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The Peace Corps has had a continuous presence in Cameroon since 1962, focusing initially on education and rural development. The program subsequently expanded into small enterprise development, health education, and agroforestry.
Cameroon is one of the most culturally and geographically diverse countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to having both French-speaking and English-speaking provinces, there are more than 130 ethnic groups and over 200 local languages among its population of 18 million. Its geography varies from rain forests in the east, desert (Sahel) in the north, mountains in the northwest, and beaches along the Atlantic coast. The economy is dependent on agricultural production, over half of the population is under 25 years old, and HIV/AIDS and maternal and infant morality rates are significant health issues.
Cameroon’s diversity presents some challenges to the Peace Corps. The country is in several ways “two countries in one” with distinct cultural and geographical characteristics. In the Grand North, the Muslim population struggles to survive in the harsh climate of the Sahel. In the mostly Christian Grand South, the climate ranges from forest to humid highlands.
Cameroon’s diversity affects Peace Corps programming in several ways. For Volunteers working on agricultural projects in the north, the lack of rain, the need to dig in the sandy dry river beds for water, the short growing season, and the extreme poverty pose special challenges. Health Volunteers are able to access women in the southern provinces more easily than in the north. There is a longer tradition of self-organization and community initiative in the south. Generally, there is a cultural divide between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroonians. Cameroonians living in the south tend to be better educated and prosperous.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Cameroon
The Peace Corps entered Cameroon on September 13, 1962 when the plane containing the 39 volunteers of “Cameroon 1” touched down in Douala. This original group came as math/science teachers, but ended up teaching a variety of other subjects as well. Peace Corps/Cameroon’s program grew and diversified to include inland fisheries, credit union/cooperatives education, English, community forestry, health, and community development. Since then, approximately 3,000 Volunteers have served in Cameroon. Currently, there are four robust projects in Cameroon: education, health and sanitation, agroforestry, and small enterprise development. The common themes that run through all Peace Corps/Cameroon projects are impact, focus, counterpart involvement, Volunteer competence, and organizational professionalism. Through collaboration and good teamwork, the Peace Corps has made a difference in many aspects of life in Cameroon, one community at a time.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Cameroon
During training, you will live with a Cameroonian family. After training, you are likely to have your own house in the community where you are posted. Volunteers are assigned to sites throughout Cameroon, which range in size from large cities to small villages. Your assignment will depend on the project, host country needs, housing availability, and your preferences. Cameroon’s development needs are the first priority in posting Volunteers.
Arrangements for housing are made by the Peace Corps and depend on resources available in the community. You will have to be flexible in your housing expectations. The Peace Corps tries to ensure that Volunteers have lodging that allows for independence and privacy. You may, however, be lodged in a small, one-room hut within a family’s compound. Your house may have walls made of concrete or mud bricks and a tin or thatched roof. A typical Volunteer house has a sitting room, a bedroom, and a cooking area. Some houses have inside toilets/shower areas while others have nearby pit latrines. About half of Volunteers have running water and/or electricity. Peace Corps/Cameroon provides items such as an all-terrain bicycle and helmet, a mosquito net, and a water filter. Upon your swearing in as a Volunteer, the Peace Corps will give you a modest settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities and furniture.
Some sites are very isolated (more than 50 kilometers from the next Volunteer), and traveling in and out can sometimes be difficult because of the poor quality of roads and infrequent public transportation. (Fifty kilometers can take anywhere from three to eight hours of travel time, depending on road conditions.) Other posts are short distances from one another and are near paved roads.
Main article: Training in Cameroon
Pre-service training lasts from 10 to 11 weeks, depending on the project, and follows a community-based training methodology. This means that you will live in a Cameroonian village or town with a small group of other trainees and periodically come together in a common location for sessions with the members of your training class. While in training, you will conduct individual research and have formal language classes. Although pre-service training can be stressful as you try to learn new skills in a different and often confusing environment, a highly experienced training staff is available to help you.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health care and safety in Cameroon
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Cameroon maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who coordinate Volunteers’ primary health care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Cameroon at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an approved medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Cameroon
In Cameroon, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Cameroon.
Outside of the larger urban areas, Cameroonians have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Cameroon are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Cameroon, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations.
- Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
Frequently Asked Questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Cameroon
- How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Cameroon?
- What is the electric current in Cameroon?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- What should I bring as gifts for Cameroonian friends and my host family?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
Main article: Packing list for Cameroon
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Cameroon and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later (if you are willing to wait 3 months for it to arrive). As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you "NEED" in Cameroon, and very few of the things you "WANT." Shirts and dresses, for example, can be custom-made in Cameroon for less than $10, but good luck finding quality socks or duct tape.
Luggage should be flexible and lockable. Frameless backpacks and duffel bags are very practical choices. Remember that you will be hauling your bags in and out of taxis and trains and often lugging them around on foot. The most important qualities are that they be durable, lightweight, and easy to carry. Bring receipts for any expensive equipment (cameras, computer, ipod, shortwave radio, etc.), as these help in case of a robbery, and officials sometimes ask for them at the airport.
- Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Kitchen Supplies
- Shipping Things to Cameroon
- Volunteers who served in Cameroon
- Friends of Cameroon
- List of resources for Cameroon
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- Inspector General Reports