Seeing Cameroon in a new light

After becoming a permanent Canadian resident, Cameroonian Sandrine Messomo joined Cuso International and returned to her home country as a volunteer. The experience helped her see Cameroon in a whole new light.

Q: Tell us about your role in Cameroon as a Cuso International volunteer:

A: I had two mandates: first as a project manager with the Association Camerounaise des Femmes Juristes. This included supporting women’s independence in three refugee camps, developing rural community radio stations to promote women’s rights and organizing training seminars on gender equality.

My second goal focused on helping local partners better understand the national policy on gender and to teach them to consider women, girls and marginalized populations in their program development.

What was it like to return to your home country as a volunteer?

Organizations assumed I would have all the answers because I was from a developed country. My role was to help our partners understand they already hold the answers; real results come from the exchange of ideas, case studies, team work and collaboration. Local partners were very appreciative of this approach, which allowed them to own the processes that led to success.

What did you find challenging?

The work I did in the ACAFEJ legal clinics. The violence Cameroonian women face is a harsh reality. I did develop a certain resilience in order to offer sound advice, but it did affect me.

What was the best part?

We’re not just there to give. We can learn greatly, which is a win-win. I learned so much. The local partners told me how much I’ve given them, but I also reaped the benefits. It really does help you grow and to see things differently. You may think you know a country; being a volunteer helps you see things in a whole new light.

Overall, how was your experience? 

While I set out to contribute to the country’s development, I’m the one who took the most from it. Yes, you have to adapt initially and it’s difficult. But seeing the gratitude from those I helped, knowing volunteers understood Cuso International’s gender policy and seeing Cameroonian partners embrace social inclusion in their programming is why I signed up.