Archive for January, 2013

Peace Corps shipment to Cameroon

January 24th, 2013 by admin

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.

Former Fargoan travels the world aiding those in need

January 10th, 2013 by bobebill


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

Modern Peace Corps connects with traditions

January 8th, 2013 by bobebill

My View: Service in changing Cameroon city lifts lives of two Northwest volunteers
Written by Shaun and Mollie Willis, Portland Tribune 12/27/2012

A colorful couple, Shaun and Mollie Willis were with Portland’s Mercy Corps before working in Cameroon as part of the Peace Corps.

With its microbreweries and running trails, Portland will always hold a special place in our hearts that long for the Northwest. But we have found comfort in a new “home” we have created for ourselves in Nkongsamba, Cameroon.

We are Shaun and Mollie Willis. We met while working at Portland’s Mercy Corps. We knew it was rare to find someone else who shared the same passion and love for seeing, exploring and working all around the world.

After a six-month stint together teaching English in China, and a great few weeks backpacking through Southeast Asia which ended in an engagement at Angkor Wat, the Peace Corps became the obvious next step.

Both advocates of development and desiring careers in development, our time in the Peace Corps will give us crucial firsthand field experience.

When we received our Peace Corps placement for Cameroon, we began to envision our lives as volunteers full of dirt roads, small mud huts and laughing children. We were correct in the dirt roads and smiling children part, as there are ample opportunities to talk and play with our happy neighborhood kids and walk on the dirt road into town.

However, since arriving in country on June 1, we have realized that we are serving in a modernized version of the Peace Corps.

Modern technology

A major focus of the remaining year and a half commitment we have left in Nkongsamba is to find ways to modernize the city. The need to modernize isn’t solely for the sake of being up-to-date, but rather, to allow Nkongsamba to produce competitive global citizens. Without developing the technology, labor force and modern practices, Nkongsamba will only be left behind in this ever-changing world.

In small ways, we are trying to shape our projects as Peace Corps volunteers to be centered on increased technological education, access or use. Shaun, an education and computer science volunteer, has begun working with the local university’s students, teaching computer software and business classes. Mollie, a community economic volunteer, has trained a co-op of women who produce handicrafts to use Etsy as a way to globalize their business, while facilitating cultural exchange between Cameroon and America.

Together, we have kicked off a weekly cross-sector public service announcement program with the one and only local radio station in Nkongsamba. The radio, a new tech-based asset for the city, began shortly after we arrived in July, and it is a great use of relatively modern technology to increase the knowledge and skill levels of the population.

Focusing on health

In addition to the technological side of modernization, we are also focusing on modernizing the realm of health care. We have, thankfully, established a close working relationship with a local progressive association. In February, we will enter into the monitoring and evaluation phase of an innovative family planning program geared at encouraging women to choose when and if they become pregnant.

Following new international development guidelines, we will begin a multidimensional health program in the New Year consisting of a community garden, teaching nutrition education and training aerobics instructors, all with the aim of reducing deaths from noncommunicable diseases, like heart disease, which claim many lives throughout Cameroon.

From the notes and projects left by volunteers years before us, to the same oath every volunteer has proclaimed when swearing in as Peace Corps volunteers, to the legacy of John F. Kennedy’s creation, it is evident that the Peace Corps has been a standing institution of global peace and change.

Yet, serving as two Peace Corps volunteers in the 21st century proves that the world is not the same place it was when the Peace Corps was born. We constantly find ourselves wondering how to bridge the gap between the cultural history of the Peace Corps, the traditional lifestyle of the Cameroonian people and the ever-moving, globalized modern world.

Portland natives Mollie and Shaun Willis expect to finish their Peace Corps service in the summer 2014. Shaun studied community health at Portland State University. Mollie studied economics at Arizona State University.

Cameroon acquits two men sentenced for “looking gay”

January 8th, 2013 by bobebill

Mon, Jan 7 2013
YAOUNDE (Reuters) – A Cameroon appeal court on Monday overturned the convictions of two men found guilty of homosexuality and sentenced to five years in jail for cross-dressing and wearing make-up.

Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon but recent incidents have highlighted growing tension between a largely conservative society and a younger generation less concerned by the issue.

The two men were convicted in November 2011 and had already spent over a year in prison. Their lawyer, Alice Nkom, who also campaigns for gay rights, said the court’s decision had been expected.

“Their conviction was against the law because they were not actually seen or caught doing anything at the time the police arrested them,” she said.

“They were arrested because they were just seen wearing women’s clothes and because of the nature of their make-up, and only suspected to be homosexuals, which is against Cameroon law. That is why we appealed.”

