Posted by: thebluemusicblog | July 8, 2017

CAMEROON YMCA REBORN

Early in 2014 I got two visitors in my office. As always I was really on my way to the airport to fly somewhere far away, but I took time to sit down together with Dr Alain Douglas Wandji Kamga and his Geneva friend Primo Bursik. I did not know much about Cameroon YMCA at that time, I only knew that they were suspended from Africa Alliance and that they were in a deep crisis. Several fractions of the YMCA were in dispute with one another, and the churches played a very difficult role in the whole theatre.

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What Alain said to me, seemed to make sense, and I could easily capture from his body language that he somehow was used to be rejected and therefore tried to use the few minutes he had to really convince me about the need to look deeper into the state of Cameroon YMCA just now. To his great surprise I immediately decided that we would send a fact finding mission to Cameroon to find out for ourselves what needed to be done.

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I knew that Carlos Sanvee had engaged himself several times with the matters of Cameroon. Carlos, in his double role as the Africa Secretary and as the part time Special Advisor to the World Alliance agreed to go to Cameroon again to visit Alain and his friends. Carlos made several visits and did an outstanding job first to get a clear overview of the situation and then to prepare them for a solid and well founded development of the YMCA organisation. Carlos’ conclusion was that Cameroon YMCA now was ready to be reinstalled with the Africa Alliance of YMCAs.

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The Youth Minister

Later in 2014 Alain made it to Estes Park and he participated in the 18th World Council. He listened very carefully to all messages about Youth Empowerment, he discussed with several of the other participants and he was a fast learner. In his own words: “I came to Estes Park and there I learnt what the vision was. I took it back home to Cameroon, and we changed the YMCA totally and we are now about Empowering Young People for the African Renaissance!”

 

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Three pastors, two of them from Cameroon

So finally this year we had planned for my first ever visit to Cameroon. They made a committee of more than 10 people to prepare for the visit, and they met every Sunday for three months. When I left my Air France plane in Yaoundé, the whole committee plus the Executive Committee of the National Council of Cameroon YMCA stood lined up at the airport with flowers and flags – it was an unusually warm welcome! I was taken straight from the airport to the home of the Treasurer, Duprince, where a celebratory welcome dinner already was on the tables. IMG_0080.JPG

Here they are building a new church for 5000 people

Next morning we started at 07.00 with breakfast in the outskirts of the capitol Yaoundé where one of the Patriarchs of the YMCA hosted a delicious breakfast. He had been the trainer and the coach for Alain and Duprince and all the other national YMCA leaders, way back in the 1980s and 1990s. He was highly respected and they wanted to show him honour. It turned out that in 2012 he and his wife, while visiting children in Germany, had turned up at Clos Belmont 12, my office, to say hello. I was not there, and they had been disappointed. Now I was coming to their doorsteps and harmony was reestablished!

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The office of the YMCA inside that big church

Full of energy from the good breakfast we turned into the city centre where we were to be received by the Minister for Youth in the Government of Cameroon. It became a very open and friendly conversation. We had decided what we were going to ask for, so during my opening speech I thanked the Minister for his way of including the YMCA in many events, and also for being well represented at YMCA events when he was invited. I therefore asked him if this good relationship between the National YMCA and the Government of Cameroon could not be formalised through a written partnership agreement? The Minister said yes across the table and Alain was invited back at a later stage to further develop the partnership agreement.

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We were a large delegation to the Minister, he had 7-8 of his staff there plus a good number of journalists, so nothing to complain about the visibility and attention showed to us. Dressed up in black suits and ties and shining shoes we went directly into the jungle. We arrived in a tiny little village having used some fairly challenging roads, especially since it was in the middle of the rainy season the cars were sliding quite a bit in the slippery mud.

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On our way we had stopped to buy rubber boots, and now we changed to these boots and started our expedition further into the jungle. The YMCA had bought a plot of land, 5000 m2. Still around US 10000.- were unpaid, but the fundraising is ongoing. Today we were to officially open the project. The plans were shared with us, a conference centre, a camp, residential guest hose for income generation and sports fields. After the land was purchased, it turned out that the main road, of course now being constructed by the Chinese companies being present in Cameroon, was to go very close to this plot of land. Therefore the value of the land already had doubled and is still on its way up. Good news for a YMCA so poor that there is absolutely no paid staff at all. All are volunteers working very hard for no payment.

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Having celebrated together with the neighbours from the village, we drove back on the same sliding, muddy roads and came to Rue-Manguiers local YMCA union. I must admit that it was quite a challenge to change from wet rubber boots and back to shining black shoes in a very narrow car, while the welcome delegation was waiting outside the car door with flowers and speeches. Finally I was ready and walked into a house filled to the capacity with all the YMCA people from that local union. Included no less than four Native Kings. In fact we met in their administrative building. They were members of the YMCA.

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The very first Ten Sing choir in Cameroon performed excellently for us, two Cameroonian YMCA leaders had been to Romolu’s Innovation Camp last year and learnt about Ten Sing. It was heart warming to see how things are connected now, and how inspiration and learning are transported around the globe within the network of the World YMCA. Great stuff!

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Very early next morning we started out to leave Yaoundé and go to prison. In a blogpost several years ago I described my experiences from visiting the largest prison in Lome, Togo, where the YMCA is running a fabulous programme for young prisoners. Now I was about to experience the same, here in Cameroon.

