Andrew Hindle, and his nephew Dominic Kay, experienced their first visit to Cameroon in the company of Marianne and Jo (BSFA trustees) and Martin Lynch, long-time supporter of the charity.
Below is Andrew’s report on his trip: he really had a marvellous time.
This was my first trip to Africa and having worked and travelled in South Asia I was ready to expect the unexpected. However, I could not have envisaged that the car that came to collect us at the Yaoundé airport would be clamped for parking in the wrong zone and I would be 20 euros lighter before we could begin the first of the 1000 miles we would travel in the next 9 days!
Day one was as surreal as it could get but I loved every second. We dressed in the morning in suits as Marianne had alerted us a few days earlier that we would be meeting the prime minister no less. What I thought would be a 5 minute introduction turned out to be a 1 hour audience where we listened with great interest to His Excellency Philémon Yang. This was particularly insightful for two key reasons.
Firstly, that the Prime Minister explained that donors such as BSFA are genuinely needed because Cameroon does not have the finance to support the rebuilding of schools and the numerous other projects that charities like BSFA contribute to. Secondly it was clear that SHUMAS (BSFA partner organisation in Cameroon) stands out among others for its humanitarian activities & alleviation of poverty and is held in great esteem even at a high government level.
A few hours later and we were 150 miles south of the capital to see the opening of a school. This set the scene for every day of the rest of the trip with the senses bombarded in the most dramatic and colourful way imaginable. One arrives at the school to be greeted by the village ladies traditional singing and Juju’s performing a fantastic welcoming African dance, meeting the village elders and dignitaries, listening to the beautiful songs sung by the school children, acceptance of gifts and hearing the numerous speeches. This is followed by the official opening of the school with the handing over of keys, cutting of the ribbon, posing for photographs galore and the signing of documents.
The overwhelming impression throughout the ceremony was the genuine appreciation and gratitude of the community; from the smiling faces of the children, to the head teacher, the Fon (tribal chief) and government officials. Hardly surprising that the whole community turns out to celebrate the opening of a school or a health centre as such celebrations are few and far between in communities that are more used to the struggles of daily life.
The day was concluded with a first taste of African food. An impressive buffet was laid on at the home of the local government official and among the many the culinary delights on offer were a viper and bush meat. When I enquired as to what the bush-meat comprised of I was informed it was a monkey. I’m not a strict vegetarian but eating a fellow primate was a big no!
The reason I had gone out to Cameroon was that along with my two sisters Angela and Cathie we wanted to fund the building of a school in memory of our parents Phil and Sheila Hindle. BSFA Chair Marianne Johnson identified an ideal school in Kishiy, a poor area of the north west of Cameroon and I was incredibly privileged to be invited, along with my nephew Dominic, to witness the opening and participate in the ceremony. No surprise that this was a very special and emotional day. It was also memorable as the first time I have played football in the searing heat, still wearing a suit and being truly beaten by an 8 year old. I sure wish I’d warn deodorant that day!
Also travelling in our party were the energetic and inspirational Marianne and fellow BSFA trustee Jo Hanks plus Martin Lynch a very modest but generous donor to BSFA. The five of us made a great team and much time was spent laughing. This camaraderie continued despite some challenging journeys which were often the equivalent of driving up and down a curb non-stop for 6 hours.
These journeys were a real eye opener as to why a country that is so fertile has so many people living in poverty with transporting produce so very difficult. On one occasion our 4×4 was suspended in mid-air and we had to dig out the chassis. Another journey seemed never to end with the estimated time of arrival moving from 11pm to 7am. We all retired to our beds exhausted except Marianne of course who like a nineteenth century colonial adventurer continued her journey for another 12 hours to attend the opening of another school (just one example of her boundless energy!)
The philosophy and work of SHUMAS was the great revelation for the rest of my trip as I saw for myself precisely why BSFA work exclusively with SHUMAS and indeed continue to forge stronger and stronger links with the NGO led by the impressive and dedicated founder Stephen Ndzerem
Personally I was hugely impressed by how SHUMAS operate in ensuring that communities are empowered and take both pride and eventual ownership of the schools and other projects. This was best captured for me by how one community that was clearly very poor had, in a very short space of time, acquired all the sand for the school construction by dredging from a local river and then proceeding to cast the cement blocks. It was clear that the community were actively involved, taking pride in their work and with SHUMAS’ support creating a lasting legacy for the education of their young people for years to come.
I was also lucky enough to see how communities were supported with clean water facilities, new health centres, toilet blocks and even a bridge to avoid separation of a community during the rainy season.
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