Three weeks ago, the same appeal court upheld the three-year jail term of 32-year-old Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, found guilty of homosexual conduct because he sent a text message to another man saying: “I’m very much in love with you.”

Alice Nkom_Cameroon
Alice Nkom

Nkom, who also defended Mbede, said she hoped the supreme court would overturn that ruling.

“A man cannot be found guilty of practicing homosexuality simply because he sent a message to another man to say he loves him. At least two persons of same sex must be caught doing the act before they are arrested and convicted.”

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said at the time that the criminalization of homosexuality in Cameroon was incompatible with international human rights law.

Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries. In Cameroon, the penalties range from six months to five years in jail. In 2011, there were 12 convictions.

(Reporting by Tansa Musa; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Volunteer launches ‘Investing for a Better Life’ in Africa drive

January 6th, 2013 by bobebill


FOC NH AR-121239997.jpg&q=100&maxw=350

A Peace Corps volunteer serving in the Republic of Cameroon in Central Africa is asking her New Hampshire friends to help save the world – or at least help women in her service area.

Joyce El Kouarti, formerly of Dover, in partnership with a Cameroonian nonprofit organization, needs to raise $3,300 by Jan. 15, 2013. That money will establish 10 new Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) that will help local impoverished women become more financially self-sufficient.

“I’m gonna just put it out there: I’m writing to ask for money. I need to raise $3,300 by Jan. 15 to save the world and stuff. I could really use your help,” wrote El Kouarti. Residents in southern New Hampshire may know El Kouarti through her work as a communications specialist with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and Moose Mountain Regional Greenways.

How VSLA initiatives work

“Here in the Peace Corps, I’m working with this African nongovernmental organization called SAIMED, which specializes in microfinance. The employees and I ride around in the jungle on motorcycles setting up these Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in different villages to help people learn how to save money and manage credit. It’s a good system that has worked really well, not only here in Cameroon, but also in India, Bangladesh and other developing countries.

“How a VSLA works is you, Cameroonian woman living in the jungle, cultivating your peanuts or plantains or manioc to bring to the big village market to sell each week, get together with 15 to 30 of your most responsible friends to form a kind of savings club. You all meet a couple of times per month and set aside an agreed-upon amount of money at each meeting. After a few months, you can take out a loan of up to three times the amount of money you’ve saved, which you pay back with interest. At the end of a year, you and all the other members of your group share the money saved and the interest accrued in proportion to how much each member has contributed,” she said, adding that this is an effective way to teach people how to manage credit.

El Kouarti proposes to teach members of the newly created VSLAs basic business management skills – simple accounting, marketing and how to conduct a business feasibility study.

The donation is 100 percent tax deductible, she added.

The quickest way to donate is to go to and type in “El Kouarti” in the “search” box. For more information, email her directly at

The call to service

El Kouarti, who is in her 40s, decided to join the Peace Corps a couple years ago, after working for many years in the nonprofit sector. With her only daughter in college and a yearning for travel and to serve those in need, the Peace Corps beckoned.

The application process was thorough, but her assignment took some time to come through. Last spring, she finally got the word she was off to Africa.

“I know it sounds corny, but I like helping people, making myself useful,” she replied in an email interview last week.

“I also like to travel, but not just visiting for a day or two and hitting the beaches. I like setting down roots and getting to know a people and a culture; what they eat, how they live day to day, how they support themselves. So the Peace Corps offered what, to me, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get to know a country and culture, while making myself useful in the process,” she said.

She speaks French with some of the Cameroonian women who can, but others speak a local dialect she doesn’t know. However, SAIMED trainers assist as translators.

So far, her initiative has gained support from local friends like the Nancy Spencer-Smith of Wakefield.

Smith, too, used the power of email to spread the word about El Kouarti’s “Investing for a Better Life” initiative.

“I recently learned that a friend of mine, Joyce El Kouarti, has joined the Peace Corps and is working with impoverished women in Cameroon. Joyce and I worked together for a number of years on multiple land conservation efforts and I can testify to her strong work ethic and commitment to improving this fragile earth. After discussing with her the plight of the women in Cameroon, I realized that monies are needed to be loaned out to these women. The amount of monetary contribution requested from us is modest.”

Spencer-Smith suggests friends donate in memory of a beloved woman or women in our lives, such as a mother, a sister, a daughter, a classmate, a relative, or a friend.

“Personally, I have decided to make a donation in the memory of the women and children killed in Newtown. (Conn.) With this donation, I realize that something good will come out of that tragedy,” she stated.