April 30th, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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Anywhere in the world, whether it’s in the US or in Cameroon, when marrying a person with disability, there is often a stigma. Family members and friends of a spouse who is in a relationship with a person with disability will often ask why he or she is marrying the one.  The spouse who marries a person with disability always say that they just simply love the person.  The spouse looks beyond the disability and see for who the person is inside the body.

Samuel who is married to a lovely lady and is president of Coordinating Unit of Association for Persons with Disabilities (CUAPWD), was ten years old when he noticed he was going blind and then he became completely blind at the age of 14 years due to Onchocerciasis.  When he was going blind, he said, “I was developing coping mechanism. My family did not know what to do with me.”

When I asked him how did he transition from being able to see to becoming blind, he said, “I was at home for two years doing nothing.”  He did also say that he did drop out of secondary school.

He then eventually started learning how to do various new tasks.  “I started my hands on trying a few activities like cracking stones, filling bags for the nursing of plants with soil, selling small things, and pig farming. And then I later got rehabilitated in cane weaving,” he said.

He also then eventually got married.  He and his wife, Nicoline, both grew up in the same village, Kedjom Keku, but they met in Bamenda.  At the time, Samuel was living and working in Bamenda, and Nicoline who was still living in Kedjom Keku, was visiting her sister who was Samuel’s neighbor. “When she came, I realize she was hardworking and talked about my intentions to her sister because Nicoline was so shy in approaching. Through the sister, we arranged for a meeting and then had the opportunity of telling her my intentions of spending my life with her. It was difficult for her to accept,” said Samuel.

I asked Samuel, “Was it difficult for her to accepted because of your blindness?”

He replied, “Of course.”

“After talking talking with family members and some friends, we were to persuade her to accept my proposal,” said Samuel.

“What helped ease her fears about your disability?” I asked.

“One of the things that helped was that she saw me working, and she saw me doing household chores and take care of my brothers and sisters,” he replied.

“Why did you accept to marry Samuel?” I asked Nicoline.

“I decided to marry him because I love him,” she said.

She faced resistance from her family because she was marrying someone with visual impairment.  Her mother and some of the aunts and sisters mocked her. Samuel’s neighbors helped calm her family’s fears by explaining that he’s hardworking and responsible, and they told stories about him.

“She asked one important question to friends and family members and the question was if she gets married to someone without disability and the person acquired disability within the marriage, what would they advise her to do?” said Samuel.

“What was their response?” I asked.

“It got them to reflect. And she told them it’s better to get married to somebody who have a disability and has accepted and is able to cooperate than someone who acquired disability in a later age. And she reminded them that all of them are temporary able and no one knows what will happen next,” he said.

When I asked what challenges they face in their relationship, Samuel said, “There are no particular. We make it work. We are making it work but there are external challenges. Some people still mock her for marrying me, and they call her ‘the wife of blind man.’ Some people even think she’s exploiting me.”

Shortly after Samuel married Nicoline in 1998, he started an organization called Hope Social Union for the Visually Impaired in 2003.  He said he started the organization “to restore hope to visually impaired based on my experience and exploit.”  Then, he founded the CUAPWD in 2005.  Samuel shared interesting reasons why he started CUAPWD: “When I was president of Hope Social Union for the Visual Impaired, I realize there was negative competition among associations and leaders, and there was exploitations of persons with disabilities. So that’s why the Coordinating Unit was formed. The Coordinating Unit of Association for Persons with Disabilities was established to create a platform for a dialogue among leaders and associations for us to be able to compliment each other and direct resources credibly to all persons with disabilities both in urban and rural communities so that they can have a voice to promote the rights for an inclusive society for all. “

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April 20th, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

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Kate sitting next to her little shop stall

Kate, a woman with disability who is in her 40’s is often found everyday sitting by her little shop stall.  When I asked her what kind of disability she has, she stated “I have weak legs.”  As I continued to interview her, I learned that she was born with knock knees which were corrected when she was five years old.  Even though she had the surgery, she continued to struggle to walk, and actually didn’t even have a walking stick to assist her for most of her life.   She said, “I would walk and fall and walk and fall.”  She finally received a walking stick a few years ago from an association from the US who donated it to her.  She told me that when she received the walking stick, “It has made walking easier for me.”

She is also nearsighted. She never wore glasses as she and her parents never had money for glasses.

