Friday, February 1, 2013

Extending Our Reach

One of the main aims of RUDEC is to help orphaned children continue with their schooling, especially those living in a rural setting. Sometimes this is hard to achieve because of lack of funds, difficult accessibility and the problem of identifying those in need. If you were just to arrive in rural areas and start inquiring too many people would come forward, and the problem would come in selecting those most in need.

The other day Joshua was approached by a pastor as he was walking in town and the pastor told him about a widow who was determined to send her children to school but was really struggling with paying the fees. She lived in a village almost 2 hours drive from Belo. The pastor was impressed by the character and determination of this woman and appealed to RUDEC to help.

Josh and I decided to take a trip to visit the woman and assess the situation. We had to take a shared taxi to a town 25km away, called Fundong. Taking a shared taxi in Cameroon is an interesting experience, a small 5 seat car, is expected to carry 8 people!! 4 in the back, 2 in the passenger seat and the driver and 1 more passenger on the driver’s seat! This always makes for a fun journey, especially when the boot is overloaded with any manner of things, from chickens to petrol and the roads are steep, curvy and potholed, none of which hinder the driver in his attempts to drive as fast as possible! Just another day in Cameroon.

Once reaching Fundong we had to get a motorbike taxi to take us the rest of the way. The “roads” were extremely steep, either dirt or stone tracks which were sometimes so steep we had to get off and walk up. The scenery was stunning and the undulating landscape of the hills spectacular. We passed through many small villages of traditional mud brick homes, some with the original thatch but some with the more practical zinc roofs. Everywhere we passed, people waved and smiled and news spread fast of the “whiteman” in the area!

We had a few days of unseasonal rain this week, which was good for our journey as it meant the dust in the air had reduced, meaning we had a much clearer view of the scenery and we didn’t get covered in red dust whilst on the bike. However it also washed away some parts of the trail and made other parts very muddy. Our bike rider was extremely good, which was fortunate, as otherwise I think we would have fallen a few times.

The village we were visiting is called Bolem, it has a population of around 1200. All people in this area live without power and running water. They have to trek 2 to 3 hours to reach the nearest town for most supplies. There is no phone network, unless they reach the top of some of the surrounding hills, but they can only charge phone if they walk to town. Most people live as subsistence farmers, growing small amounts of crops for self consumption. Any excess can be sold or traded with neighbours. It is a hand to mouth existence, which is why many struggle to pay school fees for their children, meaning that many just drop out from school and will continue living the same kind of life as their parents.

We arrived at the compound (family dwellings) of the lady in question, Matilda, by 9am. We were warmly greeted by her and her elderly parents. Josh, myself and the driver were welcomed inside and given the traditional staple Cameroonian food to eat, being “fu fu” corn and green vegetables. The compound consisted of 4 mud brick homes, set around a dirt courtyard. Matilda’s home is a traditional 1 room house, with a fire pit in the centre for cooking and beds around the sides. 5 people live in this room, Matilda, her 3 daughters and her mother. They had to share 3 beds. The room is very dark and everything is black because of the cooking that takes place on the open fire. There are guinea pigs in the room on the dirt floor, which the family raise and then eat. They have to store everything they need to live in this one room. But despite it being cramped, it is clean and tidy. It is a really privilege to be welcomed into somebody’s home and to see a completely different way of living.

Matilda has 3 children, she had been widowed twice. Her middle daughter, Annabel, is 15 years old and has been going to school up to form 1. She is a very bright girl, who is consistently top of her class and who enjoys school. She wants to be an accountant. This year, however, Matilda has struggled to pay the 30,000 Francs (around 37GBP or $60) for the year’s school fees and Annabel has been chased from school on many occasions in the past term.

We went to visit the school, GTC Bolem, which is in the most stunning location, high up in the hills, on a small plateau with amazing views. The school is quite small with only 72 pupils from Form 1 to Form 4. GTC stands for Government Technical College. The school only has 2 classrooms. We were warmly welcomed by the new head teacher, who was just appointed 2 days before we arrived. The school is lacking in almost all areas and resources are almost non-existent but the pupils and teachers are keen and enthusiastic.

Annabel and her mother were very happy when we paid the school fees for this year. Annabel promised to keep working hard and to make the best of this opportunity. I was very impressed by Matilda’s spirit and determination that her children go to school, despite herself never having completed primary school. She wants them to have more opportunities in life than she had. It is always nice to meet people who have such a spirit and because of this I decided, through RUDECs sponsor a child program, to sponsor Annabel’s school fees until she completes her schooling. The cost of a year’s school fees is what we might spend on a night out back home and hopefully it can make a big difference to Annabel’s life and through her, her family.

The journey back down the mountain was just as beautiful, exciting and adventurous but I went down with a much better understanding of the kind of life, the Kom people of these hills live and the challenges they face every day, but they do this in a positive and heart-warming way.