Friday, February 08, 2008

Returning definitively to Tourou

Finally. The security situation is much better than it was. We now have higher concession wall with iron spikes on it and a guard at night. We should be much safer this way.

Our projects are really getting going. Leah starts her mid-wife training next week and has constant meetings for other projects. The AVISE check dam training is going better than expected, ahead of schedule for digging the foundations for the two we will build in the coming weeks.

We'll sort of going to miss Mokolo since we've lived here for almost a month. Watching full seasons of "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," and "Brothers & Sisters" can't happen in Tourou. We've been gone so long that the dust is 2mm or more thick over everything. We've also had a white mold growing puffy colonies on the floor.

In other news, Leah has just about kicked a pesky cold, commonly known as malaria. In fact she had malaria "plus plus." (What the plus plus exactly means, I'm not sure.) It's so common here, that as long as one catches it early, the person's fine.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Returning to (Cameroonian) Civilization

After our Country Director went to our post to follow up on the burgulary that happen at our house in November, things finally started looking up. Authorities arrested 2 or the suspected 6 men on Monday. That basically means that we're going to go back to Mokolo and stay for awhile until we know slightly more on the whereabouts of the other 4 or some other morcel of information that indicates assured security.

We'll be able to slowly make the transition back to Tourou over the next week it seems. We're allowed to go up to Tourou during the day to conducted work activities and stay in Mokolo at night.

In the mean time Leah and I have been stuck in the warp that is Yaounde. I'm "homesick" I guess you could say... for Tourou and the Extreme North. (Although I have to say I was homesick for the U.S., especially at first after returning here, because we had such a great vacation and our status here in Cameroon was in limbo.) We're not big fans of Yaounde; there's more aggression; and people seem more cutthroat.

Lately, I've felt more justified of my feelings of Cameroon. Many people have mentioned that Cameroon is one of the most difficult countries in which to work chiefly because of high levels of corruption at all levels and overt aggressiveness not commonly experienced in the U.S.

On another note, we've received all of the requested funding for the Tourou Library. With five projects fully funded we're hoping that we can start implementing them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Vacation and a library

It's been 15 months in Cameroon, and we know that the next year is going to fly by like nothing. We have our projects all planned out for the most part. One new project we have is to finance a library in Tourou.

The library will serve the whole community. It will include textbooks for the students (hardly anyone can afford them, so the teacher can't assign exercises), booklets on agriculture and health, dictionaries, etc. The hope is that the library will be a community center where literacy courses and presentation can be held. We're trying to round up only $2,690 for books to match the work the community has already done on renovating the building that will house the library. Go to the following link to donate and for more information

Recently we climbed Mt. Cameroon, the highest peak in West Africa at 13,000ft. It was pretty spectacular, but harder than I would have thought.

On the 23rd we'll be back in Oregon until Jan 9. Brad will be in Denver from Dec 30 to the morning of Jan 2. After that it's back to Tourou. We actually haven't been there in awhile because we had a break-in on Nov 22. While waiting for Peace Corps to and the local authorities to arrest people, we had been staying in Mokolo with our wonderful PC Volunteer Brooke and now we're in Yaounde. Hopefully more will be resolved when we return to Cameroon in early January.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A rainy season to remember; the next year to look forward to

The well at Toufou I

The desert has come alive. That’s thanks to an unusually wet rainy season. The rain has been falling everyday or night for the past two weeks. And these are monsoon rains—violent downpours. It’s even felt like Oregon sometimes, where the sun doesn’t even show itself.

Tourou is definitely a land of extremes. In the dry season there’s a lack of water and dust covers everything. Now humidity is higher so clothes grow a nice layer of mold if one’s not careful; and many farms are inundated or houses are collapsing from constant water.

Right now we’re not able to hold meetings or work with very many people b/c we’ll get rained out. (There are not many large enough buildings, and since people have to walk over mountains often to attend meetings, they’ve stopped coming, and we’ve stopped calling meetings.

