Giving Back Through International Volunteering
For José-Constant Grembe-Gbassinga, making the decision to volunteer in Cameroon was meant to fulfil more than just a professional goal. He also wanted to give back to a country that gave him so much.
After leaving his country, the war-torn Central African Republic, José-Constant moved to Cameroon to pursue higher education—a path that eventually led him to living in Canada. During his stay in Cameroon, José-Constant made friends and discovered a new family. “Cameroon became my new home, and even though I’m from another country I never felt like a stranger there. The country has given me so much and I feel like I owed it to her to give back in my own little way.”
And so he took a volunteering path with Cuso International. José-Constant worked to protect the rights of Indigenous people in the Southern region of Cameroon, working with a local NGO, APED as an Organizational Development Advisor. With a background in Law and Management, José-Constant says his goal was to put his skills at the service of vulnerable people: “I wanted a role where my competences made sense and fitted with the needs of the organization, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here.”
Arriving in Cameroon in November 2015, José-Constant led the team in the development of a strategic plan to better address the needs of the communities they serve, improved the organization’s visibility and is now designing a local economic development plan for a new beneficiary community. “Just being here makes me proud” he declares, “Knowing that I’m filling up a gap which is so important to the organization and this country as a whole is very important to me”.
And members of his team had only sweet things to say about José-Constant. “We don’t want him to go”, the organization’s director Victorien Mba said with a rather sad smile at the end of José-Constant’s tenure. “He’s never taken a weekend off since he arrived. He brings enormous technical expertise to this team such that we would go bankrupt if we had to fully pay for his services.”
José-Constant says he was happy to play both a strategic and grassroots role within the organization “When I started I realized the need for the team to better understand the issues they work on and develop a vision around solving those issues. I was happy to provide support to the team in this area”. His colleagues say he also performed tasks and led on activities completely out of his official job description, taking on roles in fundraising and general capacity building for staff and volunteers in several areas.
To José-Constant, however, his desire to volunteer is not limited to Cameroon, and says he would love to live this volunteer experience again and again regardless of where in the world he is. “I’m now ready to travel anywhere in the world to volunteer with Cuso International.”