Going Back, Looking Forward

September 20th, 2010 by bobebill

By Tony Boatman
Ndu, 1965-68

Tony and Duvonte Boatman with Fon Fobuzie II of Chomba. Fobuzie was one of Tony’s students at Joseph Merrick Baptist College in Ndu in the mid-60’s.

When our Land Rover wound its way “Up Station” in Bamenda on July 10, 1968, I gazed out the window over the valley of Abakwa and assumed I was saying my final farewell to Cameroon. I came to the country as a Peace Corps Volunteer in September of 1965, and after three years teaching at Joseph Merrick Baptist College in Ndu, I was heading home. I was excited to return to see my family again, but sad to leave behind a country and so many people I had grown to love.

Flash forward 42 years, and I find myself descending Bamenda Station hill for a return visit to Cameroon. I had recently joined the board of the Cameroon Health & Education Fund (more about that later), so my journey was not based solely on nostalgia. I had my 17-year old son, Duvonté, in tow, and we were here to learn more about the myriad health programs and initiatives of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB).

After four decades and four weeks, I find that much has remained the same, but much has changed as well. Happily, one thing which has not changed over the decades is the warmth, hospitality, and good humor of the Cameroonian people. Everywhere we went we were greeted and treated with kindness and cordiality. For me, of course, the greatest joy was reconnecting with a host of my former students from JMBC. Nearly all have had successful careers in Cameroon and have played significant roles in building the nation: Bantar Nagfeeson is the national Minister of State for Prisons, Dr. Jonah Wefuan heads the CBCHB and is a prominent physician, Henry Saningong and Humphrey Nkambfu are attorneys in Bamenda, Fon Fobuzie II of Chomba has set a new standard for traditional rulers with a modern touch, and Bobe Ngwah Fointama has been central to the development of science education in the country. I don’t want to slight anyone, but the list goes on and on.

In 1968, less than half of Cameroon’s population was literate; today, a significant majority can lay claim to that proud achievement. In the 1960’s, many were concerned that English would diminish in importance next to a larger, more powerful Francophone population. Now, as English has eclipsed French as the international language of technology, business, communication and diplomacy, the desire to learn English has become vital for any successful Cameroonian.

The most striking difference to me was the dramatic increase in electronic communication and flow of information. Practically everyone clutches a cell phone, and cell towers punctuate hilltops from one end of the country to the other. There was no television in 1968, and today satellite dishes clutter the rooftops in every town and village large and small. Sadly, the quality of programming isn’t any better in Cameroon than in the United States! Many of the roads have been improved, but there is still a long way to go. The road from Banso to Ndu is still a jarring, pothole-filled nightmare, while traveling from Bambili to Belo is smooth and fast. But everywhere the Cameroon scenery remains breathtakingly spectacular!

The Fon of Bafut outside his traditional palace.

Health care in Cameroon has made great strides, thanks in large measure to the dedicated efforts of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board. Providing quality health care to all regardless of their religious beliefs, the CBCHB operates 5 hospitals at Banso, Mbingo, Mutengene, Douala and Yaounde, offering some of the best treatment available in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the CBC operates over 40 clinics and treatment centers focusing on urgent care; pre- and post-natal services; HIV, Malaria & TB diagnosis and treatment; and a host of education and outreach programs. Banso Hospital continues its excellent nursing education, and Mbingo Hospital has become the “go to” hospital throughout Cameroon (the majority of its patients are now from the Francophone areas). In addition, interns, residents, and physicians from other African countries and the United States journey to Mbingo each year to learn, teach, treat and cure. The CBCHB also operates The Chosen Children program, which cares for 3,000+ children orphaned by AIDS.

Duvonte Boatman with Solomon, one of 3,000+ AIDS orphans cared for by the CBC’s Chosen Children Program.

That’s where the Cameroon Health & Education Fund (CHEF) comes in. CHEF is a non-profit organization here in America, which channels tax-deductible gifts and grants directly to the Cameroon Health & Education Board. As a totally volunteer organization it has no overhead or administrative costs, so 100% of every gift goes directly to Cameroon and the CBCHB. The funds are monitored and accounted for with precision, so all donors can be confident that their support is serving its intended purpose.

Now comes the sales pitch: you may not be in Cameroon anymore, but you can still help Cameroonians! Contact me at acboatman@aol.com or Drs. Thomas & Edith Welty at twelty@earthlink.net to find out more about CHEF, our programs, and the many needs we are trying to meet. We are a fully-licensed, professionally administered 501c3 non-profit organization, so your support is totally tax deductible. You can learn more at www.cbchealthservices.org . Our CHEF website is still a work in progress.

Cameroon has developed dramatically since its independence 50 years ago, and the subsequent unification with Southern Cameroon in 1961. That progress has been assisted by many fine organizations along the way, including the Peace Corps, AID, numerous religious groups, and many others.

It was a magical time to revisit the country after 42 years, to see firsthand what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. I encourage everyone to do likewise. I can’t wait to go back again!

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