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A selection ...
Arnold N., 10 years, pupil
Arnold N. is 10 years old and attends first grade in Batouri, a village in the "East" (L'Est) region of Cameroon. L'Est belongs one of the four poorest regions.
The region is mainly covered by forests and has hardly any infrastructure. Part of the population of the east, including the Pygmies, are still hunters and gatherers and live off what they find in the forests. Since hunting has been banned for some time, poverty is spreading very rapidly.
Arnold lives in a large family with five siblings (another sibling is deceased) who are between one and 14 years old. His father is a farm labourer, his mother a housewife.
Arnold was already born with a disability. In contrast to his left leg, his right leg did not grow properly. In everyday life, this handicap is not always easy for him, even though he has come to terms with it. Despite his disability, he has developed fully at school and plays with his classmates like all the other children. Despite his positive approach, Arnold finds himself in a difficult situation. For example, Arnold's school is more than 10km away from his parents' home. Arnold walks this distance every day on crutches.
Through the help of a faith community, contact was made with René Essomba. As the leg would not develop any further in the coming years, Dr Essomba suggested an amputation, with the aim of fitting Arnold with a prosthesis as soon as possible.
After the successful surgery, Arnold continues to be confident, which can be easily seen in the pictures. At Bon Secours, Arnold's zest for life and laughter has left a lasting impression.
About ten years ago, Agnès noticed a small swelling on her neck, which has steadily grown bigger and more painful ever since. The goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland, usually due to iodine deficiency) limits the quality of her life on all levels. At work, she always has to make sure to wear a scarf so as not to attract negative attention. Her partner also increasingly distances himself from her. In everyday life, she often feels stigmatised, as many Cameroonians believe that the goitre was caused by witchcraft. Witchcraft (sorcellerie) has a high significance in many African contexts and is taken very seriously. Many of her friends were ashamed to go out with her.
Since Agnès could not pay for an operation due to her small income, Dr René Essomba operated on her free of charge. As you can see from the photo, the goiter has been completely removed. Agnès feels free again to live her life as she did before the swelling.
Josiane Inès A., 35 years old, teacher
Josiane Inès A. lives in the southern district of Nkolndongo in Cameroon's capital Yaoundé. However, the 35-year-old originally comes from Mokolo in a region in the High North. The High North is known in Cameroon for its difficult living conditions, not least because of infiltration by the Boko Haram network. Josiane is a primary school teacher. Although she is married, she has no children, which is generally viewed rather suspiciously in Cameroon and makes life more difficult for the childless.
In 2010, Josiane had an accident while riding a motorbike taxi to work. Motorbike taxis are the most commonly used means of transport in the north, as they are both cheap and can travel well on the poor roads. The poor infrastructure makes many roads inaccessible to cars, especially in the rainy season. The problem is that most Cameroonians drive without protective clothing and often share taxis in threes or fours.
Although Josiane survived the accident, she has since suffered from severe pain in her forearm, which immobilised it. From then on, the chronic pain prevented Josiane from doing her job as a teacher. It is not uncommon for primary school teachers to have to look after up to 100 children per class on their own. Since Josiane could no longer write, she was eventually dismissed. In addition, Josiane's husband was overwhelmed by the situation and left her. Since she could not continue to finance her house and the Cameroonian social system offers hardly any support in cases of illness, Josiane decided to move to Yaoundé to live with her mother. In Cameroon, the relationships within families are so close partly because she stands in as social security.
For Josiane, the move improved little. She suffered greatly from the dependency and felt uncomfortable being a burden to her mother. Her arm did not allow her to do the daily housework. Since most Cameroonians do their dishes and laundry by hand, the workload of one more person is already noticeable. Josiane's pain was also so severe that she could not even dress or wash herself.
In 2010 and 2012, Josiane had two operations in Yaoundé. In both cases, the pain did not improve. As Josiane could not work, she had to go into debt to pay for the operations. The physical pain was increasingly mixed with psychological pain. The failure of the previous operations made Josiane hesitate four years later when Dr Rene Essomba gave her the opportunity to have a third operation. In the end, fortunately, she decided to go for it. Dr Essomba and his team were able to almost completely restore the functionality of the arm.
