The Sylvie Lining

//The Sylvie Lining

The Sylvie Lining

“I was very curious about coming to Cape Town,” says Sylvie Amagna Assara, YMCA Cape Town’s 2018 intern from Cameroon, in her usual, earnest fashion. “But the trip was very long,” she allows. “I spent a whole night at the airport in Nairobi. “

Sylvie – ever inquisitive, and buoyant, at heart – is from Yaounde in Cameroon, where she passed a “very comfortable” childhood as one of nine children to two loving parents.

Human life, though, can be jarring. Sylvie’s idyllic family weathered a body blow when the company her father worked for sacked him after 12 years of service – forcing the family relocated to her dad’s village, Bafia, where he took up work as a self-employed technician. That kept the lights on, but his health deteriorated due to stress.

Still, the family fought through, and after high school, Sylvie attended the University of Yaounde I, where she read sociology and anthropology. The next few months, though, brought more turmoil.

“I went to university and (my mother) was fine, but complaining of nerve pain,” remembers Sylvie. “She died on a Wednesday evening (in 2004) while I wasn’t there. And then the next Thursday morning, one of my classmates told me my mother had died just as I was sitting with my script to write an exam. I just left the amphitheatre without writing the exam. I repeated that year at university.”

Three and a half months later, the Assaras lost their father too.

Though devastated, Sylvie rallied, graduated, and became a guidance counsellor – in part motivated by her parents’ deaths at young ages, her father at 49, and her mother at 47.

Her first post was at the University of Buea in South West Cameroon, where French-speaking Sylvie had to brush off language skills from high school.

“I’ve never heard her say anything negative about people. We’ve become close and I’m really going to miss her.”

– Rodhah Lewis, YMCA Cape Town

“I was very afraid to speak English,” she remembers.

Yet, braving English meant doors opening later.

“One day I was in my new office in Yaounde at the Ministry of Higher Education, Central Service. I started thinking, ‘How can I improve an atmosphere in the workplace?’”

Internet searches led her to Karin Comer, the managing director of XChange SA, an organisation that arranges internships. Their correspondence went well and Karin put Sylvie in touch with YMCA Cape Town.

“I started asking questions,” says Sylvie, “and she was promptly responding so I felt motivated.”

And Karin saw quickly that Sylvie was special.

“She always answered quickly (and) she asked questions when she was unsure,” says Karin. “I respect people like that. Based on a meeting I had at YMCA with management, I learned about (their skills needs) and she was an excellent fit. Sylvie is (also) just a good, kind-hearted individual with the right attitude to life and her work.”

Karin was right about fit.

“Karin told me YMCA works with homeless people, children and people in prison,” recalls Sylvie. “It really touched my heart.”

Sylvie has a magical facility to take novelties in stride. At the start of her internship, after a delay in Nairobi, she might’ve been forgiven for wanting to unwind. Only, two of her major internship dates were around the corner. YMCA Cape Town was invited to give a talk and a workshop at Bosasa Youth Development Centre, an organisation that caters to troubled youths, so Sylvie had to find a higher gear in a matter of days.

“We started with a meeting about gender based violence,” she says. “They said, ‘Sylvie, can you do a talk about gender based violence…in English?’”

Luckily, Sylvie’s varsity background came in handy, and both commitments panned out. Sylvie also participated in a visit to an old age home and in various ad hoc activities.

Altogether, Sylvie’s month-long internship ended too quickly. Indeed, some team members such as Rodhah Lewis formed bonds akin to sisterhood with her. Rodhah says:

“I’ve never heard her say anything negative about people. We’ve become close and I’m really going to miss her.”

But a thing doesn’t have to last for it to matter, and Sylvie didn’t need more than a month to leave the best of impressions.

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