HOW WOMEN ARE USING VOLUNTEERISM TO CHANGE THE WORLD
Traditionally, a high proportion of the unpaid work which supports a community has been carried out by women. However, the positive effects of volunteerism can be very empowering for women in particular, providing access to social networks, new skills, and an influential role in the community especially for individuals who may otherwise have few formal routes to education or influence. On the contrary, in Cameroon most women are overwhelmed with home activities hence can’t dedicate time to volunteerism.
Growing in a community where, women are reduced to just mothers and a successful woman is defined as “one who is married to a successful man”, living any life contrary to these set of definitions is termed ‘weird’. My passion and dream to change the status-quo has been the fundamental driving force towards my success. As a young girl, braving through this vision meant living above the mindset of peers and community at large. I had always longed for change, especially in our dilapidating health system and my dream had always been to bring innovative approaches in solving global problems especially of public health interest.
Just like most of the youngsters reading this, identifying my career path was the biggest challenge I had. During my studies in Public health and working as a Medical Laboratory Director, I recall attending a conference on kidney disease and a man from the North West region of Cameroon where I come from shared a story with me. This man was one of the highest paid class of individuals in government, but he was suffering from kidney failure. Because of this disease and all of the management it required – the testing, treatment, missing work – this man of wealth had to beg his relatives to help him buy food. I could connect to his story because at that time in my community, the hemodialysis center didn’t have the capacity to provide dialysis (a procedure done for persons with kidney failure) to all those with kidney failure. This was so because, the equipment were old and had regular technical breakdowns, hence those who couldn’t travel out of my region lost their lives during this period; while those who were financially viable were evacuated by their relatives.
In my quest to addressing these challenges I abandoned my position as a lab director and engaged in volunteering with existing organizations working towards addressing problems of that nature. Most of these organizations weren’t appealing to the eyes as they were young organizations. (This worked for me because I was eager to know how to go about a new thought). As startup organizations they were flexible to receive inputs from me and through this platform I could test a number of hypothesis and understand which works better. Some of the novel approaches I applied in solving these complex community problems led me in participating in the 2016 Mandela Washington fellowship program. This program opened new doors; one of which was a practicum position at WFAC through which I did not only polish my leadership skills but expanded networks for my organization. In addition to firsthand experience on the ground, volunteerism has also given me the opportunity to start, run and manage Value Health Africa through which we have been able to reach out to millions of persons in the communities and created employment opportunities for other young people.Volunteering goes beyoung dedicating time for an existing course but it is a platform to test new ideas, strategies and hypothesis that could bring about global transformation.
Kyeng Mercy Tetuh
Public Health Activist/Epidemiologist