Cameroon: Elder-Driven, Community-Based Initiatives Like You’ve Never Seen!
Walter Coffey and David Sprowl, Managing Partners of WD International Consulting, shared with the Global Ageing Network a reflection from a recent visit to Cameroon where they saw elder-driven, community-based initiatives “like you’ve never seen before!” In their reflection, they describe the welcome that they received from the elders in each village and the experiences and observations that inspire further engagement and work within the region.
Their journey began in Bamenda, Cameroon, where they met Francis Njuakom, founder and executive director of Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance (CDVTA). CDVTA Cameroon delivers services to the most vulnerable older persons in rural communities in Northwest Cameroon. CDVTA is a member of the Global Ageing Network.
Over the next 3 weeks, Francis led them to remote villages of the Northwest region, traveling over rough roads and for long periods of time to reach each village.
Although these villages rarely received guests, Coffey and Sprowl were greeted like kings as large crowds of villagers would sing and dance at their arrival. The villages consisted of elders and their grandchildren. As Coffey noted, “many of the middle generations had to leave the villages to work or have died of AIDs. The elders were very concerned about education for their grandchildren and wanted to ensure they stayed in school.” The CDVTA works to support the construction of better school buildings and latrines at the school.
Also exciting to witness during their visit was the hiring of the very first community nurse, Lillian, at the Dorothy York Senior Center. The small structure serves as a community center for elders to meet, host events, receive information, and to connect with the outside world.
The Center was made possible due to generous donations received through an awareness-raising campaign led by Jack York of It’s Never 2 Late and Francis Njuakom, who met at the Global Ageing Conference in Perth, Australia, in 2015.
WD International’s aim is to continue the community’s fundraising pursuits through the Eldercare Cameroon Collaboration with CDVTA. They hope to hire additional community nurses who will serve as an educational and wellness resource, as well as continue CDVTA’s efforts to build schools and latrines and bring running water and electricity to villages.
Although the villagers have very few material goods, Coffey and Sprowl observed that they are rich in joy and well-being–“The way the villagers express what we call the ‘domains of well-being’ is the one area we want to better understand and interpret in order to share with elders in the US.” Through their joy, the elders are able to acknowledge the importance of relationships, thus fostering a feeling of community, that ultimately leads to a better quality of life.
After witnessing how CDVTA impacts the thousands of elders throughout the region, WD International Consulting has returned to the US fueled and inspired by the experience. “[We] trust the Eldercare Cameroon Collaboration will just be the first of many countries and connections where projects are initiated to enhance the lives of elders”.