On February 3, 2015, the young people of Cameroon lost one of their most passionate, indefatigable, and strategic champions, and the International Women’s Health Coalition lost a long-time partner. Damaris Mounlom, Coordinator at FESADE (Femmes-Santé-Développement, or Women, Health, and Development) worked tirelessly to protect and promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in Cameroon as well as in other parts of Francophone Africa.
As Coordinator, Damaris brought to FESADE her long and distinguished experience in training nurses and other health personnel in the national health services school and her enormous network of connections to policy-makers, ministry programmers, and public and private sector practitioners across the country (many loyal former students).
IWHC began its partnership with Damaris and FESADE in 1994, when a first grant was made to support the development of a sexuality education curriculum that covered issues such as anatomy, self-esteem, leadership, and traditional practices. The curriculum was tested over a four-year period with 125 adolescents at their Center for Youth in Yaoundé. A second curriculum which substantially expanded on the first and featured a stronger sexuality and gender equality focus was endorsed in 2007 by government health and education ministries, and piloted in more than 60 schools in two regions.
As a parent herself, Damaris recognized the need to strengthen communication between parents and youth around issues of adolescent sexuality and reproductive health. The FESADE team developed a companion curriculum for parents of students receiving sexuality education to both allay their fears about what their children would be taught and to educate the parents themselves.
Damaris was gracious, quick to laugh—including at herself—genuinely delighted and proud of the work of the young peers and other allied groups which linked FESADE to rural communities. When I would visit, she made sure that I was well taken care of, offered a driver, fed me traditional Cameroonian fare, and shared the wisdom of a woman and grandmother who had seen much change in her country. When my son was born, she sent both brilliantly colored baby clothes in traditional prints and a local instrument which served as a tiny guitar but also an educational tool about her country and work.
She will be greatly missed, but she leaves an enormous and strong legacy and several generations of equally well-trained and passionate advocates.