Greetings from Cameroon,
It’s been a long journey, but the project teams have arrived and are finally getting comfortable. We landed in Douala, a major port city on the west coast of Africa, on the evening of May 16 (last Thursday)… and from that moment on, it has been an adventure. We were unfortunately delayed in our departure from Douala, due to Swissport employees going on strike… our baggage and the donations did not arrive with us.
(Douala = photo cred. Maxie)
Although we were quite uncomfortable, stuck with the same clothes for… well, a week… we learned some valuable lessons about packing essentials on your carry on as opposed to hoards of American candy and junk food :] Luckily, the team persevered and gained a great bond from the communal atmosphere. “Be real about your needs.” From hand sanitizer to malaria pills.
The trip to our project site, the subdivision Oku, took at least a day’s journey. The crowded car-bus ride gave a good perspective on how difficult it can be to get around in Cameroon due to poor road conditions. It took us about 6-8 hours to get to Bamenda, the big city of the Northwest province + headquarters to our partner CamAAY, and then about 3-5 to get to Elak-Oku, the main village of the subdivision we are staying in.
Douala had us sweating in our sheets, but Elak-Oku is much higher elevation, located in the mountains around Mt. Oku (a “touristic” volcano), so the weather here is cooler. In the afternoons and evenings, it pours rain, and at night, when there aren’t any clouds, the stars could take your breath away. The intense green with the snaking brown roads draped with clouds gives the distinct feeling of being in the middle of paradise.
The flip side is the sheer remoteness and underdeveloped infrastructure of the area, but the hotel-esque flat we’re staying in fits most of our needs. Running water and electricity are patchy, but we do have toilets. Toilets are definitely a luxury here, so we’re grateful. When the water is on, the tap is fairly clear, and probably potable, but most of us still stick to the bottled water, iodine tablets, or filtration + purification systems. Electricity and working lights have been available about ¾ of the time, and the two cell phone network providers here in Cameroon usually work. It’s due to an “internet stick” that I am able to update this remotely.
(Elak-Oku = photo cred. Maxie)
Based on our experience and several interviews and meetings with community groups and schools around Oku, we’ve been doing needs assessments. With the information we’ve collected, our plan is to digitize the reports, summarize, organize and eventually make the immediate needs public. We hope that this will help other Nourish chapters and interested parties to come up with project ideas and connect resources with the appropriate people. It has been great meeting all of the community members. Oku has been very welcoming.
From day one, we began an educational campaign about menstruation, pre-marital sex and pregnancy. The Ohio State Nourish chapter partnered with Days for Girls to bring hundreds of reusable (washable) sanitary napkins to women groups here. Traditionally, these topics are taboo, but we have been able to bridge the topic and answer a lot of questions and misconceptions related to these topics. One of CamAAY’s goals is to set up regularly meeting Girls Corners to talk about these subjects and other hardships that women in particular face, along with providing a means for continuing this educational campaign when we’re gone. These groups will be in charge of distributing the sanitary napkins and, hopefully, working towards making their own here in Cameroon.
So, most of this first week was dedicated to getting to know the community, greeting officials, visiting schools and community groups for needs assessments and giving presentations on both women’s health and school partnerships. May 20 was also Cameroon’s National Day – celebrating the unification of the former British Cameroons and French region of Cameroon as the (United) Republic of Cameroon in 1972. We marched in the parade as CamAAY, promoting our educational campaign.
(National Day Parade = photo cred. Aubrey)
Finally, yesterday marked the beginning of the community empowerment center construction. It was great to see so many people come out to greet us and work on the center. We purchased materials and helped to deliver stones and sand in the heat, but the center belongs to the people of Mbam-Oku. Their dedication was impressive. Plus they plaster so much better than we do! Thank goodness no one left the construction and piping to us!
Hopefully by the end of this month, significant progress will have been made, and the center we’re helping with will be fully operational. It already serves as a temporary school and gathering area, so with toilets, and completed side rooms, it can gain significant capacity to hold other resources like books and computers.
We also visited another school to distribute the first of our pen-pal letters to begin the connection between a New Mexico elementary school, and a primary school in Mbam-Oku. We listened to the kids read their penpal’s letters and their responses.
(Mbam school pen-pals = photo cred. Joan)
I am very excited to work some more on the center tomorrow and begin the next portion of our project – seed demonstration gardens. We’ve packed 15 different varieties of seeds from Seed Programs International to test in small quantities in at least four different community gardens. The goal is that with this and our presentations, the various groups can increase their crop diversity and seed security by learning to tend to the soil needs and save the seeds. Our organic famer is super excited to start, and I am looking forward to getting in the dirt.
We also visited the tree nursery to talk with the community members setting up the different varieties (pre-germination and planning) for a water catchment project. With educational campaigns and renewal of the trees in the naturally forested areas here in the mountain, the communities will regain an important area for water catchment.
So, that’s the plan for this week. Next week or so, we should begin working on training “sports animators” for the women groups and preparing for the International Youth Camp.
Until then, feel free to leave us a message.
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