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Four native kings

The Prison Chief came in civilian cloths, since it was a Saturday. He took us to his office and explained how important he found the presence of the YMCA in his prison. It turned out that there was a YMCA union, as they call it in Cameroon, established formally inside the walls, run and operated by the young prisoners themselves. It was moving to be welcomed by the whole prison population inside the walls, speeches being given eloquently by the President and General Secretary of the Monatele Prison YMCA.

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I was also giving a speech to the prisoners and then shown around the prison and I was able to buy some beautiful bags handmade by the young people in the prison. As in Togo, the YMCA was assisting young prisoners who did not know how to deal with the bureaucracy, and several of them got released early because of the YMCA. I cannot imagine any form or shape of YMCA better adjusted to the original vision of George Williams. A YMCA in a prison is where YMCA belongs!

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Young YMCA prisoners singing

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Speaking to the prisoners

Wow! The programme was intens, we managed to visit two other local YMCAs before we had to head back to the big conference that had been planned to take place in the Cultural Centre of Yaoundé. 300 YMCA people from around the country were now travelling towards Yaoundé to participate in this conference. I was going to give a lecture about the present visions of the YMCA in the world, especially focusing on the Untold Story of Injustices towards Young People. The crowd was attentive, national TV was covering it, and when I was finished with my lecture, we had a long Q&A session with excellent questions and comments from the large audience. We were all served dinner in the break and then started a brilliant cultural performance by the different YMCAs in Cameroon. I was not the only one to be totally overwhelmed by the dancing and singing, acrobatics and fashion show. Cameroon most definitely has talent!

 

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More flowers followed me back to my hotel room. my room looked more and more like a wedding hall or a, no, I will not even mention it! But the hotel staff were observing my carrying of flowers with astonishment. In this jungle of colourful flowers I tried to find my bed, and collapsed into a well deserved sleep.

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Three Patriarchs in Foumban

Next day was the great travel day. we were going through half the country, 400 km each way to the west to visit Foumban. Therefore we started at 05.00 in the morning.  The Patriarchs of Foumban received us with all honours. A Patriarch is a honorary title within the YMCA to identify a specially respected and long serving leader of the YMCA. Here we had at least three of them. The one closest to Alain in the photo above, turned out to be a Prince of the native Royal family.

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He took us to his father’s palace and showed us around in the family museum. His father was the Sultan, and the plan was to visit the Sultan himself. He is very close to the President of the country, so this day he was called to come to the President in Yaoundé. His son was not a bad substitute. An English teacher and a strong leader of the YMCA and with a great sense of humour. His father had 6 wives and he himself therefore had 33 sisters and brothers. Quite a family!

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The museum was now inside the palace, but his father was building a new museum very close to the palace, and we were shown around this magnificent project in 5 floors. The architecture was a combination of a giant spider and a snake with two heads. The symbol here is the symbol of the local kingdom – to survive from the 13th century they always had had to attack in two directions at the same time to control their enemies. Therefore the symbol is the snake with two heads. Quite impressive, I must say, but probably not the ideal architecture for a YMCA building!

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In the photo below you can see what I mean with a sense of humour. With a glimpse in his eyes he shared with me the family history, His grandfather had approached German missionaries. He was interested in the new Christian faith and wanted to convert. The German missionary told him that he first had to get rid of 263 of his 264 wives. His grandfather therefore turned to Islam, who rather encouraged him to have more wives, not fewer!

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The Prince

The Prince of Foumban. My good friend and a good member and leader of the YMCA. He is also a leader of the political party supporting the President. He has been President in Cameroon since early in the 1980s.

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The Police Inspector

I had noticed the leadership capacity and skills of this young man, as he functioned as the Master of Ceremony. It was first at the farewell party that I discovered why he was such an outstanding leader – he was a high ranking Police Inspector.

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The Change Agent

I never get tired of praising our Global YMCA Change Agents. I am deeply impressed with their good work locally, with their good work for Change. Eugene Mel Is the Change Agent from Cameroon, and he embodies all the ideals and potential of the Change Agents. He is working around the clock and has no salary. In addition he is translating between languages and always in good mood, an exemplary leader. I hope that we will get him to Geneva as staff placement in the near future.

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The last photo from Cameroon is with three Change Agents. Eugene is already Change Agent and Lavette and Enok have been recruited for the third cohort. God bless all the Change Agents and God bless YMCA in Cameroon!

 


Responses

  1. Exciting story re: YMCA in Cameroon — incl 4 Native Kings, 3 Patriarchs, 3 pastors, 3 ‘Change Agents’, a ‘2-headed snake’, 1 Youth Minister, a Police Inspector — and the Prince of Foumban! And several pairs of sturdy rubber rain boots!! I remember your report re: YMCA Togo; thrilled to learn their YMCA prison trng program also in Cameroon. I met this delegation at the Y World Council mtg in Estes Park, and congratulate all involved! Thank you!

  2. Amazing, great experience. We greatly thank the General Secretary of the World Alliance of YMC for his trip in Cameroon. We expect many outcomes of that visit. God bless YMCA!
    Rev Justin B. Tchatchouang

  3. Thank you Johan for this great testimony to Cameroon-YMCA. We were so happy to meet you in Cameroon, this Africa in miniature. We are so happy and encouraged to note that you really enjoyed your stay.
    God bless you and all the YMCAs!!!
    Alain-Douglas

  4. Great story, lots of exciting news about the Y programs and volunteers. That’s what my vision would be for new YMCA in Rwanda. We still talk about starting a YMCA in Rwanda. Need some grassroots support


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