Our group of Peace Corps (P.C.) Volunteers arrived in Cameroon on September 21st, 2012, coinciding with 50 years of P.C. partnership between the U.S. and Cameroon. Subsequently, our swearing-in ceremony as P.C. volunteers was an impressive event located in the “Palais de Congrès” in Yaoundé (the capital of the country). We also have a new Director, Jacky Sesonga, who was in charge of making the event, and P.C. as an institution, relevant and insightful to our fellow Cameroonian colleagues and government officials.
Before swearing-in, however, we had two months P.C. training in Bafia, in the central region of Cameroon. This city is one of many Francophone cities located in 8 out of the 10 regions in Cameroon. The remaining 2 regions (the Northwest and Southwest) are Anglophone, thus making the country bilingual in nature, as well as officially. The latter of the two regions is where I am located for the next two years, but more on that later.
While in Bafia, we stayed with a host family and proceeded to integrate into the Cameroonian lifestyle. There, the water was scarce, thus my first thought in the morning quickly became: must get water in the well outside, and my last thought at night became: must get enough water from the well to be able to flush the toilet throughout the night or wash my hands at any given time. I was lucky that I did not have to use a latrine at my home-stay, but also I rapidly came to learn the outdoors are all common grounds for “putting yourself at ease”! We learned to cook the Cameroonian way with either a kerosene-fueled-mini-stove or a traditional stove composed of 3 large stones with wood underneath to make the fire. By far, the best component of the food here is the “pimente” or “pepper” which is some of the best hot sauce in the world coming from the famous Cameroonian red, yellow and orange hot peppers.
After a few weeks in country I realized some of the hardships faced by men, but mostly by women, on a daily basis: the cooking, although amazing, it takes many hours to prepare because of things like discontinuous access to electricity to power basic machinery for cooking and storing food. However, even with electricity, many people did not have blenders, mixers, or grinders to speed-up the food preparation process. Also, most families in Bafia, and many other small cities, did not have refrigeration, so, the long cooking process is therefore repeated everyday, day after day. Women and girls of all ages were also expected to wake-up early before preparing breakfast and going to work or school to do laundry manually or sweep the house and porch. Mornings in Bafia started around 5:30 with some Cameroonian, Cote D’Ivoirian, or Nigerian music in the households and on the streets or with women singing to relieve their workload.
Days in Bafia were full with cross-cultural training, intensive French language training, and overall integration techniques. We were also trained in agroforestry techniques (a conglomeration of techniques which always include the planting of trees in conjunction with planting agricultural crops, raising livestock, or both) applicable to the Cameroonian terrain. More specifically, this year 20 of us were trained as environmental extension agents and L.I.F.E. (Linking Income, Food, and Environment) volunteers, since the P.C. is aiming to shift its focus to encompass the entirety of work surrounding the environment rather than focusing solely on agroforestry.
Since arriving in Bangem (my post), I have been doing formal protocol and introducing myself as a P.C. Environmental Education Agent. I have found various venues where I can put the skills Bard C.E.P. has taught me to work. First of all, the G.T.T.C. (Government Teachers Training College) is a training institution for primary school teachers and our main focus as partners is to develop an environmental education teaching curriculum for the various age groups the teachers will be instructing. The principle at the “Lycée Bilingue” is also quite interested in developing a curriculum and having me use the infusion method with environmental education in their already established geography class. One of the P.C.’s purposes with education in the field is to identify the various environmental problems in the community or country, explain how we as humans are exacerbating the problems, and demonstrate how we (the community) can be part of the solution to some of the environmental problems, rather than continue adding to the existing problems.
Upon my arrival, I was posted with an excellent counterpart and community host who works for an N.G.O. in town called Community Action for Development (C.A.D.). He is already heavily involved in development activities within the Kupe-Muanenguba division, where we reside in (Bangem is the sub-division). Alongside C.A.D., I will be working closely with MINFOF, the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife on various preservation projects with trees and other fauna and flora. I have had the opportunity to attend various meetings at the Bangem Council, where the Mayor coordinates most of his work. One meeting involved the Delegation for Women’s Empowerment, as part of the evaluation process of the recent Women’s Day celebration held in a town 1.5 hours away (half trekking, half on motorcycle) named Ekanjoh-Bajoh. Another meeting I attended involved the successful validation od 3 main projects within the Bangem Council’s legislation: the construction of a road to Muanguekan to have faster and less costly access to the sand pits located in the town, used in Bangem for housing construction; the construction of a tourist lodge in the Muanenguba Lakes and a water catchment system to sustain it; and the building of sheds and stores at a town 25 km away, where the closest P.C. volunteer lives and works on health issues, Muambong.
At the meeting the projects were prioritized in the order given above, but the first was the only to receive definite funding this year from the Council and the P.N.D.P. (The National Community Driven Development Program). The tourist lodge and subsequent tourism I.G.A.s (Income Generating Activities) can hopefully be developed with help from the Delegation of Cultural Affairs. Another project, begun by the P.C. volunteer I am replacing and funded by the international N.G.O.s: The Water Collective and the Water Project, and carried through with the help of C.A.D. and the B.R.D.A. (Bajoh Rural Development Association), will eventually deliver water to 5 villages (and more in the future) through a water catchment system they have recently built.
I have been incredibly fortunate to come into a town of roughly 8,000 inhabitants with the neighboring villages, but who are governed by councils that have put a lot of work and interest into developing the area, with sustainability in mind. As Cameroon is going through a process of decentralization in the governmental structure many ministries and delegations have been created (also with the intention to provide more jobs for the increasing population) and the Councils are in charge, alongside the P.N.D.P., of strategizing the development taking place at the municipal level, with a grass-roots approach to organization and development. I have been welcomed openly and gratefully by the entire Bangem community and by the Mayor; Senior Divisional, Sub-Divisional, and Divisional Officers; the “Gendarmerie”; the Police; the Councilors; Delegates; Chiefs of townships; restaurant and bar owners; and the many “wondaful” (as said in Pidgin) neighbors and friends.
If anyone has anyone has any inquiries about the process of becoming a Master’s International student of a P.C. Volunteer, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or [email protected]. Until next time…when I will probably be knee-deep into many projects.