“Listening to the community helped me to understand the issues they face”

Gya Joannes Pauluas Yimbesalu With Elvis And His Mother In Cameroon Village
Joannes visited Elvis and his mother at their home

Barriers to education, Girls' education, Global Youth Ambassadors, Right to education

Global Youth Ambassador Joannes found that returning to his home village in Cameroon was an overwhelming experience.

In November, Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu reported on how a community had come together to build toilets for their local school – helping children, especially girls, ensure they don’t miss out on education. Here he gives an update on the project and how his visit helped one particular family.

The handing-over ceremony of the new WASH facility was fantastic! 

We saw nearly 450 people come out to witness this very important event in the life of the school and the entire Tinifoinbi community as well. 

The traditional authorities, the local council, the church representatives and school authorities all came out in their numbers – including old men, women and children – just to say thank you for what we at Hope For Children Cameroon have done to their community. 

This was evident in their speeches and the feedback I received during the short interviews.

I spent some time going around my village where I grew up and just listening to the people. This was quite an overwhelming experience. 

Sometimes we don’t listen to the people we’re helping because we assume we already know everything we need to know. But listening gave me the opportunity to see myself in their shoes – an opportunity to learn from them, understand the real issues they face and how we can collectively provide solutions to address these needs. 

New Cameroon School Toilets Montage

From a hazardous hole in the ground to a whole new toilet block – how the new facilities were built at the Cameroon Baptist Convention Nursery and Primary School in Tinifoinbi

I learned so much from the rural women as they shared a completely different narrative about the issues they face with their daughters. 

The women were unanimously dissatisfied with their daughters’ situation. There are so many girls as young as 12 who have fallen pregnant.

However, on a brighter note, I ended my day being inspired to do even more after I visited Elvis, a 31-year-old young man who contracted meningitis at the age of 11, causing paralysis of the left side. 

He was the eldest son in his family and never had the opportunity to go to school because he was paralysed. 

He manages to walk and talk and it was quite emotional to hear his mother recount the pain and agony she has witnessed with her son each day, not being able to even provide for herself and the family. 

She gives him a bath each day as Elvis can’t bathe by himself. Fighting tears she tells me that when Elvis is having an epileptic attack he does the toilet and if she is not around to clean him, no one will.

She worries that if she dies and leaves Elvis who will bathe, feed and clean him up? If she buries her son before she leaves this earth, only then can she be at peace with herself.

I cried. She cried and held my hand and said: “Because of you, I think my son and I can hope again.” 

Just for the simple fact that we paid them a visit to her home. She tells me no one has ever made this kind of gesture to them and this was a blessing to her and her family.

Before leaving we donated to Elvis a brand new mattress, some clothes and soap to help mum clean hims up. 

No one in Elvis’s family has ever slept on a mattress. Like many others in the community, just like Elvis, they all slept on bamboo. But now Elvis will be the first to sleep on a mattress.

The smile on Elvis’s face, knowing that someone thinks of him, reminds me of what Her Majesty the Queen recently said: “Sometimes, the world’s problems are so big we think we can do little to help. On our own we cannot end wars or wipe out injustices but the cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.”

As I left, Elvis’s mum caught her only chicken and gave it me as a sign of appreciation. She told me: “I know this can’t compare to the happiness in my heart but I hope you will appreciate the little I have.”

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