Dear Philly Area RPCVs and Friends of Cameroon,
Hi, this is Jonathan Pearson with the National Peace Corps Association
I am not sure if you have come across this, but as we continue to explore health challenges facing RPCVs and how we might be more supportive as a community, this circumstance was brought to our attention:
Robert Staves is a Cameroon RPCV (2001-03) who lives in Drexel Hill Pennsylvania. At the age of 43, with three young children, he has been found to be in need of a heart transplant, stemming apparently from an illness that he originally incurred during his service overseas.
NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst and I had the opportunity to speak with Robert a few weeks ago. An employee with the EPA, it is our understanding that he has some very good health coverage, but nevertheless will face some significant bills and difficult financial challenges moving forward.
Robert’s sister established a Go Fund Me site to support her brother…
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this situation in more detail, consider options, and make myself available for any thoughts you may have.
Thanks very much.
Jonathan Pearson (Micronesia 87-89)
National Peace Corps Association
My big brother, Robert “Big PaPa” Staves, has been hospitalized many times recently. This past week the doctors told him his heart is no longer able to sustain his life, he had to sign up to receive a donor heart.
Robert has spent much of his life educating himself then volunteering through the Peace Corp. and during one of those missions he developed a condition called Sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis is an abnormal collection of inflammatory cells forming nodules in organs. A transplant is the only solution!
Robert (age 43) has a wife and 4 children, the youngest is 2 years old. Robert had to greatly reduce work hours and faces a long road of surgery and recovery.
Please, I am asking anyone to help my brother and his family. We recently lost our father suddenly and anything to help alleviate the stress on his heart would be a blessing.
Thank you for your time and donations. God Bless.
On July 9th, Peace Corps/Cameroon bid farewell to 12 of the Education and Agrobusiness/ Ex-CED Volunteers who came to the end of their service in Cameroon.
In ?#?PeaceCorpsCameroon?, they call the farewell ceremony for the departing Volunteers the “ngong-out”. This is in reference to the traditional instrument, the “ngong”, that is used to call staff and all partakers to the ceremony; the same instrument that was used in yesteryears (and may still be used) in Cameroonian villages to call people for gatherings. As a testimonial of their attachment to their respective regions of service, the Volunteers dressed up in traditional attires.
“Ngong-outs are always bittersweet moments because it’s hard to say goodbye to family members. But we know they are off to new and exciting adventures. We also know they will always keep Cameroon in their hearts whenever they go.
” On est ensemble!”
The Proliferation of Ancestors: Death Celebrations in the Cameroon Grassfields
Cameroon RPCV Michael Jindra produced one of the best, if not the best, studies on death celebrations in the North West Province as his doctoral thesis. If you ever wondered what was taking place and why, this is a must read.
“This dissertation is a regional study of the mortuary cycle in the Northwest Province of Cameroon, and of transformations in the cycle due to twentieth century historical changes. Mortuary practices are explained, detailed and differentiated across the province, including death, burial and mourning practices. Special attention is paid to the final “death celebration,” the largest, most common, and most important ritual/festival of the region.”
Fort Hays State University graduate joins the Peace Corps
FHSU University Relations
Tre L. Giles, Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate of the 2015 class at Fort Hays State University, has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will depart for Cameroon May 26 to begin training as a primary education teacher trainer.
“Giles will make a difference by providing formal and informal training and support to elementary school teachers in a co-teaching environment,” said a news release from the Peace Corps Office of Press Relations.
“I have always wanted to join the Peace Corps right after I graduated college, and thankfully the people around me did not let me give that dream up,” said Giles in the Peace Corps news release.
Giles, son of Tammy Giles and a graduate of Widefield High School of Colorado Springs, earned a Bachelor of Arts in organizational leadership.
“Fort Hays State invested in me, and my advisors and mentors kept me motivated to reach my goals and dreams,” Giles told the Peace Corps. “Most majors give you one hard skill, but with the leadership degree, that is not the case. My major has developed my soft skills. I have learned the best ways to motivate people, to conduct relationships and business in an ethical manner, how powerful the follower is, and other simple things like how valuable it is to actually listen to people. These are very transferable skills in any job, but especially for the Peace Corp.”
The Peace Corps said Giles will spend his first three months in the Peace Corps living with a host family to become familiar with the language and culture. Giles will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Cameroon where he will serve for two years, working alongside local teachers and teaching English.
According to the Peace Corps news release, Giles is one of nearly 90 Fort Hays State University alumni who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.
