There is a violent crisis underway in Cameroon, and if you haven’t heard a thing about it, you’re not alone. BBC issued a documentary last June about the crisis, “Cameroon Burning: The Unseen War.” Disturbing pictures and video of the violence, torture and killings can easily be found on social channels. And as the violence escalates daily, the people of Cameroon are begging, pleading for intervention.
Yet the international community remains largely silent.
In La Crosse, Wisconsin, ties to Cameroon and its people are strong. Kumbo, Cameroon and La Crosse are sister cities. The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) and Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis (TSSF) of Cameroon have long worked together on initiatives to strengthen both cities. The relationship has been so long, in fact, that as writers, both BackpackMr and I have covered stories related to their joint efforts, and we have both had the honor of meeting TSSF sisters who visit La Crosse.
They are, simply put, wonderful human beings. As if that is a pre-requisite to care. As if you must first be deemed to be a good human before you are extended the right to breastfeed your child without both of you getting slaughtered (note this links to disturbing content). I say that only because it seems too easy in this world for many to discount the pain and suffering of people with a skin color different than one’s own. Visitors from La Crosse who have made the trip to Cameroon, say they are greeted with three words, “You are welcome,” welcomed in to their communities, welcomed into their homes, welcomed at their table. They are so welcoming and kind, one sister said she would pray that BackpackMr would have the chance to visit Cameroon someday.
That was a handful of years ago, and at the time, it seemed entirely within the realm of possibility.
If you want to know how you can help the people of Cameroon, and draw attention to the crisis, be sure to read to the end of this story for several ideas.
Cameroon may be on the other side of the world, but it remains close in our hearts, particularly in the midst of unspeakable horrors: the murder and torture of Cameroonian people, the burning and destruction of villages, and the baffling, continued silence from the rest of the world.
In late April, The FSPA hosted a town hall meting about the crisis in Cameroon, which was also broadcast online and can still be viewed on Facebook. It includes harrowing stories about the realities in the central African country, discussion about what’s being done at a policy level, and a conversation between the mayors of Kumbo and La Crosse.
The story below was published in the Spring 2019 issue of Perspectives, a publication of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. It is republished here with permission.
Slight edits have been made to include more information about ways you can help the people of Cameroon.
All photos have been supplied by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
Crisis a world away in Cameroon hits close to home
for Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
Social media is awash in photos of the dead placed side by side on dirt roads in Cameroon.
The displaced, the endangered and the terrified appeal to the international community to intervene, but their cries seem to fall upon deaf ears.
In mid-February, news spread that armed soldiers had entered the Shisong hospital and searched the cardiac section allegedly to find wounded separatist fighters. Rumors spread that the military had set the hospital on fire, shots were fired and a patient burned alive. As is common in times of crisis and in the age of social media, separating truth from fiction has become difficult.
What is clear is that Cameroon and its people are suffering.
“The international community is doing nothing, and people are getting slaughtered,” says Sister Eileen McKenzie, president of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
The Republic of Cameroon and its problems may seem a world away to many, but for FSPA, the current crisis facing the Central African nation of more than 24 million people hits close to home. Watching from a distance is excruciating, particularly given the shared history of the communities and their personal connections.
The Anglophone Crisis, also known as the Ambazonia War, is an escalating conflict between the French-speaking government of Cameroon and separatists in the Anglophone, or English-speaking territories of Cameroon. The conflict began as far back as the 1960s, with English-speaking Cameroonians protesting marginalization by the French-speaking government. These days, Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis of Cameroon often find themselves caught in the proverbial crossfire. For FSPA, who have a beloved history with TSSF, there is no question of whether to help their sisters in Cameroon and others affected by the crisis; the only question is how.
The need is great. The number of internally-displaced people in the region has increased dramatically with the escalating conflict, whether they are fleeing gunfire near their homes or flocking to stay with family in French-speaking areas that aren’t as dangerous. Some adults have opted to stay home in the midst of the conflict, while sending their children to French-speaking areas to continue their schooling.
Caught in the crossfire
Where does that leave TSSF? Often in the middle. In places like the SSF-run St. Elizabeth’s Catholic General Hospital in Shisong, on the outskirts of Kumbo (the same hospital that soldiers reportedly infiltrated in February), sisters are caring for the most critically injured and sick from both sides of the conflict, as well as providing relief to the displaced. Many of them have no financial means to pay for health care or assistance. Because the sisters are caring for people from both sides of the conflict, they’re often perceived to be at odds with the government’s interests.
“The international community is doing nothing,
and people are getting slaughtered.”
– Sister Eileen McKenzie, president of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
FSPA is closely monitoring the situation and supporting TSSF throughout the crisis in several ways.
The sisters have committed to a monthly financial gift through June 2019 as TSSF try to meet the needs of the displaced and their struggling school system. They’re also working together to create sustainable solutions so that TSSF ministries can continue in spite of the ongoing conflict. One example is working to move a pharmaceutical production unit to a less volatile area so that they can continue their essential health care ministries throughout the region.
Relationships rooted in the Franciscan Common Venture, which accomplished much over 20 years, ended about a year ago when the communities involved determined that they had completed what was theirs to do. But the connection between FSPA and TSSF remains strong.
“Sisters were going back and forth for two decades between the U.S. and Cameroon, and we developed some very important personal relationships,” explains Sister Eileen. “There is just this really deep relationship between our congregations that is rooted in friendship, Franciscanism and the Gospel.”
The sisters entered into a mutual discernment process, trusting that God would show them how their connectedness was to continue, not knowing how dire the situation would become, explains Sister Eileen. “When I was last in Cameroon in March 2018, there was political tension … and then things started to get really hot. The number of displaced persons started to rapidly increase. The number of refugees increased. And family members of sisters we knew were being shot.”
How you can help
FSPA remains committed to helping TSSF through these challenging times, both financially and spiritually. Here’s how you can help.
Sign the petition
FSPA are collecting signatures until May 10 on a petition calling for the Deescalation of Violence in the Western Regions of Cameroon.
Contact your lawmakers
Find your representative and urge them to take action for peace in Cameroon.
You may also contact:
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
4150 O’Neill Federal Building
200 C Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: +1 (202) 225-3599
Fax: +1 (202) 226-5887
Donate to help the TSSF in Cameroon
You can donate online via the FSPA or call (608) 791-5282. You may wish to note that your funds are to help with the TSSF in Cameroon.
Pray for Peace
As always, the sisters welcome you to join them in praying for peace, not only for the people of Cameroon, but throughout the world.
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Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
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