About My Trip

My African Experience

After graduating from the University of Vermont in May of 2010, I ventured to Cameroon, a country on the Atlantic coast of Africa, on a volunteer medical mission. For a month, I was hosted by Dr. Georges Bwelle, the founder of ASCOVIME, a grassroots organization based in Yaounde, Cameroon, aiming to provide free health care and educational supplies to rural populations in need.

Dr. Georges Bwelle operating at night.

Every Friday for the past 10 years, Dr. Bwelle and Ascovime has loaded up a hired or borrowed van with a team of volunteers and a bunch of medical supplies, and hit the road.

They head for some of the poorest and remote villages in the country where people may have never seen a doctor before. They set up a makeshift “hospital” and first provide locals with personal consultations, then prescribe treatments, and even surgeries under primitive conditions – all of this at no charge. On Sunday afternoon they drive back, mostly because Dr. Georges needs to go to work in Hopital Central in Yaounde, where he is a Ventral (GI) Surgeon.

Next Friday they do it all over again. A different village, a similar group of volunteers, but the same Dr. Georges leading the charge. He keeps going for about 9-10 months a year, every weekend.

My Role: Fund Raiser and Medical Assistant

Before I left for Cameroon, I put together this simple website to raise money to buy medications, surgical supplies, and pay for transportation costs while on the ground in Cameroon.  In addition, I was able to transport donated medical supplies in my luggage, which is invaluable with Cameroon highly restrictive import laws.

While in Cameroon, I spent about 40 hours a week volunteering at the Central Hospital of Yaounde, Diyom-Assi District Hospital, and other hospitals in Yaounde.  Two days a week I was in the operating room all day assisting with surgeries and the other three days I helped with simple outpatient procedures, patient interviews, and general hospital tasks.

Patients Waiting for Consultation

On the weekends, our ASCOVIME team traveled to a rural village and set up a clinic, pharmacy, and OR.  Everyone on the team did everything from setting up desks for consults, stitching up wounds, and filling prescriptions in the pharmacy.  The hours were very long, the weather was hot, and the conditions were very primitive.  But by the time we left the village, over 300 people had seen a doctor, 17 people had a necessary surgery performed, and children learned how to keep themselves healthy.  Past volunteers who had no medical experience were administering injections, assisting in the operating room, and working the pharmacy. For every 10,000 Cameroonian citizens, there are 2 physicians; this was a great opportunity to provide a huge helping hand even with limited experience.

You might ask, “How can I help?”

Kid in Cameroon

My adventure is over now but the fundraising keeps on going.

Currently, all funding for the missions comes from Dr. Georges’ pay at the hospital (doctors make much less than they do here), and from sporadic donations from various folks. It’s really an amazing operation and certainly a rare one in that there is no overhead, no administrative staff, no fancy color brochures or interactive DVD presentations.

Currently Dr. Bwelle personally finances most of the missions himself.  Each mission itself costs about 2 million CFA francs which is about $3,700.  Georges’ salary as a surgeon is less than a $1000 a month, surgeons are viewed as civil servants here in Cameroon.  That leaves a very significant gap. In fact, before I came to Yaounde, he had to cancel one of the biggest trips of the year because of finances.  Bringing cash to this project is guaranteed to make a tremendous difference in the health and education of local people.  However, in talking to Georges, getting medical supplies to him is also invaluable.  So if you know anyone else flying to Cameroon, have them contact us!

Where is Cameroon?

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Why Should You Help?

Appreciative Village Cook

Appreciative Village Cook

There are so many different opportunities to make a difference these days, and many organizations are worthwhile ventures. However, this mission is a unique opportunity to make a big difference with a small contribution.

The organization that oversees this entire operation is headed by Dr. Georges Bwelle, who has not only been financing the majority of these humanitarian aid missions out of his own pocket, as well as volunteering his weekends to all of the missions. This is an indication of how much Georges is committed to his projects and that there are no administrative costs compared to larger organizations.

Georges  is a truly inspiring man, not only because he is a very skilled surgeon but mostly because of his selflessness. Making a contribution to this cause will result in a tangible and direct difference to many people who can’t help themselves.

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