Nursing grad goes from commencement to Cameroon
by Kyle Hobstetter Towson University
For as long as she can remember, Caitlin Stephens has felt a calling to serve others. It’s why she studied nursing and will graduate with her bachelor’s degree from Towson University’s College of Health Professions on Friday, May 22 at 10 a.m. But instead of working in a hospital like a lot of her fellow nurses, the Olney, Maryland, native is heading to Cameroon with the Peace Corps.
Initially, she saw herself as an ICU nurse. During her time at Towson, though, Stephens served as a clinical nurse extern at Johns Hopkins Hospital working with many homeless patients. It helped her realize her heart wasn’t in intensive care, but that she still wanted to help patients who were less fortunate.
“I realized this call to serve others was leading me towards serving populations that have unreliable access to healthcare and primary care or those without health insurance and no way to pay for medical treatment,” she said.
Another clinical rotation captured her interest: labor and delivery. Through working with expectant mothers, she “absolutely fell in love with obstetrics and women’s health.”She thought about working on a labor and delivery unit but still didn’t want to be in a traditional hospital setting. Ultimately, she could not ignore the unequal access to preventive healthcare resources and discrepancies in care she saw both locally and globally.
“Through my journeys, I ultimately chose the Peace Corps,” she noted. “There I am able to provide necessary health access and education to populations and geographic locations that do not have the consistent access. The program I am participating in is focused specifically on maternal and child health, which is an area I am very passionate about.”
Stephens feels the past four years have flown by. While at Towson, she was a member of the Honors College, a writing assistant at the campus Writing Center, a peer instructor coach at the IDEA Center in the nursing department and part of the executive board for Towson’s Catholic Campus Ministry.
She feels prepared to start her next phase not only because of her Towson education but also the different extracurricular activities that had an impact on her.
“It really has shaped me as a person and a leader,” she added. “It truly benefited me more in the long run than simply being challenged academically.”
After graduation, she will spend the summer with her family before leaving in early September. While she will miss her family and friends, she is committed to helping those in need.
“I am really excited and really grateful for this opportunity, and I cannot wait to see what the two years have in store for me,” Stephens said. “I am also nervous, as I am walking into many unknowns. However, I feel the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, and I am very hopeful for a rewarding, albeit challenging, two years.”
Early bird registration for Peace Corps Connect- Berkeley ends tomorrow! Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and other prominent leaders among the Peace Corps community. View the full program here (http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/annual-gathering/berkeley-2015/program/). You will be inspired and motivated.
Peace Corps Connect – Berkeley is an opportunity to engage with your fellow RPCVs and former Peace Corps staff who share the formative foundation of the Peace Corps experience. Join us June 5-6, 2015 for this annual event showcasing our community’s lifelong commitment to Peace Corps ideals. Early bird registration ends tomorrow so register now!
By Emily Younker, The Joplin Globe, March 15, 2015
You might hear “Cameroon” and begin picturing glossy magazine images of African tribal people wearing grass skirts and sitting outside mud huts.
Or you might have begun to associate Cameroon with Boko Haram, a central African terrorist group that recently said it joined forces with Islamic extremists from the Middle East.
But for Barrett Browne, neither paints a truly accurate picture of the country. He should know — Cameroon was his home for two years while he served in the Peace Corps.
“Most Americans’ exposure (to African nations) is National Geographic, and that portrayal is really interesting, but it doesn’t really depict actual life,” said Browne, a native of Dallas who grew up spending his summers in Joplin to visit his grandparents.
Browne, 27, joined the Peace Corps in May 2011, shipping out to Cameroon about a week after a massive tornado destroyed much of Joplin. The opportunity to serve in that capacity was a no-brainer for him.
“Having grown up in America, living a relatively privileged, safe life, I knew I wanted to work internationally, and I wanted to get a sense of how people live outside of my bubble,” he said.
Cameroon is located in central Africa, bordering countries including Chad, Nigeria and Republic of the Congo. Official languages for the nation of 23.1 million people are English and French, while 24 major African languages are also spoken. Roughly 40 percent of the population subscribes to aboriginal beliefs, and another 40 percent identify as Christian; the remaining 20 percent adheres to the Islamic faith, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Browne said the country was colonized by Portugal, Germany and France, with each leaving its mark. As a result, much of Cameroon is “copy and pasted” from the European model of society, he said. The town where he lived — a hot, humid, predominantly Christian town called Lolodorf — was built by Europeans. It has all varieties of schools, including multiple high schools and a technical school; a downtown strip with several bars and a hardware store; cellphone, Internet, television and radio access; and residents who “get up and send their kids to school and then come home from work and watch TV,” just as Americans might do, he said.