Currently, three wells that were sunk have their covers on and cement aprons (see photo of Toufou I well). With the work of the farm taking priority, no community COMPLETELY finished. It’s bothered me to no end, I must admit. Yet, I can’t be too negative about the lack of enthusiasm for an exterior wall. It helps to always view life from a village’s perspective. An exterior wall around the apron and the well itself is to prevent animals from entering and defecating near enough to the well that their faeces can enter the water supply. Perhaps the community didn’t feel it was necessary b/c animals are kept inside at this time of the year so they don’t eat the crops growing in the fields. Another reason it wasn’t a priority is that water borne diseases and the transfer of microbes from animals is not well understood.

In a presentation w/ 85 people in attendance, Leah and two other students from the U. of Virginia presented on how to filter and disinfect water and the faecal/oral cycle. One question raised was: “If we can get diseases from animal faeces, should we still be living with our animals running about our compound?” With very few women ever attending high school (0% of which have ever completed, according to three community leaders), they’ve never had health education. (That comes in high school!)

Already having to talk to two of the three well building communities, they’ll finish everything by Sept. or Oct. In other water/well news, we will be much more organized next year. We’re not only formally delegating well building responsibility among executive committee members, but also establishing an objective criteria by which AVISE will decide who deserves financial support for well or check dam building and a timeline that each village must stick to. This will create competition for the years to come, ensuring that less motivated communities won’t be allocated money.

Thanks to everyone again for donating to the project this year. Despite the multiple hang ups, we have three sanitary wells and more than $3,000 to put into 3 or more (most likely, many more).

One might note that I mentioned check dams, earlier. Two communities have been chosen for having check dams installed in erosion prone areas, upstream of wells. Check dams increase ground infiltration, thus recharging wells downstream. An added benefit is the manner in which it slows down water cascading from high in the mountains. One Tourou community (Moutaz) had there men rank a lack of check dams as the most pressing problem concerning agriculture.

The installation of the check dams will be conducted as a training in the same way that AVISE learned how to building modern wells: learning by doing. The training will span more than a month during the last week in January until March.

To fund this dynamic training, we’re searching for funds in a similar yet different way. Before, donations went directly to AVISE via bank accounts in the US. Now one will be able to donate directly through the PC website. In this way, PC can report more assuredly the impacts of PC to Congress. I expect to have the application up by October, whereby people can donate. We’ll post an announcement on the blog when it’s ready.

In addition to projects associated with water, other projects have been brewing. Leah and the doctor at the Tourou Health Center are planning a mid-wife conference. Women don’t come to the health center due to a lack of money. Unfortunately, many of the mid-wives have not been trained. That will be funded by individuals willing to give through the PC website as well. Another work-in-progress, too, that Leah will be posting on the website is that of a library project. This is by far gaining the most steam in the community for the future. A management committee has been established and is tackling the task of repairing the future home of the library in the Centre d’Affaires Sociale. Leah is basically arranging the budget, but everything else is completely community run.

The icing on the cake for me is setting up a framework; more for the next two agroforestry volunteers, for an agricultural extension group. Nearly all agro interventions should address soil fertility. Thus, I’m trying to find leaders in every village in Tourou to experiment with techniques like composting, mulching, and planting leguminous nitrogen fixing trees.

All in all, very busy. But we did get a in a small vacation w/ 3 visiting PC volunteers posted in the South of Cameroon.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Continued challenges, but success in all

We don't get many breaks it feels. We need a vacation soon. All the other volunteers are now having their parents visit or going to meet friends and family in Europe. We're getting a bit jealous.

