As we wrap up the 16 Days of Activism campaign, I would like to reflect on our recent visit to Cameroon, which took place on November 11-15. Vital Voices and our partner AEquitas traveled to Cameroon, where we simultaneously held two training courses in the cities of Buea and Douala. These were the third and fourth trainings in Cameroon following our Institute model, but this was the most exceptional week of the program since it started in 2010.
Justice Prudence Galega, of Nku’mu Fed Fed led the charge, traveling between Douala and Buea to help us at both sites. She delivered a powerful lecture on how the criminal justice system should distinguish between human trafficking and cultural practices such as sending children to relatives in urban centers to study or work.
In Buea, Prudence tag-teamed with Nku’mu Fed Fed’s national vice president, Beatrice Titanji, to demonstrate best practices for police and prosecutors to interview human trafficking victims. These two women leaders made the situation come alive to the police and prosecutors in the room through a lively role-play incorporating local colloquialisms and cultural factors.
“The child, man or woman that you underpay because he or she is poor, the house girl you recruit to take care of your kids and who soon becomes your cook, washer girl or “mbanya,” is a trafficked person. Trafficking in persons is modern day slavery.”
– Beatrice Titanji, National Vice President, Nku’mu Fed Fed
More impressive than the lively discussions was the commitment of the participants. Judges, police officers, prosecutors, social workers and NGO leaders told me that they had never attended a training course that incorporated a multidisciplinary focus.
They said they don’t often have the opportunity to sit and discuss their work together – a critical step to build a coordinated community response that can effectively support both the victim and the pursuit of justice for these crimes.
Before this training, each sector focused their attention on their own roles in the fight to end human trafficking. Now, they are beginning to see the issue through the eyes of their partners and can brainstorm ways to collaborate more effectively on individual cases and to create systems to ensure effective delivery of justice. Most importantly, they were increasing their ability to see this crime through the eyes of their victims and to understand their victims’ needs. Attitudes were beginning to change.
Toward the end, Nku’mu Fed Fed took the floor to speak about their work to run centers for victims and efforts to empower women and girls. Now, I have worked with criminal justice professionals in many places – the U.S., many African countries, Mexico – and I was about to see something I had never seen before in any training. Participants began to reach into their own pockets. By the end of the week, Nku’mu Fed Fed had received significant donations for their work in Cameroon.
In Buea, when we organized a regional task force and met with about 25 participants, they saw funding as a great challenge to continuing to collaborate effectively. By the end of the half-day session, participants had personally chipped in $400 USD toward the fight. To me, this was very telling. They were so committed to ending trafficking that they were willing to give up not only their time and energy, but their money, as well. I was overwhelmed by this dedication, and I look forward to seeing its results.
Special thanks to the Prime Minister’s Office, the local Governors, Mayors, U.S. Embassy representatives, Attorney General’s Office representatives, STRATEGIES, and the many others who helped make these trainings happen.
Image at top of page: Participants at the Institute for the Investigation and Prosecution of Human Trafficking, in Buea, Cameroon.