The initial preparation plans to the visit included collecting and packaging essential-items packs for the incarcerated at the prisons. Food packs included sacks of rice and beans, along with several cans of cooking oil. The sense of altruism was strong as we viewed the much-needed items and food packages waiting to be transported on our visit to the prison. There was great engagement among the unionists and leaders preparing their visit to the prison and a great excitement filled the air before leaving the National Office in Yaoundé.
The preparation of the visit started in 2015 and was inspired by activities carried out in Monatélé prison by the Monatélé YMCA Local Union in the center region. Throughout the well-organized program of the day, it was easy to see the great amount of time, energy and enthusiasm spent on the preparation. Everything happened as planned and the steady structure of the visit as well as the big engagement of the unionists made it a great success.
Upon arriving at Mfou Prison, the prisoners welcomed their visitors playing drums in the prison yard with curious and smiling faces. The President of the Senior YMCA Club and Local Union of Biyem Assi , Charles Wondji and Cyrille Chiaze, introduced the program of the day as well as the purpose of the visit and YMCA as a movement.
The principal of the prison welcomed the organization and our National President Dr. Alain Douglas Wandji held a short greeting and welcoming speech to the prisoners. During devotion, a special emphasis on the words of John 8:32-36, particularly the last verse saying: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” created the atmosphere for inspiration and hope to prisoners. This established a connecting bond between the unionists and the prisoners. Everyone in the prison yard that day, listened carefully and harmonic atmosphere emerged, even though this was a new situation for all.
Rigobert Tagne explained the organization’s purpose to create YMCA-clubs in the prison. The aim of these clubs is to establish different kind of opportunities and activities for the prisoners, which in the long-term seek to improve their general level of wellbeing and quality of life. The activities in the clubs will firstly consist of educational trainings with special emphasis on civil rights, community engagement and the responsibilities and opportunities of a Cameroonian citizen.
After the different speeches, an exercise followed, consisting of discussions and interactions between the unionists and the prisoners. Each unionist formed a small group with 5-7 prisoners each. In these groups, a specific part from the Bible was discussed and some groups used the time to interview the prisoners about their situations and conditions. The group discussions were successful, and to an external observer, it was easy to see how these safe and intimate spaces created were a great benefit for both unionists and prisoners. The discussions in the prison yard were marked by a calm and intense atmosphere, which left the unionists and leaders with great hope for the future development of the partnership.
As we experience the blessing of this season, we are reminded that it is our mandate to give hope and restore human dignity as the YMCA in the Africa we Want.
Source: Jana THOMSEN and Emilie GAD, Interns at Cameroun-YMCA