The wells are coming along. We had a chance to finish everything in a few days but then came the hang-ups. The pictures below are largely of a device called a chevalement, used for lowering cement rings into a well. Unfortunately, the operators were not experienced and stripped the gear system while lowering the first ring into the well at Logogya. Literally 3 seconds after the close-up shot of the man getting ready to being lowered into the well was taken. He fell 4 meters before the gears locked in preventing him from falling 9 meters into the well. That's why we have hardhats.
It was a heartbreaking setback. A week after the incident, we'll be starting again at Logogya this Monday. The rain is really here. We have a small window to lower the cassion rings, or it will become too dangerous. Everything can be so dramatic here...
One wonderful success story is the well that was rearranged at Watatoufou (see the picture above). They have just a bit of work left.
On a lighter note: We have a chicken that was gifted by the women's group we work with. I built a chicken house. It lays lots of eggs, so that's good.
On a downer, the kiln for the filters is damaged due to a storm that came in and ripped off the roof for the kiln. This project could take up all of our time if we're not careful. So much needs to be done, and we keep having this amazing setbacks with the project.
The other setback I personally had was my first encounter with malaria. It definitely hits you hard, but I understand how Cameroonians can treat it like the common cold. As long as you can identify it and have the means to take medicine for it, it just is debilitating. I would almost rather have malaria than the flu or food poisoning, which makes you vommit constantly. By the way, I had food poisoning yesterday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wells being completed and new project beginings

It's been a long time since I've written. And we're not yet finished with the wells we will be doing this year. It's a constant learning process...

Leah and I want to thank you all for donating to AVISE this year. The response has been overwhelming. We have far surpassed our goal of enough money for 4 new wells. I believe the exact figure of what was donated is around $6,000 or more!

While we have been extremely successful stateside, it's been frustrating as well to have the communities to continue the work at a good rate. All the communities have planned it out so they would finish just before the rains come--which is NOW, by the way. Thus, even their own projections of when they could finish are off. But more problematic is that we have multiple communities desiring the same materials at once. In sum, much of the orginal plan has changed for this year. We are not neccessarily funding the wells that we originally intended. Instead we're funding the communities that are dynamic and organized to do the labor. Next year, we'll require the communities to have their well dug by February, completely, until they are considered for financing, after which AVISE decides which community needs it most.

We will not be able to use all of the $6,000+ that was sent to AVISE, being completely overwhelmed by the amount, like I've said earlier. Thus, next year, we can really connect with communities within Tourou over the rainy season, get them organized and really make a larger impact next year.

One of the problems we encountered this year is that money wasn't available until late in the season, and due to this, AVISE approved communities to dig too late in the game.

We're slowly transitioning out of wells into working in other realms. Leah and I have begun to work with a womens group on soap making and health presentations, especially regarding malaria and water-borne diseases. We're setting them up to receive credit from a local community bank as well. Every Tuesday, Leah doesn't a presentation for women waiting for a prenatal consultation.

Students from the University of Virgina have returned to produce a working ceramic filter. I really wish I had more time to explain the project, but actually it is so fast of a topic I'm going to hold off on explaining it completely. (If you're really interested now, Google "Potters for Peace".) That is taking a lot of time currently. Also, we'll be planting certain types of annual leguminous tree species in certain demonstration plots. (What the heck did I just say!? Right?) Planting certain trees that fix large amounts of nitrogen in their leaves and/or their roots. This improves soil fertility in a sustainable way. The rest of the rainy season we'll be writing grants for reforestation, a library project (mostly likely at the moment) and a training regarding the installation of check dams to reduce soil erosion and increase water filtration to augment wells.

On the lighter side, we have a wonderful cat that chases lizards and insects. Unfortunately, mice are too intelligent for her and she decides to attack our legs instead.

Pictures are coming. The website is not working currently to upload.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Checking up on digging

I just went around to check out the progress going on with digging. Much to my surprise, things are going quite well overall.

We had a bit of a scare, when we had rain for a couple of days. But we've returned to the dry heat once again. Thank goodness, because we still have a few meters to dig. We'll check next week to assess the progress again. Enjoy the pictures below:

Finally a small vacation! Here's me (Brad Schallert) at Rhoumsiki, a geological attraction in the Extreme North. This was our first vacation (only one day) since arriving at post in Tourou.

Two workers in the small village of Toufou I use traditional picks to peirce through conglomerate rock. It was unannounced to AVISE that this well was actually being constructed. It was 2 m deep after only a day and a half of digging.

The well in Toufou I again with AVISE President Abdou Aminou overseeing the work.