This is the town center of Lolodorf, Cameroon. Some of the storefronts are a donut (beignet) shop, general store, barber and a nightclub (called Melrose place, named for the soap opera) at the end of the strip. Courtesy | Barrett Browne
Browne, who taught English and computers at a local high school there, said his daily life was “a lot less African, a lot less wild native” than Americans might expect. He showered (albeit in a bucket) every morning before walking to school, which was filled with regular high school kids filling the same niches that can be found in American high schools: jocks, popular kids, nerds, bullies. Like everyone else, he kept his iPhone in his pocket, and sometimes after school, he would go out for drinks with his co-workers.
As an American, Browne said he was routinely peppered with questions from the locals, who were enthralled with the United States’ culture and ways of life. President Barack Obama was Cameroonians’ biggest celebrity, and the fact that America had its first black president was a point of pride for them, he said.
His students were also enormous fans of the television show “24,” which chronicled days in the life of fictional counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer. In a blog he kept for friends and family that was later turned into a book, Browne told the story of one student who asked a succession of “fringe political” questions: “Do you believe that Osama bin Laden is dead? Is Barack Obama truly going to finish the world in 2012? Is Jack Bauer like a real person?”
“They were really interested in terrorism, and ‘24’ was their image of America,” Browne said. “Their perception of the U.S. is that we’re all actively engaged in the war on terror. I’d say that was the biggest image of the United States; most people wanted to know about our military.”
These days, Cameroon has begun to see terrorism on its home ground as the Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram has extended its central African campaign. Boko Haram fighters shot or burned to death about 90 civilians and wounded 500 last month in the Cameroonian border town of Fotokol near Nigeria, also burning churches and mosques, razing schools and looting livestock and food. The extremists, who kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria last year in an incident that drew international condemnation, also abducted eight Cameroonian girls between the ages of 11 and 14 last month and killed seven hostages after seizing a public bus.
Some of Cameroon’s neighboring countries have begun launching counterattacks against the militants. Cameroon’s minister of defense, Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo’o, said last weekend troops from Nigeria and Chad would fight Boko Haram while soldiers from Cameroon and Niger would guard their borders to prevent the militants from escaping. Boko Haram has been using Cameroon as an escape and supply route, and residents in potential conflict zones have been asked to leave.
The United States, Britain, France and the European Union are backing the formation of a multinational force of 8,750 troops led by Nigeria and Chad with contingents from Cameroon, Niger and Benin. Several other countries also have pledged to help.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau reportedly has pledged his group’s allegiance to the Islamic State group that is in control of territory in Iraq and Syria, raising fears that the conflict largely restricted to northeast Nigeria and its neighbors’ borders could be internationalized.
Browne said he was aware of Boko Haram while he was in Cameroon, but at the time, the group was “more subdued” and largely active only in Nigeria. Even today, Cameroon has been fairly insulated from militant activity except in its border towns — even though the country is still somewhat divided between the impoverished Muslim north and the richer, more modern Christian south, he said.
But Browne worries about the future of the country that has become so dear to him. He talks of Meme, one of the villages where he taught; it’s 24 miles from the Nigerian border and Boko Haram territory. He said the area, while safe from the terrorist group, suffers indirectly in other ways. The village has been flooded with refugees, and traveling along the highways that lead out of town can be dangerous, he said. Students, especially girls, are becoming more wary of attending school, he said.
Additionally, since his time there, the Peace Corps has had to pull out of the northern region of Cameroon because of instability, which means that many young Cameroonians who are being raised in educational environments typical of traditional Muslim cultures might not have as many opportunities to be exposed to outside ideas, he said. Even though Boko Haram appears to have lost most Cameroonians’ sympathy because of their violence, those living in the northern region might still be more at risk of “disenchantment” of the Western ideals of secular education and democracy, he said.
“Peace Corps teachers are encouragers, trying to get kids to stay in school, and Americans carry a lot of weight just by the nature of who we are,” he said. “The fact that we’re not there in an entire region of the country, I think, over the long term is going to have an impact.”
Browne, who returned from Cameroon in June 2013 and is currently an intern in the Office of African Nations at the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., said Americans should be paying more attention not only to Cameroon, but to all African nations as time progresses. The continent is “growing massively,” both in terms of its economy as its countries modernize and in terms of population, he said.
