2007 Cameroon, Africa

2007 Cameroon, Africa

Cameroon Africa Mission


Cameroon. Yes, it is in Africa, near the Equator, on the west coast of central Africa, a neighbor of Nigeria. We flew into Douala and drove to our two mission towns — Kumba and Bamenda — which are in the English-speaking North West province. On one day of R&R, we drove 30K north west to beautiful, hilly, volcanic Awing Village (Altitude 1,500m) where we visited the extended family of the Ngandos, Dr. Anwi and her mum, Mary.

We had the unique experience of seeing the pride and delight of reuniting family members, long separated by thousands of miles and six years. We were welcomed by His Majesty Paul Fozo’o II, the area leader, also a relative. The area is the Awing Fondom; he is the Fon.
We were met with singing, dancing, dinner, gifts of beautiful traditional clothing and a welcoming basket of corn. And, signifying peace, small branches of green leaves. Being one of the few white persons he’d seen, this Granny admits to scaring a toddler. He peeked from behind his sibling with whom I was shaking hands, and there I was, wayyy too close.

With so much need in Africa, VOSH-Southeast chose Cameroon. Anwi expressed a wish to someday hold a clinic in her homeland, similar to the 2006 VOSH clinic in Ethiopia. Then, in Minnesota, Dr. John Spencer and Mary Tjosvold talked about Cameroon and her work there. Our mission was born. In their bios, read about just a few of our memorable patients. We saw more than 3,500 patients, including a group of 120 young children. Mary Tjosvold, of Mary T. Inc., her mother; and friends who were also volunteering with The Heifer Project joined our clinic efforts.

Our sponsors were Mary Tjosvold of Mary T. Inc; Dr. Henry Njkoi of the Heifer Project, (www.heifer.org); Dr. Valentine Lah, of Noah’s Ark, and Angels of Mercy. In Kumba we lived in a Presbyterian Church camp. In Bamenda, we were with the nuns in the Franciscan Retreat Center. To be nearer the airport, our last night was on the sea coast, at a hotel in Limbe..

Wherever we went, we were well fed. Plantains in Cameroon are soft and tasty. We had rice, potatoes, chicken, fish, goat, egg plant (aubergine), many other veggies, and liquid pepper for our eggs. Favorites were fever grass tea, as well as a green called “huckaberry.” We saw rubber and Dole banana plantations, coffee, guava, cassava, date and coconut palms, and palms for palm wine.

The people of Awing Village grow eucalyptus trees which are harvested for wood products. Houses are made of wood boards, cement/stucco or mud bricks, with a tin roof. Metal shipping containers are often repurposed as small stores. Extremely memorable are the potholes in the unpaved roads. A VW could fit in some of them. We circled around and lurched through and sometimes got off the bus. Much road work is done with hand labor, including the (fine) road into Awing Village. At dusk and at night, headlights are often used only to flash at on-coming vehicles. People often carry things on their heads. I saw school backpacks, dishpans of produce, a meat grinder, even a car battery. Motorcycle taxis are common as are small curbside booths for cellular phone updates.

Thanks to our photographer, Ed Brame, we’ve over 400 photos online
Click to see Cameroon Photos

Also ask to see our videos of our visit to Awing Village.


Charles Covington was our group leader. Charlie is a retired Audit Manager from the American Automobile Association. Since 1995, he has led numerous VOSH-Southeast missions. He is also Treasurer of VOSH-International, the parent group of VOSH-Southeast. He resides in Lake Mary, Florida, has two daughters, one son, and seven grandchildren.

Dr. John Spencer, our clinic director, is an optometrist with Allina in Minnesota. He practices in a West St. Paul multi-specialty group setting. He and Marguerite have six children. This was at least his seventh VOSH mission. For two years he taught at U. Auckland, New Zealand. For our mission, he recruited his former student, Hunter Hill.

Dr. Anwi Ngando moved from Cameroon to the U.S. as a teen. Presently residing in Chicago, and the primary O.D. with Visionwork, River Oaks Center, IL, she is a 2007 graduate of the Illinois College of Optometry. She interned with VOSH-Southeast in Ethiopia. She considers herself more than fortunate to have the opportunity to return to Cameroon with VOSH — a mission close to her heart. It was significantly meaningful to her because the people were very appreciative of our services. Expressions of gratitude were provided in ways that have been familiar since childhood. For instance, gifts of detailed traditional clothing and invitations to visit homes.

