Good deeds and bad government

A friend of mine challenged me the other day after reading my last two blog entries, to write some of the good stuff that I have experienced during the last several weeks I have been living in this rural African village. So I sat down and searched for positive comments and complied my list. One doesn’t feel alienated or alone. Regardless of their tough lives, the people here always greet each other with a handshake and a smile, not something Americans are accustomed to. Kids here are very resourceful. All of their toys which aren’t many, they have made from cardboard boxes, sticks and whatever they find lying around. They rarely complain about things and start helping their parents at the age of 5 or 6. People spend a lot of time outdoors and are always on the roads chatting with each other. They welcome foreigners with such warmth and enthusiasm, one never feels like an outsider.Outside of the shanty villages (sorry that’s what they are), the surrounding countryside is lush, green and breathtaking. Not a huge list of wonderful things to say but this is my perception.The real good stuff is more about what I have been able to achieve here with the help of Leo Mbanda, the Cameroonian I worked with last year here in Fundong. He has a small ngo CIRDAF, involved in horticulture and agro forestry. Last year we visited several primary and secondary schools, he gave a talk on planting and donated fruit trees, and plantain plants to the high schools. I spoke with students about the importance of clean water, small families, education, and recycling food scraps, plastic bags and bottles.. Tiny black plastic bags, used in all the stores and markets, are a plague on the land. Last year with my contribution of $240, we produced 12 recycling bins which will be given out to several schools to recycle food scraps for compost and plastic to bury. With the financial support of my friend Bill Winkley and his ngo OFI (one family international)
I helped facilitate connecting the bi-lingual high school to a main water line. During the dry season, which lasts about five months a year, they had no access to any water at the school.Now clean water is flowing from six taps spread over the campus.One of the greatest abuses here as in most of Africa, is that women have no voice. Being outspoken and independent and having spent years in group therapy, I wanted to start a support group to encourage women to speak up and share their problems. Last year my first women’s group had two problems, their mother-in-laws and their job prospects. I suggested setting boundaries for the in-laws, a new concept for these women. Since there are barely jobs for educated young people, the village women, some with only a few years of schooling , had to create their own jobs. Some were going to make corn beer, some yogurt, one woman did embroidery and the other was a seamstress. Their problem was no capital so I gave them $50 to open an account at the credit union. As they earned a little (a few dollars here is a lot) they added to the account. Last week I met with the group and some of them were surviving, making a small profit. With a contribution from my brother, we are adding another $200 to the account which will give them the opportunity to borrow up to $600 at interest under 5%. Most of the women in underdeveloped countries are resourceful but need a small amount of capital to start their homegrown businesses.Since I use the internet café at least six times a week, I befriended the young manager. Her name is Nicholine but I call her Nico after the Nico of Andy Warhol fame. Shocked at her salary of $30 a month, she works six and half days a week, she confided she wanted to be a nurse. Again with part of my brother’s contribution (he donated $2000 to OFI, who will legally transfer the funds here) of $200 and a bit of her own money, she can start nursing school in the fall.

My most rewarding story involves my neighbor Vivian. She lives in a small two room dirt floor building without electric or water. She cooks over a wood fire in the same room where here two boys, Shelton, 6 years old and Remi, 12 years old, sleep. A kerosene lamp gives her light and an outdoor toilet and shower behind the compound is her bathroom. Like most of the women in the village, she farms a small plot of land that returns some beans and maize for her family. The land was loaned to her by her uncle who is a janitor for the local government office. To supplement this, she makes a fried dumpling called gateaux, waking up at 3 am to start the dough rising, at 5 am to fry them and by 6 am to be on the dirt road near her house to sell to the people on their way to school and work. When I asked how much she profited everyday from a 3000 cff investment ( 500cff= $1), she admitted almost nothing. Raising prices is never a good option so I suggested she make the gateaux a little smaller and the extra would be her profit. Within one day she had a gain of 50%. Again with a $300 gift from the $2000 donation, she will be able to buy large bags of flour, sugar and, tins of oil to lower her costs and increase her profit. My other suggestion was a thermos of tea with sugar to complement the sweets she sells. Last evening while her sons savoured the hot milk (powdered), crackers and jam I make them everyday, she proudly exclaimed that finally she had money to feed them vegetables and fruit instead of only maize and rice.

With help from Camilla, Leo’s wife, we organized another women’s group, composed of women married to men from a village an hour trek from Fundong. The only requirement was to understand English so I could talk with them directly. After a bit of coaxing the one woman who was a teacher, the rest all being farmers, admitted that she had a conflict with her husband. She was thirty years old and already had four children. She did not want anymore but her husband was insisting even though the baby was only 6 months old. He threatened to leave her and take a new wife if she refused. The shocking part of the story is that he also is a teacher. Finally several others admitted they also had this problem. None of the others could survive alone on subsistence farming so they felt helpless in this situation. Disagreements they added could end with physical abuse. We have planned another meeting in two weeks time to continue our discussion. Camilla expressed great appreciation from the women after our meeting.
For those of you who remember reading my expose on the orphanage last year, accusing certain individuals of financial mismanagement, I was delighted when I returned here this year to find out that the headmistress had quit, claiming mismanagement of funds. The American religious organization which supports the orphanage ( nameless to protect myself) has sent a young American over here for six months who is now managing the funds. I was never informed of any of this but I feel vindicated for my observations.
Since the government does almost nothing to improve the living conditons, many villages have no clean water or no water. I will try to find funding for two villages near Fundong. Alim, and two neighboring villages have a population of 7000, and share the same small water source adequate for 2000. With the village council, I trekked through the brush to see the exisiting water system and their proposal to expand it. The cost I am guessing is at least $30,000. They are preparing an estimate and proposal for me so I can look for funding.
The village of Ngwainkuma has a dry cistern, the villagers having to transport water several kilometers on foot, carrying five gallon plastic containers on their heads. They have made a financial agreement to tap into the water from a village above them in the mountains. To install the piping and taps in their village, not even in their houses, will cost about $24000. The village has raised $10,000 over five years but another $14,000 is needed to do the job. All of the diagrams and costs have been accounted for so when I will search for non profits in the States to fund this project.
Allow me the privilege of throwing out a negative as I end my blog for the day. When I arrived in Fundong a few weeks ago, I noticed that all the city water taps that were opened last year four hours a day for hundreds of people to use,had been locked by the mayor and city council because they had no funds to pay for the
Water. Leo and I went to several government officials in town to complain. I used the argument that I was seeking funding for villages who needed clean water or larger systems and the city who had a water system was refusing to give the people water. Each of the bureaucrats referred us to someone else. The accusation rested on the mayor who was the one who ordered the taps be locked. He was not even elected but had replaced the mayor who died in office. Everyone we spoke to had a negative comment to make about him but he still had two more years in office and no one was prepared to write a complaint about him. He was also the person who had offered to make four garbage cans with my $240 donation instead of the twelve that Leo had made.

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