Cameroon: Step into the Forest
Our latest trip involved a trek into Lebialem Division to Essoh-Attah to speak to the students of G.S.S. Ngoh. This was one of the best groups of students and community leaders that we have met during our program. The best part of that day's program was the fact that so many participants were exercising their human right to freedom of speech. Chris and I received many challenging questions and engaged the students in a very beneficial debate of the issues that face Cameroonand how to address them.
This was only beginning. We were continuing on foot through the mountains for several hours to visit Chris's home village of Njoagwi. This was the most trying physical experience of my life, crossing terrain that experienced hikers would find challenging. But the trek was entirely worth it. I experienced things that few foreigners ever have. The first stop upon arrival was a traditional funeral celebration filled with color, drums, dancing, singing, even musket-fire. I was welcomed to the "palace" home of Chris's family, the royal family of Njoagwi, where I took some much needed rest.
The next day I continued further into the rainforest to the piece of land that Chris's father the Fon (or chief) had allocated to him to start a poverty alleviation project for the villagers. Chris is arranging to begin a palm tree grove to provide job opportunities for villagers and allow them to keep the profits. Palms are a major industry in Cameroon, as their oil can be used for many things.
We also stopped by the local primary school, which could at best be described as dilapidated. Large sections of the mud-brick walls are missing with a sheet metal roof that's barely hanging on. A small group of students and their parents came to meet us there, as it was a Saturday and no classes were being held. There were hardly enough benches for the few of us that were there, but I was told that approximately 105 students gather in these three tiny rooms.
Chris wanted me to encourage the students and their parents to keep them in school for as long as possible. But I really was speechless, the situation overwhelmed me. Standing in this classroom, looking at these children in tattered, dirt-encrusted clothes, I didn't know what I could say that would be of any help. These people need help, but words of encouragement are not it. Children and their parents want to be educated, but for some its a choice between school fees or eating. What do you tell someone who has to make that choice?
It really all comes back to the corruption that is stifling the growth of this country, particularly here in the South West. The majority of the country's GDP comes from the two English-speaking provinces, but you wouldn't know it from the infrastructure. The eight Francophone provinces have much nicer roads and facilities. Its why its so important that our program is able to expand out of the Anglophone regions into the french-speaking areas to unite this bilingual country against the corruption that is damaging the whole population's chance for a better future.
To Change the World, You Start with One Step.
- Joe Groff
Staff and Students of G.S.S. Ngoh. Where's Waldo?
Some Students of Njoagwi Primary
The Poverty Alleviation Palm Grove