After now being here for nearly 6 months, we have a number of experiences to look back on and evaluate our time partnering with a local NGO in community development initiatives. We both agree that this has been an unequivocally valuable opportunity that has given us some great experience, and even more, has significantly affected our view of development and while witnessing the need firsthand. All of this will also guide future life and career decisions. We’re thankful to have had the opportunity to be here, and to have learned as much as we have through our work with FORUDEF. In spite of this, we also both agree that we will not renew our Cameroon visa, which expires at the beginning of August. This decision comes after a lot of deliberation and is influenced by a number of factors; however, the main ones are these.
– In terms of continuing to work here in community development in a career/long-term capacity, it seems that there are two options- to work for one of the big multilateral aid agencies, or to support-raise and work with a grassroots organization. The first option is very competitive, and would require much more education and experience than we currently have. The second option brings into question a new perspective on the role of the foreigner in development that we’ve been considering. We feel that for the amount of money it would take for us to live and work with FORUDEF in the long term, that same money could be used to employ 3 or 4 more local staff, who are more aware of the needs, target populations, and solutions, than we are. With this in mind, we feel it would be counter to our value of community development to pursue a full-time, in-country partnership with a local NGO. Instead, we see our role as being more of a support role, financially and through consultation, for the work that FORUDEF is already doing.
– Although our experience in working with a grassroots organization is obviously too limited to make definite conclusions, we’ve noticed a bit of a trend that we think may be significant. In our experience here, the ‘white man’ is often viewed as a source of resources and expertise; essentially, handouts. We wonder if it would then be better to support local individuals to be leaders for change in their communities, thereby setting an example of pro-activity and personal involvement in solving one’s own problems of poverty, than to be two more foreigners that ‘give development’ and perpetuate dependency. This is of course not an informed theory, but an observation. However, we think it has considerable weight, and want to be careful the ideas/attitudes our presence here might enable, in spite of good intentions.
– We’ve decided not to renew our visa mostly because we are at the point with most of our projects and programs where we need funding for them to move forward. This is much easier done from Canada, where networks and more donor agencies are located. We are committed to keeping our partnership with FORUDEF and continuing to work on what we’ve started. However, given the nature of the work left to do, we find that we are limited in how much we can accomplish here in Cameroon. So, in effect, we are going to continue the work we’ve started, but from a different location where we can now be more effective.
This is also affected by the onset of the rainy season. Roads are now impassable until around December we’ve been told, which means that we will no longer be able to do field work in the villages that our projects focus on. Our time would then be mostly an office job until December, and with the multiple challenges to internet and technology we experience here, we feel office work could again be done more effectively elsewhere.
For the remaining three weeks that we’re in Cameroon, we’re really looking forward to making the most of it; who knows when we’ll have this opportunity again. We are also committed to FORUDEF- we believe in the good work they are doing to help very poor communities, and believe in the idea of locals helping locals. The problem that FORUDEF faces is not manpower or motivation or expertise, but primarily funding for its programs. So, at this point anyways, we view our role in development as encouraging community change and growth by finding the financial resources they need to continue their work. We hope to partner with FORUDEF in this way for many years into the future, and also hope to be able to visit regularly.
We will continue to post until we leave. We want to really thank you for your encouragement and support. On this little dirt road somewhere in Cameroon, it really makes a difference to us. Many thanks, we look forward to seeing you guys in a few weeks…and it probably goes without saying, we’re looking forward to a hot shower too.