Memories of Cameroon: by Carmel Horan

On Sunday, October 31, 2010 I embarked on my first and most heart-warming journey to Africa and specifically to Kumbo, in the northwest province of Cameroon. As a member of the OK Clean Water Project committee I was eager to learn first hand about the project and to meet the people. Upon my arrival in Yaounde, the capital, I was greeted by Cecile Buote, cnd, a well seasoned resident of Cameroon as well as a strong advocate for the people living there.

We spent the night at the Congregation Notre Dame convent in Yaounde before heading out early the next morning for our ten-hour drive to Tobin. The dry season, which extends for six months, had just begun so I was able to enjoy the beauty of the countryside with the lush green foliage and the welcoming spirit of the people we met along the road. I also saw and experienced first hand the deplorable road conditions. It was evident that this was not Cecile’s first driving experience over these roads. She was able to manoeuvre her Suzuki jeep around the many ruts, washed out sections of the road, and deep holes filled with mud. I remarked at one spot, “We’ll never get through this enormous hole.” Cecile replied without hesitation, “Certainly we will,” as she shifted the Suzuki back into second gear and proceeded cautiously through the mud filled pothole. Upon our arrival in Tobin I was warmly welcomed by the sisters and residents of the community.

The following day I met Edwin Visi, the Project’s Cameroonian engineer, who provided me with a detailed schedule of events and activities planned for my two week venture. On that same day we visited the Government Bilingual High School that has an enrolment of three thousand one hundred students. I met the principal, some staff and some classes each having approximately one hundred fifty students. I was moved by the gracious hospitality and smiles of both staff and students who lacked so many resources to carry on the school programmes. There was very poor lighting, if any, in the classrooms and very crowded seating arrangements. Despite all of this they were working diligently to complete their assignments without any complaints. That same day I met with both the mayor of Kumbo and Bishop George. Each expressed support and gratitude for the gift of clean water. Edwin then proceeded to a private primary school to meet with some staff and students before moving on to meet the pipe supplier and view the pipe storage area where purchased pipes are stored until they are transported to a village where the project is in progress.

The second day I traveled with Edwin and Boniface to Kai to visit the school and health clinic. In this village some necessary repairs to the water supply were underway; this project had been completed prior to Edwin’s supervision. Some errors in planning, implementation and maintenance resulted in some leakage and shortages of water. They are now well on the way to make the necessary repairs under Edwin’s skillful guidance. After our visit to the health clinic and school we traveled to Wvem, Boniface’s home village, and visited the Rural Transformation Centre (RTC), clinic and school. The village of Wvem sits so high in the hills that we were able to have a spectacular view of the countryside. The catchment area here is high enough to provide a great flow of water to the village. Boniface supervises this experimental Rural Transformation Centre for plants and he also has a beekeeping station there. This centre is used for retreats and workshops as well. From the RTC we traveled to the health clinic and school. At the health clinic the nurse praised the efforts made by the OK Clean Water Project for bringing clean water to the village. She stated there are far fewer children coming to the clinic now as they enjoy clean water. In Wvem we were treated to a lunch prepared by the women of the village and we were given a huge thank you coming straight from the hearts of the people along with a huge bag of Irish potatoes. One of these women, Christine, is a sister to Martin Langwa who is presently living in Stittsville with his family.

The following day Edwin and I met to discuss the plans for the following week as well as to outline the procedures for the inauguration of the Duy/Ngamantse water project on Saturday.

On Saturday we set out early for Duy/Ngamantse, first to walk through the water scheme prior to the inauguration ceremony. We trekked the hill to the catchment area where the water from the springs is collected. The water pressure is measured in the spring during the dry season to ensure there will be an adequate water supply. This also determines the size of the pipe necessary to carry the water from the catchment. From the catchment we moved to the first storage tank where the water is cleaned before it travels through the piping further downhill to a large storage tank with a capacity of 2,000 litres. In this community, pipes extend over seven kilometres and serve twenty-four standpipes. After the tour of the water scheme we visited a health clinic and school and then moved with the huge gathering of people into the central gathering space for the official ribbon-cutting which launched the Project. What followed was a jubilant celebration. Two ladies dressed me in a traditional costume to celebrate this joyous event. It was evident from the voices and gestures of the people in song, dance and speeches how grateful they were. The women were dancing and singing, the children were singing and the speeches were filled with praise and thanks. People were chanting WATER IS LIFE and we have CLEAN WATER thanks to the OK CLEAN WATER PROJECT! The gifts of potatoes, carrots, white beans, pineapple, bananas, mango, sugar cane, fowl and even a goat were expressions of their appreciation as they sang and danced. The day ended with a feast of traditional food and drink and they expressed their gratefulness for being in a partnership that allows them to participate in the work of improving the lives of many people with the gift of clean water. This day I shall remember!

