On the plane leaving Cameroon last December I made a promise to myself that I would never go back. The trip was way tougher than any of us imagined and we were all tired, physically and emotionally.
On the 7-hour trip by bus to and from Batoufam there was not even sufficient seats for everyone to sit into. Potholed roads and police checks increased the discomfort and a sense of danger. At the side of the roads people were selling rats for dinner.
In the hotel we had to tape our mouths to ensure no water was swallowed when we stood under a trickle of water and then use this shower water to flush the toilet. Dinner the first night was pringles. The work we undertook was physically demanding. Watching the locals toiling, just about getting by, was draining and upsetting.
Some of us went vegetarian for the week unwilling to eat anything we didn’t recognize. Visits to the most basic of toilets came complete with a snake check. Yep, it was just too tough.
And then, as the days and weeks passed the negative thoughts drifted away and were replaced with incredibly powerful feelings of achievement and fulfilment. Those candlelit nights (no electricity) in the hotel cafeteria where friendships were forged and deepened over simple meals & warm beer and incredible storytelling of the daily adventures could never have happened had we not taken on the Cameroon challenge. The laughter, jokes and singing we all shared were amplified by the surroundings we found ourselves in. The team bonding was a journey beyond any other I have experienced.
I was not alone. All my fellow volunteers, my friends, felt and still feel the same way. And we are mostly all going back, the few that aren’t because they have other personal and work commitments though they all continue to give of their time and energy in the project preparation and fundraising.
Our reasons for returning are all pretty similar; we simply must continue the work that we started, we cannot turn our backs on an underprivileged people who live with very little and have little prospect of a better life.
Last week our volunteer team loaded a 40-foot container with mostly medical equipment and supplies all donated from very generous hospitals, medical companies and private individuals. We reckon there is over €500,000 of goods en route to Cameroon.
We will meet the container on our November trip and ensure that those in most of need will benefit. This generosity will save lives and make huge differences to the quality of life of very sick people. Some little boys and girls who are currently bedridden will have a wheelchair to bring them to school and give them some freedom. We also have additional computer equipment sourced and overhauled by XLR8 solutions.
Sean and Declan McCarthy from Stillorgan Decor donated paint and materials that the volunteers will put to good use in the primary school and Hospital in Batoufam.
Our volunteers trip this year will mostly focus on how we can support education initiatives that hopefully will give some people a way out of the extreme poverty. We are still planning the detail of the projects and will provide further updates as we go.
Fundraising is a challenge though so far we have run a golf day, ladies lunch and a 45k walk to help raise money. We have a go fund me page, where people can make a donation.
By Stephen Byrne, Founder, RippleZoo