I have recently returned to the United States after a year of living and working in Cameroon. Many emotions are running rampant through my mind and my heart…yearning to be back in Cameroon especially with the women in Widikum, gratefulness for having the wonderful opportunity to experience the Cameroonian culture and gain a broad perspective on development, anxious of deciding what to do next and be in a transition, and joy to see my family and friends again.
I know I hadn’t written a blog posting since April having gotten completely caught up in the work; I am also a person who doesn’t set aside the time to reflect which is a weakness. But, I am doing that now… Since April, as you can imagine, like in your life, many things have occurred. The greatest, most memorable activities included holding two four day business and leadership trainings with 38 women living with HIV. Twenty of the women have received loans to start and grow their businesses in order to increase their economic, health, and social livelihoods. Many of the women engage in businesses including tailoring, selling food items, fish, shoes, palm wine, oil, etc. The training included sessions of confidence building, leadership, good customer service, marketing, record keeping, and business planning. It was absolutely an amazing, unforgettable experience to see the women grow. Just to put the training in perspective, many of the women have a limited educational level and haven’t attended trainings or been in a classroom setting for many, many years. They engage in household activities, raise their children, and attend to farm duties on a daily basis; some of the women are widows and have lost their husbands to HIV and others have to tend to their husbands and partners. They didn’t view themselves and their work in society as important, but through the training we shared our stories and did various vision exercises for them to reflect on their daily activities and life experiences, and how what they do, contribute to the society. The women inspired me since many of them have overcome so much, especially as it relates to stigma of living with HIV.
I’ve come a long way since my last blog on how I viewed HIV and learned so much about the challenges persons living with HIV face as well as the realities in Cameroon. Before, when I walked into the room of the women, I first defined them as persons living with HIV, not as powerful women, women who have touched my lives, women who I love. As I picture my experience here now being back in Chicago, I first think of my women in Widikum…Ma I…Terese…Elizabeth, their smiles, their love, and their dreams of having better lives for themselves and their children. I miss them greatly, but know that I will be sharing their stories with family and friends and working to support them in the small ways to help grow their businesses and build a better life.
Although this year hasn’t been easy; it’s probably been one of the most challenging experiences professionally, it was the most rewarding and taught me so much about the little things that matter in this world…relationships. I just want to thank all the people who have touched my life this year, who have challenged me personally and professionally, and who will always have a special place in my heart…To: Ma I, Elizabeth, Terese, Rogers, Nicoline, Lum, Deborah, Ralph, Kenneth,, Paul, Dustin, Justine, Elphie, Carmen, Catherine, Sharon, Caroline, Greg, Fikir, Eric, Sidiki, and all my other VSO friends! Thank you!
I also want to share my Top Ten List of Cameroon:
1.Business Training with my women in Widikum and Batibo
2.Singing of Cameroonian Jesus Music during every activity and in all taxis and public transportation; beautiful bright colors of dressing
3.Tennis everyday with my dear coach Paul
4.Motorcycle rides in the early mornings to play tennis and to our visits from Batibo to Widikum; feeling the cool breeze on my back and flowing through my hair
5.Discussions with Rogers on politics, values, goals, and dreams.
6.The Green, Lush Mountains and Palm Trees of the North West
7.Climbing Mt. Cameroon at over 4,000 Meters Above Sea Level
8.Seeing giraffes at Waza National Park in the Far North
9.Hiking through the rock mountains of Rhumski in the Far North and staying at the chief’s house in the village
10.Fish at Jana Market with the volunteers, lunch dates at Century with my dear friend Dustin, and Ping Pong tournaments
I will be compiling the pictures and more details about my experience and the women who have touched my life through a website…www.inspirecameroon.wordpress.com. I will be sending an email when it is ready to be viewed…until then, thank you for reading and thank you for your support and encouragement through my amazing journey in Cameroon.