On Sunday the official launching of Catholic Education Week took place with special mention at the Masses with children speaking and singing. On Sunday afternoon I was graciously welcomed into the Visi family home with food and hospitality.

Monday took us to the village of Ngondzen to check on the progress of the water project. We walked to the site of the catchment area in the hills and also checked on the storage tank further down the hill. The storage tank was being flushed out before the pipes, already stocked, would be laid. We hopped back into the Suzuki to travel to Mbabu where the water project is in phase 1. Much of the trench has been dug and pipes laid. The villagers were busy with big smiles as they carried cement and dug the remainder of the trench. They anticipate the completion of the project by December, 2010. At the next village of Fonkava we viewed the catchment and followed the trail of pipes laid two years earlier. This day provided me the opportunity to see a project completed in Fonkava, another almost completed in Mbabu and the third project underway in Ngondzen. In each village I witnessed people filled with gratitude and praise.

Tuesday I visited the primary school in To-oy where the first standpipe was built. Students and staff came outside to sing a song of welcome. In the afternoon Edwin facilitated a meeting in Tobin with water management representatives. There were eighteen representatives from ten villages. At this gathering they expressed their gratitude for the gift of clean water and they also spoke of the challenges and problems they encountered in their work. Many submitted letters of thanks stating how the clean water has made a huge difference in their villages. It was evident from the dialogue that these representatives highly respect Edwin for his guidance and supervision of the projects.

The following day was spent organizing the PowerPoint presentation - selecting photos and text – for schools and the OK Clean Water Brunch.
On Thursday we set out on the most challenging road to Njanawah/ Mbiame. Although Mbiame is only thirty-five kilometres from Tobin it took over two hours to travel there. The road was filled with enormous ruts and mud holes which in places meant leaving the road to travel through fields to avoid getting stuck. This was truly an obstacle course of huge magnitude! Edwin facilitated a meeting in Mbiame with stand-pipe managers. The room was filled with over fifty participants for a full day of discussion and input. All were engaged in the presentations that Edwin had dutifully organized well in advance with handouts for all. Again it was evident of the respect that all have for Edwin and his knowledge of the details of the project.

We remained overnight in Mbiame before heading out on Friday to Kovki to visit the ongoing water project there. Sister Juliette accompanied us on this part of the trip and we witnessed people out in celebration as they eagerly worked to dig trenches, lay pipes, build storage tanks and stand-pipes. We were treated to lunch and sent off with gifts of fowl, bananas and vegetables.

En route back to Tobin we stopped at Kitiwum to visit the catchment area there.

Saturday was spent putting the finishing touches to the PowerPoint presentation, choosing the final photos and editing the written sections.

Sunday after Mass was time for saying thank you to so many people who had welcomed me so graciously with open arms and kindness. I said that I would hope to return in the future so our goodbyes were not for ever, just until another time. It was then time to pack up for the trip back home to Ottawa.

Monday morning we left Tobin very early, bound for Yaounde to catch the evening Air France flight to Paris-Montreal and Ottawa. Edwin accompanied me to Ottawa so that he might visit some schools, some sources of water equipment supplies and of course the OK Clean Water Project Brunch as the guest speaker. This was Edwin’s first trip to Canada and he was moved by the good will of the people he met at the Brunch and the staff and students he met in the schools as well as the businesses he visited. Edwin also had the opportunity to stay with a Cameroonian family, Martin and Hilder Langwa, during his two week stay. We are grateful to the Langwa family for their hospitality. The trip to Cameroon was a memorable one for me; it was heart warming and filled with sights and stories that will live on in my memories. The welcoming spirit and hospitality of the Cameroonian people were evident as they expressed their gratitude openly and I witnessed their sincerity in the hard work they were engaged in to make this project possible. The OK Clean Water Project is truly is a partnership between the Cameroonian people and the people of Canada and elsewhere! WATER IS LIFE!
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