Hadassah Foundation Cameroon: The Journey

As the Executive Director of ADAA, I am always thrilled when we realize our work is making a difference and that we are reaching farther and wider. So, when the Hadassah Foundation, a mental health organization in Cameroon, contacted ADAA with a request to access our free member-created, publicly available, evidence-based resources, we not only acquiesced, we collaborated.  

I am excited to introduce this new partnership, which shows the tremendous reach our members have to address mental health issues not just in the United States, but across the globe. Hadassah Foundation members are mental health professionals working in underserved communities in Cameroon as well as with internally displaced people. We are proud to welcome them as members of the ADAA community.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Ayuk Etongo, the Executive Director of the Foundation, who will share details about the work and mission of the organization.

Hadassah Foundation Cameroon: The Journey

Hadassah Foundation is an NGO in Cameroon (registration number 109/G.37/C84/VOL1/SASC), created in response to the traumatic circumstances affecting internally displaced persons and the host population, due to the ongoing crisis in the West African nation. Our objective is to enhance wellbeing, empower people, and build resilience. We work to promote mental health, offer counselling and psychosocial support for internally displaced persons and host populations, as well as gender-based violence survivors. 

The journey of the NGO began when I moved from Finland back home to Cameroon in 2017. In Finland, I had worked with the Finnish Red Cross as a counselor for refugees, in particular during the European “Refugee Crisis” of 2015. When I returned to Cameroon at the end of 2017, the current conflicts and crises in my country were quickly unfolding. 

As a native of the southwest region, I saw many children, whose parents were killed in the crossfire, become homeless. These internally displaced children were sent to orphanages around the Buea township area where I lived. When I visited the Hotpec orphanage in early 2018, I was drawn by the need to enhance the mental wellbeing of these children. With a friend, I contacted other orphanages, and we began to visit them, offering counselling sessions to the children. We also created life-skills trainings, assistance for coping in times of crisis, and resilience-building education to strengthen their psychological wellbeing. 

Seeing the positive impact on these internally displaced youth, I reflected on what Mother Theresa once said: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” This was how Hadassah Foundation’s work started in Cameroon.

Our Work and Reach 

With a vast number of internally displaced persons in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon (northwest and southwest), we continue to reach more children, youth, and adults. We also work with the host populations who are affected by the violence. We collaborate with schools, where we provide sessions on anger management, bullying, conflict resolution, substance abuse, and other issues. 
Peer support is an important part of our work, and we offer sessions for single mothers to support their mental health needs. In addition, we have one-on-one counselling for gender-based violence survivors, people experiencing PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other co-occurring mental health conditions.

#Breakingthestigma with Mental Health Awareness

Because of armed conflict, many people in Cameroon have seen their loved ones killed in front of them, resulting in grief, trauma, and helplessness. Gender-based violence is far too prevalent and has a huge psychological impact. At Hadassah Foundation, we prioritize mental health promotion and awareness. There is a lot of stigma and misconceptions around mental health issues, with people in small towns or rural areas not getting facts and information. Some still attribute mental health issues to witchcraft or spiritually related beliefs. 

We are thankful that the World Health Organization is promoting mental health in the country, but Cameroon’s government only amended the mental healthcare policy in 2016. And mostly urban dwellers in the main cities like Yaounde and Douala have access to mental health / psychiatric care and understand that mental health is as important as physical health. This inequity is why we are set on raising awareness in more remote areas. We have contacted community organizations, churches, schools, orphanages, and disability centers and plan to start hosting awareness sessions this fall to reach more people in rural areas.

Partnering with ADAA

This partnership is extremely helpful in providing us with resources to expand our work in raising mental health awareness. Resources related to PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance and eating disorders, and therapeutic interventions for gender-based violence, as well as having ADAA member clinicians speak with our team, will all build our capacity to better offer services to our clients.

We continue to do what we can with a staff made up mostly of dedicated volunteers. However, reaching a wider audience requires more resources: transportation, projectors for sessions and workshops, printing flyers, and distributing pamphlets, to name a few. We are incredibly grateful for how far we have come and how much we have accomplished, but we realize that to reach and help more people, we need assistance. Assistance that will go a long way as we remain committed to improving the mental, emotional, and psychological wellbeing of people in our communities. With ADAA, we hope to attain that help and gain a very special connection. 

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