Dr. Dzejna Mezbur is from Bosnia and Herzegovina and came to the U.S. in 1996. She has a B.S. degree from U-IL, Chicago, and a doctorate of optometry from Illinois College of Optometry in 2003. While working for her degree, she volunteered in four missions in Chicago. In 2006, her first international mission was to Honduras with VOSH-Indiana. “Jenna” states that while she is grateful to once again be a part of a mission that treated some thousands of patients, she will most remember the manner in which they showed gratitude. They said, “We have so little to give.” yet they shared so much of their culture. She is overjoyed to have had the opportunity to have given and received so much.

Dr. Hunter Hill hails from the far south of the South Island of New Zealand where he is an optometrist. Our trip provided him with many firsts: a VOSH trip; a trip to Africa; and a first time to hear the delightful Cameroonian Top Top song and dancing. “Huntah” says he had a stupendous experience with great memories. He will always remember his apprentices, Blessing and Toni, from the Kumba clinics. After their eye tests, 14-yr Blessing and 9-yr old Toni helped him for several hours with translation, seating patients and, yes, “with his hair.” He sincerely hopes he will get another opportunity to return to Cameroon and help in whatever way he can.

Dr. Calvin Dalton calls the state of Georgia home. He received his bachelor’s degree in bio-med sciences at Western Mich U. He graduated from Illinois College of Optometry in 2004, returned to Georgia, where with a partner, he started his first practice in 2005. With a team, he now manages and sees patients at five locations that specialize in many areas of optometry. This was his first VOSH trip and he enjoyed it very much. One patient stood out from the rest. A youth who had congenital glaucoma which had enlarged his eyes very markedly. At age 4 mos. he had had surgery which saved his eye sight. However, no one ever tried to correct his vision. Sadly, at age 9 yrs, he had never experienced seeing clearly past the end of his nose. As one could imagine, he was very timid and introverted. After doing his exam, which included ensuring the glaucoma surgery was still successful, Calvin put a pair of glasses on the boy’s face. The boy was able to see his mother at arm’s length for the first time and he began to touch her face and smile. His mother gave us big hugs and started to cry. There’s no telling how huge of an impact our VOSH trip made in the life of that boy and his family. Calvin says, “I thank Charles Covington and the whole VOSH-Southeast team for making it possible for me to be a part of their team.”

Dr. Tessa Sokol is a Wisconsinite who graduated from the U-WI, at Madison, with a bachelor’s degree in biology. She then attended the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, where she met Dzejna, Anwi and Calvin. She, Dzejna, and others went to Honduras with VOSH-Indiana. After that amazing experience, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Cameroon with Anwi. Since graduating in May, 2007, from ICO, she has been employed at Costco in northern Georgia. When asked about a memorable moment, it was difficult for Tessa to choose just one. (There was getting locked in a bathroom stall on the first day, cocktails on the veranda, plantains and mackerel.) To her, the people were the most memorable The smiles on their faces at the clinic when she shook their hands and said, “hello.” There were the many sincere thanks we received, and the looks on their faces after receiving their glasses and realizing they could now see faces across a room or read their bible. A favorite was a man who came back after picking up his glasses and said to Tessa, “Thank you Doctor. Now that I can see better, I can go farther.” Tessa wants everyone to know she had a fabulous time meeting and working with all of us.

Maggie Arkinstall. Having recently retired from the construction industry in England, this was her second VOSH mission. She enjoyed Ethiopia in 2006 and decided to join us again. Prior to this mission, she did four weeks of volunteer work caring for chimps at Limbe Wildlife Center, in Cameroon. After our mission, she toured Ethiopia for four weeks, returning to the U.K. for Christmas. Then she was off to Australia to visit her daughter.

Ed Brame is a native of Pittsburgh, PA, graduate of Arizona State U, recently retired and lives in Lake Mary, FL. His career required extensive travel; he’s been in 60+ countries. He and Patricia have a son, a daughter, and one grandchild, Tyler. This was his first VOSH mission. He is signing up for his next one.

