Blog from the Field: Peace Corps Volunteer, Cameroon, Africa
Former KFWH/HS Chapter President,
Happy Spring to all of you stateside! How wonderful it will be, this time next year to experience spring again, my favorite season. I’ve loved hearing the detailed accounts of snow showers and ski trips this past winter. As you’d expect, we’re short-supply of the white stuff out here. In fact as I’m writing this, it’s approaching 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, that was not a typo. Anywhere from 120 to 125 degrees is fairly normal on a day- to- day basis in Northern Cameroon for this time of year.
Some of you may now be saying “Northern Cameroon? I thought you were in the East?” Right. In case you have not heard, my posting was recently switched and I am now located in the north region of Cameroon. I live in a town called Pitoa, just 10 miles outside Garoua, the capital of the North region. I moved up here a little under two months ago, and the change is drastic. I went from lush, beautiful, blooming jungle filled with exotic flowers and towering trees, to a cutout of western New Mexico, complete with red-rock mountains, boundless desert, and a heat that will sundry a grape in minutes.
So what I am doing here? Well, in short, I’m working with UNICEF. An opportunity arose sometime in January to work in a pilot cooperative position with UNICEF and I took it. I now work with a team of doctors and public health professionals on a program that focuses on utilizing trusted community members as local health agents within their own communities. The program has taken off remarkably well and we are presently in the midst of up-scaling it to include several more villages in the surrounding health district. My role is to field-manage the project within Health District of Pitoa, which encompasses 13 villages and 235 community health agents. And I love it. UNICEF has given me creative freedom in developing new program initiatives and streamlining those set by program parameters.
All this to say that I’ve been busy. Due to my new location and revisited beliefs, however, my personal project will take a different route. I’ll describe now the new proposal which I’ve worked out, one that I think beset fits the area in which I’m posted and one which embraces sustainability.
Onions! That’s the name of the game up in Northern Cameroon. Lots and lots of onions. During the harvest season, one can taste the lingering scent of onions in the hot, dry air from miles away. It’s how thousands of people make their living and it’s big business. However, many people often just “get by” and barely can buy seed again for the next year. I’ve partnered with another Peace Corps Volunteer in the endeavor of creating a micro-finance initiative for small farmer families. The micro-loans consist of basic items needed for the season: tools, fertilizer, seed, and in some cases irrigation supplies, and are repaid following harvest. A local community member, who knows the agricultural community and has been working with Peace Corps for many years now, has been helping us to identify trustworthy, hardworking families, who deserve a micro-finance loan, but due to their economic situation could never obtain one from a Cameroonian bank. We’ve already had three success stories, with the money paid back following the harvests being reinvested into the project. The investment continues to grow larger because we buy seed and fertilizer when the cycle has them at their lowest prices. In addition to the microfinance aspect, all loan recipients will be taught basic forms of personal finance and agricultural husbandry (crop rotation, composting, etc.) in a course taught by my partner and myself.
I hope this new project interests you as much or more as the former. I had qualms with the original proposition from a sustainability standpoint and revisited my reservations on “gift –giving”. The notions of “giving” without a complimentary exchange, though generous, reinforces the century-long instilled mentality of dependency and lack of ownership. This unfortunately is what “development” has been for far too long, and what modern development must strive to overcome.
If you have any questions on the project or about my new life in Pitoa, please send a message. I hope that all is well in your lives.