She went to primary school and part of secondary school. She could not complete secondary school because her nearsightedness and lack of glasses made learning difficult.  Throughout her schooling years, she faced bullying due to her disability.  “My classmates would mock me,” she said, “They would call me ‘blind girl’ and say ‘you cannot walk straight.'”

“They would stigmatize me,” she added.  When her classmates teased her, Kate said that she responded by saying “God made me like this.”

“I was not able to make any friends.”

When I asked her, ” Did you face any challenges in walking to school?” She responded, “Ooooh yes!  I moved slower.” She took a longer time to go to school. She had to miss many days of school because of her struggle to walk. The school was far from the home. She missed more school days during rainy season because the road was too slippery, and she would fall more easily. She faced many injuries just from falling down. She showed me many scars that she has on her legs.

When she dropped out of secondary school, she went to training in embroidery. But she was not able to make it her job because she was not successful in getting people interested in buying her embroideries.  For several years, she had no job. She relied on her family and a nearby hospital for support.

One year ago, an NGO provided her small loans to start a small business in selling food, candies and cigarettes. Her business is going well. “I got clothes for myself. I was able to feed my children. The business makes me happy and feel I’m not isolated,” Kate said. Before Kate started her business, there were many days when her children were starving.

Kate had two children out of wedlock. Her children have different fathers. She has a daughter, Zilah, who is 17 years and her father abandoned Kate when she became pregnant.  Then he died in a moto bike accident when the daughter was six years old. He provided no child support. Her son, Tordol, is 21 years. His father accepted Kate’s pregnancy.  However, Kate said, “He left me because my son was disabled. When he discovered my child was disabled, he just left.”  She has never heard from her son’s father since he left her.  Both children have never met their fathers.

Kate said both fathers were accepting of Kate as a woman with disability, and she was in a relationship with each of them for two years each.  “When my father died in 1985, I had no one to provide for me,”  Kate said.  She said that she looked for a man to support her and that is why she chose to have a relationship even though both men abandoned her.

Her son, Tordol has hearing loss, visual impairment and problems with his legs. When I walked in their home, I saw Tordol sitting next to the TV, and he had his ears up against the speakers so that he could hear.  He walks with crutches. He also can’t speak well, which is likely due to his hearing loss. He never went to school. “I don’t have money to send him to school, and I don’t have money to buy him hearing aids. And so I decided to keep him at home,” said Kate.

When I asked Kate what did her son do growing up since he didn’t go to school, she said, “He did nothing.” Her son doesn’t help with any household work. Kate does all the cleaning and cooking.  Tordol also often sits outside with Kate by her little shop stall, which is located next to their home.

Her daughter is in secondary school and hopes to be a banker. Kate pays for her school fees. Her business helps pay her daughter’s school fees.

When I asked her why it’s important for her daughter to go to school, she said, “Because I am handicap and if she goes to school, she can get work and help me.”

Then she added, “If there is money for my son to go to school, I would be very happy.”

“If somebody can help me send my son to school and my daughter to university, I’ll be very happy and God will be very happy.”

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Tordol listening to the television

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April 17th, 2016 by | Tags: | 2 Comments »

Peace Corps service is a time when we spend two years living in a life that is so different from what we have lived in the United States. It is truly one of the toughest jobs we love doing. To help my readers better understand our experiences and life, I created various graphs that describe them.

50-50

rateofimpact

feelings

proposals-weddings-funerals

initiatingaproject

travel-time

dreams

laundry

books-movies

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April 13th, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

During the last seven months of my Peace Corps service, I am featuring photographs and stories of several persons with disabilities living in Cameroon. All the photos are part of a series called “Persons with Disabilities of Cameroon.” The goal of presenting photographs and their stories is to create better awareness about the plights that persons with disabilities face in a developing country. When I return to the US, I hope to exhibit this series in a gallery and publish a book to educate others about persons with disabilities living in developing countries as this topic is so rarely discussed in the media.

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The son of Joseph, Albert, happens to have a disability too.  His disability was caused by polio which he had when he was two years old in 1974.  “He was already standing and walking before he became sick,” said his father.  His father and mother who happened to be a midwife working in the hospital took him to the hospital for examination when their son fell ill.

When the parents took Albert to the hospital and learned that he had contracted polio, according to Joseph, the doctor told him and his mother that 22 other children who were living in a special compound for police officers and families called “police barracks” in Buea became ill with polio too.  Albert and his family were living in police barracks when Joseph was working as a police officer.

After Albert had polio, he could no longer stand and walk but he relearned to walk and stand.  He can walk with a limp.  All other 22 children from the police barracks became disabled too.  Joseph said that three of them walked on their knees while the rest walked with a limp like Albert.

