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Back to Batoufam – Cameroon 2019

‘Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

– Buddha

‘We convince by our presence’  

Walt Whitman

This year, the journey back to Batoufam was an intimidating prospect. I for one, had concerns as to what our roles would be in regards to ‘engagement’ with the locals and indeed, with viable and needed projects that would benefit the community going forward.

The work last year had been a voyage of discovery, and had been extremely fruitful in terms of accomplishments and also making fundamental connections with the place and its people. We had therefore, ‘set out our stall’ in 2018, and to make more progress and deliver even greater benefits was going to be no easy task. Meeting with Mick Toolan from Dublin who hosts a charity called ‘Water for Camaroon’ was a moment of serendipidy for all of us. Finola had tracked him down in Dublin and organized a meeting with him and colleagues in Bafousam. He proved to be an inspiration and a source of local knowledge that informed our perspective with regard to the project as a whole.

The initiative this year saw a departure from our efforts last year. This time we took a more conservative and communal approach. There was a pre-agreed obligation on our part to allow the locals to take ownership of the projects, so that the initiative would be seen to be ‘theirs’ as opposed to something that had been forced or transplanted on them by us. This proved to be wildly successful on a number of fronts. The locals pitched in, managed  by Ripplezoo and local builders and tradesmen, and the collaboration between all the workers both local and ourselves became an extremely wholesome and productive week of labour. The friendly atmosphere and welcoming attitude of the people was heartening as was their dedication to the work at hand.

The result was the consolidation of the older school building both internally and externally, whose concrete columns we had reinforced last year. This work included the installation of two new floor slabs, ventilated block windows and a functional surface drain to help protect the buildings from flooding in the rainy season.  In all, the new building was almost ready for occupation by the end of our visit, which means that two new and fully functional classrooms were added to the school in less than one week.

We had also looked at the requirement for attenuation of rainwater over the entire school site with Mick Toolan and agreed to construct a trench drain across the site which would feed into an attenuation pit and overflow. This will prevent massive flooding issues over the site in the rainy season, which at times renders the schoolhouses unusable by the teachers and school children alike.

We all had a go at ‘navigating’ the trench which involved a lot of back breaking work in very hot weather, but it was 80% complete by our last day. The endgame for the rainwater attenuation will be the installation of a filtration system that will allow the school children to clean their hands with untainted water, and so improve the hygene at the school exponentially.

Sammy also decided, (with a busted shoulder) to take on the challenge of the rock strewn football pitch which ended up being mostly cleared and ready for levelling to a proper playing surface with the diligence and perseverance of Messrs Byrne and O’Brien, two entrepreneurial Irish ground workers who seem to have established a thriving construction business in the Batoufam region. (Completely unbeknown to themselves, I might add).

The week was a triumph of tenacity and massive hard work from the background team and those on the ground at Ripplezoo and hopefully, the catalyst and  genesis of full communal integration to fulfill projects close to their hearts, now and in the future. This will all contribute to improve their health and their lives going forward. There will be more projects to take on, but safe in the knowledge that the locals are on board and are prepared to back their own interests by putting in the hard yards, it does not seem as daunting a task.

Peace Over War