Empowering Change – One Person at a Time

Cheryl Hebert is a Social Worker. She’s worked as a professor, a consultant and most recently, Cheryl worked with the Human Rights Commission in Nova Scotia. Cheryl is also a volunteer. She started volunteering at an early age and considers it integral to who she is.

While studying Peace and Conflict studies at Chulalonghorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, Cheryl started thinking about using her expertise to resolve human rights complaints and examine conflict from a different perspective. She had heard about Cuso International and decided to apply. In 2010, she accepted Cuso International’s offer to live and work in Cameroon.

Cheryl spent two years in Cameroon, helping a municipal government responsible for four major villages to improve democratic processes within the national government’s policy of decentralization. Part of her role involved community development. Cheryl engaged people in vulnerable groups – like women, youth, people with disabilities and people living with HIV-AIDS – to help them make their voices heard and demand better living conditions.

Female volunteer reading a newspaper in a library with beneficiaries

Female volunteer reading a newspaper in a library with beneficiaries

She appreciated the perfect balance of support and autonomy provided by Cuso.

”You’re well-prepared and develop connections with staff and other volunteers,” she says. “But you still have enough independence to be effective in your work.”

In the first few months of her placement, Cheryl found herself relying on her fellow volunteers and colleagues for support. It was her first time experiencing life in a completely different culture and she was totally immersed.

“One young woman that I worked with was very much my interpreter,” Cheryl remembers. “She helped me with the language and with bridging the cultural gaps.”

One of Cheryl’s proudest moments came when she saw the impact her work had on the lives of other people. She worked with one young man who was visually impaired; he had lost his vision at the age of 10. He and Cheryl worked together on an initiative to break down discrimination and advocate for the rights of vulnerable populations. Over the course of the project, they liaised frequently with municipal leaders and developed a good relationship with them. The man became a well-liked and respected public figure and was eventually elected to the town Council.

“Now he can really make a difference,” says Cheryl. “Not only has he created a wonderful opportunity for himself but he is also a role model to others.”

In her work with vulnerable populations, Cheryl was proud to meet people with HIV-AIDS who stood up and encouraged others to get tested.

“It was rewarding to see people breaking through the misconception that HIV doesn’t exist,” says Cheryl. “Because of that, more people were getting tested.”

Cheryl enjoyed her volunteer experiences with Cuso International so much that she accepted a second placement in Guyana in 2013.

“My daughters told me they were proud that I took the leap,” says Cheryl as she reflects upon her time working in Cameroon and Guyana.

“They are proud of the work I did.”

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