventure, but one that she’d craved since she was a college graduate.
Melanie Wroe, Kaye’s friend of 50 years who also grew up in Fargo, said Kaye was anxious to travel more and aid people around the world.
“She had this tremendous, adventurous, helpful energy surrounding her like a bubble,” Melanie said. “She’s had a philanthropic thread running through her whole life. The phrase ‘The world is your oyster’ suits her very well.”
Kaye, now 61, was first assigned to work for the Peace Corps for two years in Lesotho, a landlocked country in South Africa. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world and as a result, an extremely high mortality rate. Kaye, who is a clinical social worker, trained village health workers and counselors about bereavement.
Life in Lesotho was challenging. Kaye was isolated from the outside world and often couldn’t contact her friends and relatives. The phone ringing was a welcome sound, she said.
“The hardest part for me was that I was unable to initiate contact with friends at home due to the technology limitations, so I felt unable to reach out to soothe the loneliness when it hit,” she said.
While in Lesotho, she partnered with the African Library Project and helped establish nine school libraries. Kaye also raised funds for local income generation projects and helped facilitate communication and coordination between the traditional healers in the area and the local health care clinic.
People who know Kaye aren’t surprised by her devotion to helping others because that’s how she’s always been, Melanie said.
“Some people say they’re going to save the world, and she’s actually doing it. She’s always wanted to help others,” Melanie said. “That’s her heartbeat.”
That heartbeat has steered Kaye around the globe. She’s lived, worked, visited or volunteered in Africa, Europe, India, China, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Mexico, Central America, Peru and others.
Kaye is single and has no children, which offers her the flexibility to live a life of travel, she said.
“It’s just very easy for me to live like this,” Kaye said.
She’s currently living in Garmisch, Germany, as a military family life consultant, working with soldiers and their families to provide confidential counseling to help them handle work and family stress.
Since joining the organization prior to the Peace Corps, she’s taken assignments in Germany, Belgium, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Korea and Germany.
Kaye has also worked with St. Paul, Minn.-based Center for Victims of Torture. They embedded her in a Cameroonian (West Africa) organization that goes into prisons to counsel inmates and provides villages that have suffered intertribal conflicts with group counseling.
Volunteering at the Mefou Primate Reserve for one month was a highlight of her time in Cameroon. She lived with, fed and observed 14 baby chimps.
“I enjoyed watching what looked like unsupervised preschoolers slapping, running, jumping, teasing and napping,” she said.
Before her work with the Peace Corps and as a military family life consultant, Kaye lived a “kind of normal life” for about 30 years. She worked in schools, jails, other mental health institutions and her private practice in Sacramento, Calif. International work, though, was always in her heart.
“I love the adventure and the challenge, but the bottom line is that it expands me because I see myself and my culture through the eyes of others,” she said.
When she’s returning from or away in other countries, she counts on her “touchstones” for comfort. Her brother and sister-in-law’s home in San Diego and Melanie are important touchstones in her life, she said.
“For me, a touchstone is a place and/or a relationship that I can return to and feel comforted, secure, nourished, accepted,” Kaye said. “These relationships are grounding points for me and provide much emotional and psychological support when I am far from home.”
The travel seed was planted in Kaye while she was growing up in Fargo. Her parents planned to take her to Kenya when she was in sixth grade but couldn’t due to conflict in the country. Even though she didn’t travel to Kenya, the idea of a far-away country stayed with her.
“Travel is a way of personal and spiritual growth,” Kaye said. “What’s strange to me becomes part of me.”
Her family traveled frequently in the U.S., and she spent a summer in Austria. The Thompsons hosted a French foreign exchange student, Martine Darriet, who Kaye grew close to. The two women still keep in touch, and Kaye spent Christmas with Martine’s family in France.
Kaye typically stays in Minneapolis when she comes to the Midwest for visits, since that’s where two of her brothers live. But, she occasionally goes to Pelican Lake in Minnesota, where she spent summers as a child.
She’ll call Germany home for two more months, and she doesn’t plan to stop traveling and working abroad. She has applications in to work with Doctors Without Borders and another Peace Corps assignment.
“I think I have more years in me, and I still want more international experience,” she said. “I get tired, but then I get rested, and I’m ready.”
Kaye is happy to talk to people who are thinking of joining the Peace Corps. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.