Grace Fombad’s calm, smooth voice has music in it. It’s hard to imagine her childhood in a polygamous family outside Bamenda Cameroun. Her father had three wives and no interest in educating his children who comprised the labor force on his subsistence farm.
But Grace’s mother decided her children would go to school. By the time Grace finished high school, she wanted to be a doctor. She learned Romanian in one year, attended medical school at the University of Bucharest, married a biochemist, gave birth to four children and adopted six more.
In 1993, Grace was invited to a workshop in Yaoundé. She returned with an assignment: “I had to create the Northwest Provincial Branch of the Cameroun Medical Women Association.”
The group’s purpose grew from Grace’s passion. “In 1994, I discovered my brother was HIV positive. There was no drug to cure AIDS, and even with all my medical knowledge, there was nothing I could do. If I couldn’t cure the disease, perhaps I could at least prevent people from being infected.”
The Northwest Province had the highest prevalence of AIDS in Cameroun. After seeing patients all day, the Cameroun Medical Women began systematically training people whom they identified as opinion leaders and social catalysts. Today, CMWA has taught more than a million people about HIV-AIDS.