Home away from home for Cameroonians in an ethno-cultural association

2010-05-12 14:32

 “Our association enables us to feel at home; to be attached not only to our country but also to our culture. We undergo pressure on a daily basis and the association is the only platform where we can find relief,” says Kengne Leopold, a member of the Association de la Grande Mifi en Afrique du Sud (AGMASS), a Cameroonian association which has been established for 10 years.

Besides AGMASS, there are other ethno-cultural associations which group members from different regions of Cameroon with a common heritage such as native language, culture, traditions and ancestral customs, to name just a few.

As Stephan Tchitcho, a member of the Ndé association, put it: “We will not forget what underpins our essence because we are in a foreign land – I mean the culture of living together and assisting one another.”

This explains why a new Cameroonian immigrant who arrives does all it takes to join his or her ethnic association in order to network and socialise. These ethno-cultural associations provide new immigrants with social support, decreasing their feeling of loneliness and orienting them in their integration into their new environment.

Without such social supports in place, immigrants from Cameroon will face challenges in meeting basic needs such as housing, education, employment and health. The number of Cameroonians who receive the support of ethno-cultural associations is considerable. These associations have witnessed many Cameroonians who, for one reason or another, refuse to get involved with their community of origin. After they have faced some difficulties such as the death of family members, they reconsider the cultural values of togetherness.

One of the advantages of belonging to an association is receiving financial assistance. This is the case of Jeanne, a member of AGMASS who testifies to this: “When I arrived here I knew no one, but I was directed to AGMASS, where I received financial support as a registered member to begin my business and which I repaid in installments after some months.”

This assistance is more visible when a member dies, loses someone, gives birth or gets married.

The whole community mobilises to console or celebrate, as the case may be. Those who do not contribute or are unjustifiably absent are penalised. Not only adults are exposed to this idea of togetherness and solidarity – even children are brought to the association from time to time to enable them to learn and participate in the activities of the group through dance, songs, displays of traditional dishes and folk lore, for instance, which is the way of living in Cameroon.

Unlike in the past, where these associations were based on regions, they are currently splitting into the various villages due to the recent growth in the number of Cameroonians in South Africa.

This explains why there are now more than 30 Cameroonian associations in Johannesburg.

The establishment of these associations far from home originated in the custom of belonging from childhood. Despite their diversity, these associations share almost the same objectives, which are gathering their people, developing solidarity and mutual assistance among them, facilitating the integration of their people into Gauteng and promoting their culture.

In a nutshell, ethno-cultural associations do have an important role to play in developing and supporting communities.

If all Cameroonians living in South Africa and the diaspora as a whole could unite under the umbrella of ethno-cultural associations, the pressure of being a foreigner would be reduced.

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