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Volunteering in Cameroon: Shamsul Akhtar (Indian Volunteer)

Volunteering in Cameroon: Shamsul Akhtar (Indian Volunteer)

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Someone said for Shamsul- "Shamsul do not underestimate the significant change and progress you have made in the participation and governance programme, it is a very complicated and complex programme you have made very considerable progress here.”
Someone said for Shamsul- "Shamsul do not underestimate the significant change and progress you have made in the participation and governance programme, it is a very complicated and complex programme you have made very considerable progress here.”

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Published by: iVolunteer Overseas India on Apr 17, 2012
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iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of KailashNew Delhi-110065Tel.: +91 11-26217459Email : vso@ivolunteer.inWebsite: www.ivoindia.org
“If somebody asks me what changes I made; I will proudly tell him/her that am very proud of my work so far”
 
By Shamsul Akhtar, VSO Volunteer, India
A Journey with VSO, North West Region, Cameroon
This is a brief report about my accomplishments and other related engagements in Cameroon.Greetings from the peaceful ever Green country-Cameroon! I am among the many VSO volunteersworking in the North West Region of Cameroon, specifically attached to Babessi Council sinceMarch 2008.I am under the Participation and Governance programme whose main focus is promoting GoodGovernance similar with the Strengthening Rural Decentralization (SRD) Program under Ministryof Panchayat and Rural Development, Government of West Bengal, India, where I was workingbefore joining VSO. However by the time I joined VSO, I had resigned from the work employed bygovernment of West Bengal; hence I abandoned
the government job. Honestly, I don’t
know if Imade a good decision suffice it to say that I enjoyed my work, because it is challenging toimplement and have scope to implement. Making the decision to leave my job was not easybecause of two main reasons, I was given a short notice of only 28 days by VSO to report to myplacement in Cameroon yet my father was in ICCU, who was suffering from cancer.Well, volunteerism itself is a big challenge
 –
especially for us who come from developing countries.It was really a big challenge for me because It was something I had never imagined, resigning froma government job where I was assured of good pay and the related benefits and then transfer to avolunteering job, working far away from home, leaving my father very sick. Apart from my eld
 
ersister, all my family members were against this move. Therefore, I requested VSO to give me amonth of preparation but they refused, instead they told me to withdraw from the volunteerprogramme. Caught between a rock and hard wall, I decided to join up volunteering; it was really atough decision to make.I left home on 6th March 2008 and arrived in Cameroon on 8th March. We were many of us allcoming from different parts of the world i.e. Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland,France, Philippines, Kenya and Uganda
 –
but on the same mission. That was my inspiration becauseit gave me a vivid picture of my work as a global expatriate operating among a big internationalnetwork. Due to my easy going and outgoing nature, I made friends with people easily and amongmy new friends was the Cameroon, VSO country director. He was very helpful, always giving meguidance.
 
