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I was born into a poor family in a remote village in North West Cameroon. I grew up experiencing typical village disadvantage and slum conditions. These conditions, I am proud to say, strengthened and nurtured me to appreciate the hidden potential in the face of poverty.
The death of my father in 1996 enabled me to see clearly the human face of rights abuses and gender based violence inflicted on women, especially widows. Cultural practices affected my mother and fellow women like her negatively. This ignited my curiosity to start seeking new perspectives on the promotion and protection of women’s rights and to help traditional policy and decision makers to look deeper into the potential of women. A woman was seen as having no right to succeed her husband’s property and none of her children could succeed their father’s property as demanded by tradition and custom. A woman was seen as a man’s property. Traditional laws, made by traditional council elders, headed by traditional rulers, who are venerated, held in high esteem and seen as custodians of culture command authority and power over the local people. These leaders exert fear in the locals who commonly hold beliefs that these people can bless and they can also curse.
Campaigning to change the mentality of people in support of the respect and promotion of women’s rights, especially widows, was not to prove easy! To succeed in my mission I decided to involve council elders and elderly opinion leaders, linking the campaign with village chiefs, while at the same time analysing with them the problems affecting women. We worked together to identify the root causes as a team, discussing the potential of women to support families and communities and we selected local elderly volunteers to facilitate the campaigns. Since the majority of the affected women in the village were widows, and 75% were elderly, the involvement of elderly men and women in this awareness raising movement became known and legalized as Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance (CDVTA) in 1998.
Having lived through poverty and having come face to face with the real needs of these vulnerable disadvantaged people, I have championed the work of CDVTA in ensuring care and support for the elderly in Cameroon for the last 16 years. Our campaigning enhances the capacity of the disadvantaged elderly to advocate and secure their fundamental rights, through fighting discrimination and promoting positive ageing.
The ageing process is a biological reality and affects every human being on earth. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Article 22 of the same document states that “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality” (1948).
For the past fifty years, older people have been all but invisible in international development policy and practice (Heslop and Gorman, 2002). In the midst of an ageing revolution, which may have its primary impact in developing countries including Cameroon, the needs and capacities of older people are starting to appear on the global development agenda. A growing concern about demographic change in the least developed world has begun to drive a new attitude towards ageing.
In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly designated 1 October the International Day of Older Persons. Living up to the guiding principle of the new Sustainable Development Goals of “Leaving No-One Behind” necessitates the understanding that demography matters and that population dynamics will shape the key development challenges that the world confronts in the 21st century. If our ambition is to “Build the Future We Want”, we must address the population over the age of 60 which is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2030.
This is why celebrating the International Day of Older Persons is important in raising global awareness as a huge advocacy effort to call for more enhanced international thinking and actions on elderly rights.
Through the work of CDVTA, my biggest achievement has been a recent validation of a national policy on ageing in Cameroon. This means that the government has accepted in principle the final draft national policy on ageing and requested that the ministry of social affairs should commence the implementation of different aspects of the document under government observation for an eventual recommendation by the head of state for it to be debated in parliament and to be later signed into law. There is still more to be done though. In the next five years, my hopes are that the parliament and the senate in Cameroon should be able to debate this policy and sign it into law to make it more concrete. I would also like to see the government making budgetary allocations for elderly care programmes.
Although much is still to be done in reaching out to the elderly in the other 9 regions of Cameroon, CDVTA’s successful work in care and support for the elderly in the North West region has produced good results in the last 16 years and has placed elderly issues in the centre of policy discussions in Cameroon. Today CDVTA has more than 13,000 people enrolled in 168 elderly peoples clubs across 26 rural communities. Tackling deep-rooted prejudices and challenging traditional beliefs has taken many years of hard work and there is hard work still to come, but we are able to celebrate real change that has occurred here.
I am yet to know of any organisation on earth apart from All We Can that uses all of their love and compassion as well as energy, not only to stand and suffer with local partners and beneficiaries but who do all they can in every possible way that they can, to ensure the greater success of a small but steadily growing organisation like CDVTA. Organisations like All We Can are rare to find and for us it is a privilege, and indeed an honour, to be part of this gracious God given development and prayerful family.
Find out more about All We Can’s work in Cameroon
Francis Njuakom Nchii is a Cameroon national and holds certificates in social work, community development, social gerontology, advocacy and leadership. He is Founder and Executive Director of Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance (CDVTA), Cameroon’s leading organisation in care and support of older people. CDVTA has been one of All We Can’s partners in Cameroon since 2004. In addition to having received more than five awards in Cameroon by different national media outfits, in 2008 Njuakom was awarded the Sheila McKechnie 2008 International Campaigner award at Ten Downing Street, London by then UK Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown. Recently Francis has been appointed as Ambassador for the Commonwealth Association for the Ageing in Cameroon and also as a board member of the International Federation on Ageing. Francis is happily married to Roseline Njuakom and they have two boys and three girls.