By Innocent Chia
It costs a minimum $12,000 (6 million CFA frs) to transport a corpse from the United States to Cameroon. The majority of Cameroonians who are neither home owners nor car owners list the death of a loved one in America as their largest single expenditure - other than a trip to the emergency room…. But that may be over now. An association has come to the rescue with a scheme where members spend a maximum of $15.00 and the corpse is taken all the way to the village in Cameroon.
Not many people that I know of know that for about $7.00 a day, they can procure short-term health insurance for Mom and Dad and other family members traveling to the US. I did not know about it myself until a friend shared with me that as a Cameroon-American, he buys a short term policy that covers, for the duration of the visits in the US, the medical expenses of his father-in-law. I was in doubt…and thanks to technology and cell phones, we searched evacuation insurance on google. Four top results were: Insure My Trip; Travel Assist Network; Travel Guard; and Global Rescue.
These policies equally come in handy for you who are traveling to Cameroon or somewhere else on vacation…You can purchase that same short term health policy to cover your trip, even from the airline carriers and major credit card companies. Traditional health insurance policies don’t cover health costs outside continental US, including medical evacuation back to the US. Researching these sites, and many others, will guarantee a peace of mind for you and your family members as you travel with a little less worry about what happens when you get to your destination and there are no hospitals or experts to treat you in the event of chronic illness.
But when all else fails in the US…
SAGI, the French acronym for Solidarite Agissante (Acting in Solidarity), is such a basic numbers idea, you almost want to kick yourself for not having it in the first place. Its stated mission is to be of help in the repatriation of corpses from the USA to the final resting place in Cameroon. How SAGI have gone about achieving this goal from inception in August 2009 is by guaranteeing that the growing membership spend no more than $15.00 on transporting the corpses of loved ones back to Cameroon.
Members - must be resident or visiting in the USA and ideally belong to a constituted group of other Cameroonians – contribute $15.00 into a common fund. The local constituted group (Ex-Students Association, Ethnic Group, Former Classmates, Womens Group, Mens Group...etc) banks the collected funds and communicates the names of its registered members to the Washington DC headquarters of the Non for profit organization.
Present during an informal conversation in Minnesota between the Presidents of Minnesota Cameroonians, Robert Tamukong Ndifor and George NGWANYIA of the Bamileke Association of Northern California (www.banc-usa.org), I learnt that SAGI have taken the burden off the shoulders of more than a dozen members in less than two years. When a member dies, the group of the deceased member informs the headquarters of the occurrence. The headquarters then communicates the bad news to the rest of the groups, requesting, by the same token, for contributions to be transferred into the central coffers.
With a count of just a little over 1000 members from about 30 groups, the predominantly French speaking group pools together about $15000 per occurrence. This pays for transportation to the village in Cameroon and some miscellaneous. But the idea is to ideally have members spend as little as $1.00 as many more Cameroonians buy into the mission statement of the Association…or as freight costs drop. We were unable to reach anyone at SAGI to clarify for us the frequency of the contributions. The educated guess is that with each occurence, local chapters replenish their coffers and await the next incident, with a dollar amount determined by the size of the Asoociation.
I learnt of the idea of SAGI at, of all places, a wedding in Minnesota. But, I was visiting Minnesota for the wake of an older brother and in-law who, long before succumbing to a devouring cancer, had taken measures to ensure that his death did not result in unnecessary family financial hardship.
There is no doubt that the group Insurance policies that he signed up for with his family lessened the anxiety of the family in having to cough up over $12000, or having to pass the basket for friends and the community of Cameroonians to pony it up. Yes, in spite the insurance policy the community still adhered to age-old customs and traditions with dollar contributions here and there. But the contributions were not done with the barrel of the gun held to anyone’s head.
However, the insurance policies do not cover the cost of freight to Africa. This is where SAGI is filling the gap for families by allowing them to save some of the insurance money for other purposes – including the education of the surviving kids or welfare of the spouse.
Life Insurance Policies Cameroonian born Cornelius Anyere (Ph: 202 352 8271), Farmers’ Insurance agent in the Chicago area, would want to see Cameroonians, and Africans in general, asking more questions about different policies and benefits, adding that ideal policies are unique to individuals and respective family situations. Denis Tilong (Ph: 612 282 9394) agrees. A representative with World Financial Group – parent company of Western Reserve Life of Ohio, Pacific Life and Prudential – Denis also makes the point that good insurance policies not only put money in the pockets of the family in times of need and stress, it also keeps money in the pockets of the supporting community that would otherwise have to spend more to get the corpse anywhere in Africa.
For a little less than a decade now, there has been a movement led by two notable Cameroonians to promote Group Insurance policies within the community - Mr. Sam Ndely who co-founded the Cultural Group Benefits in the Great Lakes area of Minnesota and Mr. Denis Muforsi in Dallas, Texas. As much as it is a business, both gentlemen are applauded in my book for the herculean task each of them have accomplished in tailoring these packages, within their respective organizations, to fit the needs of immigrant communities that need to reconsider how much is spent in death over life, as well as the need to bequeath more than your debt to surviving family.