a pat on the back for volunteers

December 5th.  Mark it in your calendar from now on.  This is the International Volunteering Day.

OK, so every day is the international day of something.  And in the past 2 weeks, along with our colleagues here, we have participated in half dozen such days.  But this one was a little special.  It was about “us”.

volunteers under a hot December sun

When I say us, I mean the 200-some odd international and national volunteers associated with VSO who showed up at Maroua’s Club Kaliao to mark the occasion.  They came from all corners of the Extreme-Nord.  Some ladies brought their infants, strapped to their backs – like most places, if you want good volunteers, you have to start them young!

The day was marked with the overall recognition of volunteer’s contribution under the theme “Votre contribution comme volontaire fait la difference” – “your contribution as a volunteer makes a difference”.

National volunteers, you ask? VSO’s international volunteers aren’t the only volunteers in the country!  The local partner organizations we work with also work with Cameroonian volunteers who do service delivery, outreach and community facilitating.  Some national volunteers are matched with international volunteers in a

partnership that allows for easier communication (especially in the villages where French is not widely spoken), and helps in manoeuvring through cultural and political situations.  This also helps build capacity as the national volunteers hail from the community where they work.

one of ten sharing circles

It was the story of this work in the communities that was the highlight of the day.  Ten discussion groups were formed out off the assembled participants to share stories of successes, challenges overcome and personal motivations for volunteering.  The stories were as varied as the people assembled!

Before we broke for lunch, a local comedian entertained us.  I wish I could relate the jokes.  However, most were in Fulfulde so much was entirely lost on me (for now). The laughter of the crowd was wonderful to hear.  There was one joke I did get: It had to do with how to conjugate verbs in French.  First there was “il lance” (he throws), as in, “please everyone throw money on the stage”.  And then “je ramasse” (I collect), as in, he collected all the money for himself and walked off the stage!  Way to finance his craft, eh?

One amusing party of my day came from the process of issuing reimbursements to the volunteers for their travel expenses.  I felt like the only broker in the pit of the New York Stock Exchange selling stocks everyone wanted.  Under the pleas of “me next, me next”, with identity cards flying, and money changing hands with the help of the ever so wonderful Doris, we managed. Perhaps this indicates a new career path for me?

Seriously though, once the day died down, and the national volunteers started to head back to their villages, one thing was clear.  We are in good company here.  While, as a member of the organizing committee it was my duty to ensure that the national and international volunteers received the recognition they deserved, it really was nice to see so many people with a common mission.

In Cameroon they always say “on est ensemble” – we are together.  So true, so true.

~ by Caroline Spira on December 6, 2009.

2 Responses to “a pat on the back for volunteers”

  1. Bonjour Caroline,

    Ce que vous faites tous les deux est admirable et je le respecte énormément, mais il faut beaucoup de courage et d’abnégation pour cela.

    J’espère que vous ne souffrez pas trop de la chaleur, peut-on s’y habituer ?
    Je lis tout ce que tu commentes avec beaucoup d’attention.

    Je vous embrasse tous les deux et espère un jour te rencontrer,

    • Merci, Simone!
      On s’adapte bien à la vie ici. La grosse chaleur viendra en Mars – donc c’est là qu’il faudra nous reposer cette question! Pour le reste, tout est une découverte, et ça nous guarde à l’aventure.
      Je suis certaine qu’on trouvera moyen de te visiter à Paris un de ces jours. On ne pourra tout de même pas rester en brousse comme ça sans y sortir!!!!

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