“Africa will matter more than it ever has before in the next decade,” he said. “We don’t have to be actively engaged with war or allies, but we should be extending friendly relations for the future so we leave a good footprint.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Cameroon’s economy boasts “modest” oil resources and favorable agricultural conditions, yet like many underdeveloped countries, it is plagued by stagnant per capita income, inequitable distribution of income and corruption, according to the CIA World Factbook.
By: Sarah Edwards, for the Auburn Journal
March 5, 2015
“Ashia Mami, How for sleep?”
“No, fine. You want carry water?”
I awake early to the conversation of women passing by my window while searching for water. Under the shelter of my mosquito net, I prepare to start another day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the village of Misaje, Cameroon, West Africa.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I work both to provide technical training to the community, but also to share with Cameroonians about America and share with Americans about Cameroon. I have called this community of 3,500 home since November 2013, working as an agribusiness volunteer. While my technical projects are enhancing the community, I cannot deny that the most striking part of my time is the exposure to a whole new culture.
The best description of my community or even the country as whole is vibrant. Women dress in colorful patterned “wrappa,” pieces of fabric tied as skirts, their babies tied to their back in another colorful fabric. The school children’s uniforms of bright blue jump against the dusty background of the dry soccer fields. The landscape itself is a wash of color; the green of the farms and oil palms set against the red-brown colors of the local brick houses. Even the sounds here are vibrant. From my house I can hear one neighbor calling to another across the way, the grinding mill transforming corn into flour, baby goats bleating for their mothers, and an active debate among the teenagers on their way to school down the hard-packed earthen path.
Most days, on my way home from work, I stop to visit my neighbor Florence. Today, she has just finished cooking over the fire, as most people here do. In what I have come to see as typically Cameroonian generosity, she prepares me a plate and wouldn’t bear to let me refuse. The meal of choice here is fufu and njamajama — a loaf of hot corn flour (slightly similar to polenta) and huckleberry leaves cooked with red palm oil. My plate balanced on my knees as I sit on the bamboo stool, I use my fingers to break off a piece of the steaming fufu and use it to scoop up some njamajama. We sit and chat about her new grandson, the dry season climate and her difficulty to fetch water, farm preparations and my work plans.
She always makes a point to ask after my mother, who visited here in October. Family is central to everything here.
Saying my thanks and goodbyes, I enter my house, checking to make sure my solar lamp has been charging as I do so. There’s a rumor that the village will be connected to power in the next six months, but for the time being, we all are dependent upon candles, kerosene lamps and the power of the sun.
In the time since I’ve arrived in Cameroon, I have noticed that there appears to be an overarching narrative of West Africa in the news — one of sickness and death from Ebola, one of kidnappings and terror from the actions of Boko Haram, one of hunger and loss from oppressive poverty. From my time here, I am seeing a contrast to that story.
The side of Cameroon that I have come to know, my own corner of West Africa, is one of reliance and creativity. While danger and hunger are present here, people watch out for each other, preparing extra food to share with others if they can. They develop ways to work around the gaps in the system. Facing a lack of formal banking, they have created a strong system of savings and loan groups. When I ask friends and neighbors how they are doing, the prevalent response is that they are “just managing.” While conditions are not ideal, people are finding a way to work through it.
That’s not to say that this community couldn’t use some help. The biggest need in Misaje is better access to clean drinking water. Currently, local water taps flow inconsistently or shut off altogether, driving people to collect water from the stream and consequently sending rates of typhoid and dysentery through the roof. While the local government has made effort to expand the decrepit and overworked water system, their resources are scarce. In conjunction with some local community leaders, I have developed a project to rehabilitate and expand the local water catchment. In order to ensure long-lasting success, we will work to create a strong water management committee. The project is a part of the Peace Corps Partnership Program, where funds are requested from the public to complete the project, linking our home communities with our Peace Corps adoptive communities.
The project will only begin once the donations are all collected. A quarter of the project will be provided for by my community, in the form of labor and local materials.
Once everything is prepared, the town crier will alert the community to gather and begin the work to remove the dysfunctional water catchment channels and dig them to collect more water. From there, we will build a larger catchment tank that will filter and treat the water, sending it to the town in a safe drinking form.
When the project is successfully completed, Misaje should have enough clean water for the whole population with room for expansion. This will reduce the rates of water-borne diseases and free up time that people currently have to spend looking for sources of water.
My neighbor, Florence, will no longer need to wake up so early to find water for her family before she goes to the farm to work. The project will help to improve the quality of life in Misaje and will forever create a link between the community here and the community back home.
Sarah Edwards is a Colfax native currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon.