Cameroon: Volunteering for impact amidst the Covid-19 pandemic
"It is scary but fulfilling to be at the forefront of the fight against this pandemic through volunteering."
We want everyone in our communities, even those who are reticent and do not believe that this virus is dangerous to be aware, to be informed. That is the role we all should be playing in our various communities when we leave here today.” Says Christine Grace NGO MOUAHA to the room of 50 community health leaders, most of them local health workers who have come to attend an in-depth training on the Covid-19 preventive measures in Yagoua, a small town located some 3 hours away from Maroua, the capital of the Far North region in Cameroon.
Christine is an epidemiologist volunteering with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and she has been busy since the start of the pandemic in the country – volunteering in Yaoundé, the Capital city of Cameroon before joining UNV to volunteer in the Far North region. “It is scary but fulfilling to be at the forefront of the fight against this pandemic through volunteering. I have the opportunity to channel my passion and use my skills to serve my country at a difficult time like this, there is nothing more rewarding,” she adds.
The training organised by the United Nations Volunteers in collaboration with the National Volunteering Programme also aimed to commemorate World Humanitarian Day celebrated on August 19 under the theme ‘Real life heroes’. Christine along with 10 other UN volunteers who say they consider themselves servants rather than heroes, are spearheading the training that aims at imparting the 50 participants with the necessary information and tools they will need to improve the quality of the local community sensitisation campaigns. The ultimate goal being to reach at least 5000 people in the Yagoua vicinity.
According to Mrs Didjiatou Nagassou, third assistant Mayor of Yagoua , the training session could not have come at a better time. “The local administration has to the best of its capacity sensitised the community by encouraging good hygiene, distributing facemasks and placing wash hand stations at key points around the town. It has unfortunately not been able to afford appropriate training for the community health agents.” Talking about the take away from the UNV lead training, Didjiatou says they now have the knowledge to lead these local sensitisation campaigns.
Oumarou Abdoulaye, a full time taxi driver and volunteer local community health agent is also one of the participants. A notebook in one hand and a pen in the other, he quickly jots down any information he finds novel and useful. This training session, Oumarou believes was a necessity for him and his fellow community health agents. Like everyone else around the world, they never expected a health crisis of this scale. “Years of volunteering as a community health worker never prepared me for a pandemic.” expressed Oumarou. “At the start of it all, we kept thinking – ‘it won’t get to us’ – but it did eventually.” Cameroon, since the month of March has reported over 19 000 positive coronavirus cases that have caused 411 deaths and with communities relaxing restriction measures, the need to push for more caution remains high.
Oumarou says everyone can feel the impact of the virus in everyday life in Yagoua. He for example now earns one fifth of his daily wage as a full time taxi driver. “People aren’t travelling as mush they used to before the pandemic. It’s been hard for business but then it proofs to an extent that people are aware of the dangers of the virus and are taking precautions.” Armed with new information and tools like posters, soap and water containers offered by UNV and WHO Cameroon, Oumarou believes they will be able to reach even more people thanks to the volunteers.
Over 120 UN volunteers are currently serving in various capacities in 22 UN agencies in 8 out the 10 regions in Cameroon. Three fourth of these volunteers are working for Humanitarian Assistance with a dozen at the centre of the Covid-19 response from Yaoundé to Maroua. For Christine, this shows how important it is to promote volunteerism in our communities. “We cannot overlook the roles UN volunteers play especially in times like this. We are impacting change through volunteering and that in itself is worth celebrating.”