Our last rural visit took us to Njinikom, a small rural village perched on a lush green hill, one hour north of Bamenda. As we had done for our previous rural visits, Emmanuel, Helah and I boarded a two-door vehicle –called ‘motto’ by Cameroonians– and started our day-trip in the early morning. However, that day was scheduled to be clean-up and manual work day in Bamenda meaning that taxis could only start loading their passengers after 11am.We and the 5 other people jam-packed inside the taxi took a back road to avoid being controlled by the local police. Throughout our stay in Bamenda, I have noted that most Cameroonian police and army officers are francophone. From my personal observation, the francophone Cameroonians maintain a dominant relationship towards the anglophone Cameroonians. The Cameroonian government is undoubtedly taking some preventive measures in order to curtail any type of dissent from the anglophone opposition by ensuring that the Northwest Province is under tight control. Not before long, we were stopped by one of those ‘routiers’ who gave our taxi driver a difficult time. But this was quickly resolved by a bribe disbursed to this enforcement officer.
In Njinikom, we were kindly welcomed by a couple of women who participated in the HIV/AIDS training and soon after proceeded with a focus group session including women’s group representatives, ‘second-class’ local chiefs and teachers. To meet one of our deliverables for Nkumu Fed Fed –which consist of carrying out a participatory evaluation of the HIV/AIDS campaign– we are conducting focus groups and one-to-one interviews with key stakeholders who are asked to share their experiences and potential recommendations to improve future interventions. The participants expressed their concern about some of the hardest cultural practices to change: they identified widow inheritance practices as the most difficult cultural practice to modify; most participants raised some concerns about the treatment of People Living With Aids (PLWA) who are still heavily stigmatized by their community; additionally, children whose parents have died of AIDS are often marginalized within their communities.
Various key recommendations emanated from our discussions. First, a key target group seems to have been missed by the HIV/AIDS initiative: the youth. One of the teachers explained that discussing safe sex practices constitute a great challenge for parents and youths alike. Sex talk is still very taboo in rural communities. As such, developing strategies to encourage the youth to participate in the HIV/AIDS campaign and provide trainings to parents so that they can engage with their children about safe sexual practices are key initiatives for the continuation of this project. Second, various participants expressed the need for a better follow-up both in terms of providing trainers with outreach materials and conducting additional trainings to consolidate trainers’ knowledge. Finally a feedback loop should be put in place to ensure that trainers and community members have the opportunity to ask questions to Nkumu Fed Fed lead-trainers.
Throughout our discussion about HIV/AIDS prevention, various participants seemed uneasy about “preaching” the usage of condoms. One woman explained that abstinence is the best prevention measures against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Probably seeing the surprised look on my face, Emmanuel whispered in my ear that the inhabitants of Njinikom are dedicated Christians; as such, condom usage is only acceptable as a last resort. The tensions between religion and the HIV/AIDS campaign highlighted the complexity of it all. The people we met in Njinikom have an incredible leverage and can really influence their community’s actions and worldviews. Nonetheless, they are appropriating the HIV/AIDS campaign and making it fit their religious values. So how do you carry out an effective HIV/AIDS campaign while sustaining alliances with key community members whose worldviews are rooted in certain religious beliefs? Like anything in the development world, this too will take incremental changes.
Posted By Johanna Paillet
Posted Aug 14th, 2009