In the Jan. 6 edition of SFR, we interviewed Cameroon native Issa Nyaphaga and Santa Fean Jenny Sanborn about the work of Santa Fe nonprofit Soulful Presence which, coupled with Nyaphaga's Hope International for Tikar People (HITIP), is working to gather crutches and other medical supplies, as well as funds for custom wheelchairs, for impoverished villages in Cameroon. A lack of healthcare and basic medical services has rendered countless Cameroonians disabled, especially from polio and other preventable diseases.
We have lots more information from Nyaphaga, including some of the political cartoons that caused him to be forced into exile from Cameroon in 1996 (some of which, Nyaphaga tells SFR, he had to re-draw because the originals had been destroyed). Below the jump, read more of our exclusive interview.
Click on any cartoon to enlarge it.
What were your cartoons about that so infuriated the government?
They were political. They criticized the government; Cameroon is a very rich country...But it is the most corrupt country in central Africa, so people don't have jobs and people struggle to have three meals a day. Cameroon is also very green, but there is no policy for agriculture...That's one other thing we were talking about in the newspaper. A lot of people got persecuted and some people got killed. I found myself in the police office being tortured to say the name of my friend, because we used to sign with nicknames. We didn't want to sign the newspaper that would be censored, so we signed with nicknames. I was one of the ones who was arrested to say the names of other people, but I didn't want to say so I had to pay that price.
What happened after that?
The court found me guilty—but [drawing cartoons] was my job, it was the only thing I could make money doing. I did it again, but somebody from the government warned me, saying that I should leave, because they were going to get me back and that I was in danger. So my parents and my friends arranged for me to go to Paris for a couple months [in 1996]; But I spent 10 years there because the situation didn't change back home.
What brought you to the United States—more specifically, to Santa Fe?
I moved to America because, as a visual artist, I showed a lot in Paris, but I have two films also—documentaries about me—but [films] didn't have the attention that they have in America. Free Dimensional is a nonprofit that helps parties in distress—like artists in danger. They have networks around the state and around the world. The Santa Fe Art Institute is one of the centers in the network from Free Dimensional, so that's how I ended up here.
Cameroon has had the same president, Paul Biya, since 1982. But he's getting old, though.
What do you think will change once he's gone?
Nothing. I don't want to be in this mood of fear, but you should also understand that Cameroon is very culturally concentrated. The population of 20 million people speaks 260 tribal languages...When politicians try to use the tribes for their own agenda, it can be a mess. You don't hear about Cameroon a lot, but we produce a lot of resources like oil, wood, gold, we have nickel, manganese, everything that goes in the cell phones, but people don't eat three meals a day in the city. You have to live in the village to grow your own food and have your own adobe house, but then you don't have electricity or healthcare. So that's why we're doing this project, to help the people of the rainforest whose voices are not heard.
Is there anyone else doing similar work in Cameroon?
We have other organizations working with us—ASCOVIME is Geroges Bwelle, a local Cameroonian doctor who performs surgeries for farmers, for marginalized populations. He's saying that he's not doing a health project, he's doing an educational project. He came from a poor family and he wants African kids to have an education. So he goes to take care of the parents, and when he does surgery on you, you trust him, and he asks you why your kids are not going to school. And you say, ‘I don't have the books,' and he says, ‘Here are the books, send him to school.' People still don't want to send their kids to get education, but he thinks it is the most important thing, so that's why he became a doctor.
Why don't parents want to send their kids to school?
Because...the first thing you have to do is fight taboo. When people are not educated, you can tell them anything...You don't have education, you're going to believe it. Some people say, ‘My kids have to come to the farm and help me; I don't see how reading can change my life.' But he's putting a seed.