 
iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of KailashNew Delhi-110065Tel.: +91 11-26217459Email : vso@ivolunteer.inWebsite: www.ivoindia.org
My placement was away from the Capital city Yaoundé and a sizeable distance from Bamenda theregional town of North West Cameroon. I was given a house of 7 rooms but it had no water nordid it have toilet/latrine facilities. To play safe, I decided to abstain from eating food so as to avoidany need for the toilet facilities. However after suffering for 8 days, I felt I could not abuse mybody any longer. I decided to struggle for my basic rights. Hence, I contacted the program office,informed them of my plight and requested for proper accommodation. I reminded them of thefact that when I was accepted my placement, I made it clear that this type of accommodation wasnot appropriate. They arranged with my partner and they relocated me to another house whichwas more decent, though without electricity. I was assured that it was a temporally arrangement.Having moved to a more decent house, I felt motivated to begin working. I met the Mayor andother people whom I was to work with. I began acquainting myself with the work situation inrelation to the local government and decentralization program. I discovered that the work ethicsof Cameroon were different from what I was used to because the people fear change hence notflexible yet the Participation and Governance program requires a changing fundamental attitudeand flexibility in beliefs. Corruption is another very big issue which is very widely spread,undermining any program that is attempts to uproot it. This was more spelt out when the reportof Transparency International of 2005, declared Cameroon to have been the most corrupt countryin Sub-Saharan Africa, that year.Since this was a new program for VSO Cameroon, It too felt challenged but as professionals, weworked hand in hand, volunteers and the program office, jointly feeling our way together toensure we were all on the right path. At times we went stray but we could put our heads togetherto pull through.In my council, I was among rural poor, in the Community of Babessi. It was established as a councilin 1996 but it had been experiencing and had Management and Governance problems, hence itcould not progress as desired. Each of the three main entities of local government (The Council,the Mayor and the community) were isolated from each other. Decisions concerning the councilissues like the budget were made by two top persons (Secretary General and Mayor) withoutconsulting; no involving the community. Procedures seemed more important than the content. Allthis made me realize that it was going to require a very steep challenge to implement the goodgovernance programme.
So what did I do?
I needed to develop a Strategic Plan to implement these changes. VSO has produced very goodguidance but as always this principles need to be applied in practice and therefore I needed to beflexible, pragmatic and adapt as required.
I decided I would work towards five goals:
First
, I need to establish an open and constructive relationship with the Mayor and HigherAuthorities.
Second
, I needed to actively engage the Community in gaining an understanding of theirresponsibilities to active participation in decision making for their own benefits.
Third
, To increase the level of awareness of councillors and their responsibilities towardscommunities.
 
 
iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of KailashNew Delhi-110065Tel.: +91 11-26217459Email : vso@ivolunteer.inWebsite: www.ivoindia.org
Fourth
, To address the opposition leaders and supporters understand and make sure their supportfor their own communities in development aspect.
Fifth
, I needed to establish a Strategic Plan for the council which put the Community at the centreof their activities.From my extensive experience in India through professional study and gaining a Masters in RuralDevelopment from Visva Bharati University, INDIA (which I would highly recommend) and myprofessional career in government with Strengthening Rural Decentralization programme, workingwith NGO, in very remote areas of India and deprived groups all provided me a very goodgrounding for this role.It was not easy. Relationships and trust take time to build but after honest discussions with theMayor, Community and Opposition Leaders and Supporters I was beginning to make progress. Iheld many workshops, informal and formal discussions and I began to feel and see the changes.According to the decentralization law, 2004 in Cameroon, the Lord Mayor of the Council hasenormous power to operate only himself. I started to convince him the benefits of delegation of power. My first three month was just terrible! I used to travel to office from my accommodation
with Lord Mayor and sometimes fifteen days he didn’t come to not even communicate.
 At that time I thought why I am here? Is it for spending holidays or something else? At that time Ihad a good offer from one reputed funding organisation, India. I was really confused to take adecision. I decided to continue in my role.It was not always straightforward with the VSO office in Cameroon with a new a developingprogramme again together we worked out clearer communication lines!
Before concluding my works as per VSO’s guideline (Assessment work for Institutional
Development)I observed and felt that need to increase participation in every aspect. Started various workshops,meeting with community, councillors, staff and opposition leaders from each community, ministrydelegates, administration and traditional authorities and gave some messages about their role andresponsibilities and also the benefit of community participation.From one of the workshops the participants decided and requested to the council for recruitmentof teachers. I provided feedback and the council promised and recruited 20 teachers in primaryschools in their area. When I was came in Babessi Council for Institutional Development; thecommunity expected some changes and development from my work and I felt it is very importantto have a quick win to engage people in council development process.For that idea I was able to ask one volunteer Tamara from UK to find out some computers forschools. Finally she helped me to get the computers from Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School,Manchester, UK. They gave us 45 computers as a donation and council distributed to the variousschools and administrative offices. We also agreed to put computerized system in council forfinance, civil status and documentation.
Being Indian in Cameroon

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