In the meantime, Josiane is ready to think about the future again. She hopes to be able to work as a teacher again and move into her own flat, and maybe finally start the family she wants.
Francois M., 33, builds drums
Francois M. is 33 years old and lives in Mfou, a village near the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé. He is the father of five children, which corresponds to the national average of 4.8 children, aged 6 to 12. Although his children are from different mothers, they all live with him. Cameroonian law provides that as soon as children reach 7 years of age, fathers are automatically granted custody and thus have the choice to take the children to live with them (even against the mother's will). All the children go to school. Although Francois is not married, he lives with his partner of 27 years. As she currently has no job, he is also responsible for her.
Francois M. builds drums (tam-tam) and pestles (mortiers), which are used to make cassava, yams and other root mash. To find the wood for his work, Francois regularly has to walk several kilometres to the forest. In the forest, he collects cut pieces of wood, which he then brings to Mfou for processing. He often has to do his work without proper safety clothing. Gloves are only occasionally available.
About 10 months ago, Francois noticed swellings on his testicles. Although they were not painful, they were getting bigger and bigger. The swelling prevented him from walking comfortably, making it difficult to do his job. Equally problematic was that the symptoms restricted his sex life. In Cameroon, children have a very high symbolic value. Infertility is often explained as witchcraft.
As Francois' partner did not have any children yet, he was worried whether she would stay with him if he was not able to have more children with her. Not having children at the age of 27 is quite rare in Cameroon. As Francois could not afford treatment, he turned to Dr Rene Essomba. Dr Essmomba diagnosed a hydrocele (a collection of fluid in the testicles), which he operated on the following day. The follow-up examinations showed a good healing process. Francois' partner was particularly pleased.
Francois is thinking of changing his job because of the dangerous working conditions and also to spend more time with his family.
Oloa M., 73 years, farm worker
Due to a misstep and subsequent fall, Oloa has a fracture in the femoral neck area. Lacking the means to treat it, Oloa returned from hospital without treatment. Subsequently, he tried to alleviate his suffering through traditional massages. This type of treatment is criticised among medical practitioners because it is very painful and yet very commonly practised and often leads to aggravation.Oloa's hernia is a common problem among older people. In Europe, such patients usually receive an artificial hip prosthesis. But since such a hip prosthesis is very expensive, hardly anyone in Cameroon can afford it. In addition, there is a lot of misconception about the treatment options, as many Cameroonians think that a fracture of the neck of the femur in old people is not treatable. As a consequence, those affected often live in severe pain for long periods of time, sometimes until death.
After Oloa lived in severe pain for two months, his brother took him to Dr Essomba, who then operated on him. Oloa received a hip prosthesis (see photo after the operation). In the meantime, Oloa can walk again and he has also regained his laughter.
Owona Xavier N., 33 years old, snack bar worker
In August 2013, Owona was hit by a car, which then began a hit-and-run. That people involved in accidents leave the scene is unfortunately often the case. This can be explained, among other things, by the potential costs involved, as many Cameroonians are insufficiently insured or not insured at all. As a result of the accident, Owona had a fractured thigh. Although his family is poor, they pulled out all the stops to have him operated on in a local hospital.
Complications arose due to poor training and outdated surgical techniques. These led to chronic pain because the implant was poorly inserted. Due to this problem, Owona became immobile and needed care.
Owona was then discharged and his girlfriend broke up with him. He had to move back to his parents because he has no social security. Unable to afford a second operation, Owona approached Dr Essomba.The operation went well and Owona is slowly starting to walk again.
With the regained freedom of movement, he also has the courage to think about the future again and wants to look for a new job as soon as possible.
Menye A., 69 years, former policeman
Madame Bella, 57 years, mother/widow
Despite her goitre, which she has had for 30 years, Madame Bella is not shunned or stigmatised by the other villagers. On the contrary, she is appreciated by all and even supported with small allowances.When she finally decides to have her goitre operated on at a local clinic about two years ago, events come to a head. Her husband dies and the money for the operation is stolen from her. Due to this difficult situation, Madame Bella decided to turn to Bon Secours, which she got to know through an acquaintance of her daughter.A few days after meeting Dr Essomba, he operated on Madame Bella's goitre. Since then, the patient has gained new energy because she is no longer dependent on her children.