When he was in primary school, children made fun of him by imitating the way he walked.  He completed primary school but didn’t go to secondary school.  His father didn’t have money for secondary school because he was suspended from police job for five years.  The suspension was related to when he took the case to high court in Yaounde.

Albert cannot play sports.  When he works, he has chest pains and pain in his legs due to difficulty standing up for a long period of time.  He works as a carpenter.  He feels that he takes longer time to finish work than a person without disability.  This results in making fewer items and earning less money.  He said he would like to be able to buy certain machines that he cannot afford to buy.  He added that he wishes he could drive a moto bike or a car but he can’t because he can’t push the breaks.

He also said that he feels the pressure of high expectation to bring in a good amount of money for the family.  He is married with four small children. He struggles to do farm work because it’s physically challenging.

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April 11th, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

During the last seven months of my Peace Corps service, I am featuring photographs and stories of several persons with disabilities living in Cameroon. All the photos are part of a series called “Persons with Disabilities of Cameroon.” The goal of presenting photographs and their stories is to create better awareness about the plights that persons with disabilities face in a developing country. When I return to the US, I hope to exhibit this series in a gallery and publish a book to educate others about persons with disabilities living in developing countries as this topic is so rarely discussed in the media.

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When first entering the home of Joseph, I saw him outside of the house doing yard work.  The way he was doing yard work was unusual.  He was sitting on a small bench and sweeping the dirt while sitting on the bench.  To move, he would lift the bench while he is on it with both hands and move a few centimeters forward.

After he finished his yard work, I entered inside his residence.  He lives in an unfinished dark one room that is attached to his son’s house.  The floors and walls are unfinished.  The floor is nothing but dirt.  In the room, there is a bed with a mosquito net, a wood stove for cooking, a bookshelf and a couple small benches.  This gentleman stays in this room all day and everyday except when he goes outside for a few minutes to do yard work.  He leaves his compound only once a month when he goes to the hospital.

Joseph was a police officer for 27 years.  He worked for the Cameroonian government in three regions, Northwest, Southwest, and East.  When he turned 50 years old in 1992, he had to retire because of the age limit for police officers.  It’s a policy in Cameroon.  If he had a higher status such as principal or commissioner, he could have worked until 55 or 60 years respectively.

When he retired, he switched to small farming.  Even though retirement benefits exist for police officers in Cameroon, he did not receive any benefits due to taking a case to the court.  The case was about wrongly killing a prisoner.  Joseph and other police officers were able to prove in high court in Yaounde and General Delegation for National Security that the commissioner did indeed wrongly kill the prisoner.  Because they won the case, other commissioners at the police office where he worked at the time wrote bad records about Joseph that resulted in cutting retirement benefits.

In 2009, one day, long after Joseph retired, he all of a sudden was shaking and fell and hit his right hip.  He broke his right hip.  He did not go to the doctor.  He had no money for medical care.  He never received an x-Ray or any kind of assessment or treatment.  He can no longer stand up and walk.  He also cannot move his right leg.  He feels pain all the time in his right hip and upper part of the right leg.  “I feel pain all the time,” he said.  As a result, he can only move by sitting on a small bench and lifting and pushing himself on the bench.

Even though Joseph has never seen a doctor for his hip issue, he goes to the hospital once a month to see a doctor for diabetes and hypertension.  When I asked him why he has money for diabetes and hypertension, but not for his hip, he explained that he can afford to pay for diabetes and hypertension but not his hip issue.  He said that he pays 10,000 CFA (USD$ 17) once a month for transportation, doctor, medicines, and lab tests.  He said to pay for the hip issue, it costs a lot more money and it’s not affordable.  The money comes from his savings that he saved during his time as a police officer and good “Samaritan” who stopped by his home and gave him money.  His son, Albert, brings a moto bike driver to the front door of his home.  He helps him get on the moto bike and takes him to the hospital and bring him back home.  This is the only time he leaves his compound.

When Joseph broke his hip, he had to give up his work on the small farm owned by his son that is located in another part of Bamenda.  Albert brought him to his compound to live with the family so that he could get help.

When I asked Joseph what is his biggest barrier, he said, “I cannot move anywhere.  I cannot go to church.  I cannot watch football with the crowds. I cannot go anywhere.  I want any help I can get to fix my hip.”

He then added,  “When my family, my nephew, died. I could not go to the funeral.”

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