John Gehrig, with “forty-seven years of lawyering…” is a retired Deputy County Attorney and lives with his wife, Carla, in Florida. She is also very involved in VOSH-Southeast missions. This was John’s “thirty-something” mission. He and Charlie started VOSH-Southeast in 1996. He says each mission is better than the one before; and Cameroon is very special because of the wonderful people involved, both our VOSH volunteers, who are the best company anyone could ever want and our hosts, who were people with great heart and love for those they serve. And the patients, who trust us with their eyes, and for whom we can do great things, almost effortlessly. Having been at this work for 12 years, John hopes to be allowed to do it another 24.

Judy Johnson is a Minnesotan with four sons and seven grandchildren. She is a retired human resource manager and a retired teacher of English for language learners. Paid or unpaid, that last activity is a favorite. As hard as everyone works on VOSH missions (this was her fourth) and as grateful as she is to return home to rest and quit the Cipro, the clinic results and the people — VOSH and otherwise — met along the way make it absolutely worthwhile.

Caryl “Cookie” Mikrut is mother of five, grandmother of seven, and a retired teacher. When she isn’t traveling with whole wide world, she lives in a suburb of Chicago. (She met Maggie A. when they were roomies in Bhutan.) Cookie’s a veteran of many memorable VOSH missions in more than nine countries. She recently spent a month in Mexico learning Spanish. I’m sure she used it on a subsequent VOSH mission in Nicaragua.

Mary Ngwe Ngando is a native of Awing Village. She was a teacher in the Gov’t H.S., Limbe, S.W. Province of Cameroon, until 1997, when her husband, David Kwa Ngando, won a lottery which gave the family a legal right to live and work permanently in the U.S. After selling their possessions to raise the necessary money, David, Mary, and their three youngest children, came to the U.S. Their two oldest children, being more than 21 years of age, didn’t qualify and still live in Cameroon. Mary lives in Oregon and works at a retirement home/retreat center. Thanks to Anwi’s recruitment, Mary and her friends, Hannah and Denise, joined our mission.

Duane Sackett, Ed.D. of Independence, WI is married to Ruth; and, they have five daughters. He is a retired professor and dean of Temple University In Philadelphia. He conducts workshops for foreign language teachers of English. This was his eighth VOSH mission. He has been to 107 countries. At home he serves on his local City Council.

Stanley Mataichi Sagara. Born to parents from Japan, he was raised in central Washington state, on the Yakima Indian reservation. He served in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions in the European Theater in WWII. He was a special investigator in the US Air Force with primary duties in the Far East with stations in Japan and Korea. Stan is also a retired US Military Criminal Investigator with Navy Civil Service. He served aboard the USS Constellation (CV64) in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. He’s been a private investigator in Coos Bay, Oregon, and a member of the Coos Bay Lions Club. A member of VOSH for 17 years, he has worked on at least 20 missions. Stanley lives at the Armed Forces Retirement Center in Washington, D.C. where he has arranged for VOSH folk to stay in guest quarters, prior to flights.

Hannah Hurdle Toomey. As she wrote it in first person, here is her bio. “It is difficult for me to write biographical sketches because those who know me also know about me. Those who do not know me don’t care anyway. What I perceive myself to be might not be reality. Suffice it to say there are a few things about me that I consider unique. My father was born into slavery in 1845. I was born 87 years later. In this electric and electronic age, I do not have a cell phone, e-mail nor computer! I prefer to live in tranquility and calm without ‘widgets’ interrupting me. I spend hours (5 – 7) each day writing two books about my fruitful life as a pastor/missionary/pastor-developer. My handwriting is worse than Egyptian hieroglyphics. I am happiest when I am traveling, serving humanity and living my life to the fullest.” After our mission, Hannah preached in a congregation in Limbe.

Denise Williams was born in Philadelphia, attended Temple University, majored in psychology, and decided she wanted a career in the criminal justice field. She works with mental health clients with substance abuse issues. Nine years ago, one of her three children became an engineer and was recruited by Intel, so she moved to Oregon. Denise enjoyed the trip and looks forward to another one in the near future. She learned a great deal and met many interesting people. After our mission, Denise, as a drug and alcohol counselor, gave a talk to the people of Good Samaritan Ministry in Limbe.

Finally, As John Gehrig so aptly stated, “We are so blessed to be able to do this. Who could stay home?”

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