Well, what happened in Africa? Why there were no updates in the blog?
We, three volunteers in Cameroon, changed our organization and my time was suddenly filled with different projects.
Part 1: CcreadCameroon
CcreadCameroon stole our money in every possible way. In the first days, I bought myself a sim card that I used on my personal phone to get a regular access to internet. I gave 2000 francs to a CcreadCameroon assistant to transfer the money on my sim card, as I literally had no idea how it works and I only received 1800 francs. He knew I will receive sms with the amount that is transferred to my account, still he shorted me 200 francs (around 30 euro cents). And it was the overall theme of our stay with CcreadCameroon.
We arrived at the Buea more than three months ago, our EVS receiving organization was CcreadCameroon. Everything was supposed to be preorganized by them.
List of more important things that we were supposed to receive:
-Three bedroom apartment
-Accommodation, Transportation and Pocket money
-Regular access to internet
-Mobile phones/sim cards
In realty though, when we arrived we were made to sleep on a couch of a friend for the next two nights. After that we were introduced to one bedroom apartment and told we are going to share it. That there is no available apartments and no budget for a bigger one.
For the first week we had a short training week that was sub par on every level. Starting from the cultural evening to constantly having to remind that we are supposed to receive food three times a day as it was budgeted in training week.
Also we did not receive our allowances from CcreadCameroon, although they were transferred and received by NGO, we had no option as to use our personal”emergency funds”, that luckily all three of us had taken as a precaution. For the first month we lived from our own emergency funds.
A bit more numbers:
Budget for training week*: 1700 Euros
Really spent on training week**: 300 Euros
Budget for accommodation*: 432 Euros per month/1296 Euros for three months
Real apartment cost: 45*** Euros per month/135 Euros total without utilities
Money pocketed by CCreadCameroon: 2561 Euros
*Budget for these things was not our responsibility. It was decided without us(volunteers) between sending Estonian (Seiklejate Vennaskond) organization and receiving Cameroon NGO(CcreadCameroon). In fact, our food allowance was lowered weeks before departure because the accommodation budget was “too small”.
**optimistic calculation based on real prices
***reliable local source for exactly that same apartment
Dont get me wrong. We expected that they will pocket some money, but never in such amount. We would have been happy if we would have got what were were supposed to get for our money, paying higher price. But in this case, were were paying higher price and still not getting what we paid for.
It might have been accepted, if we saw that were really helping someone or at least doing something, but it was not the case.
Our typical day started around 10 in the office where we hanged out, while local volunteers were playing Need for Speed on their laptops on full sound. By 1 or 2, we took our lunch and day was called to an end. And Fridays were free.
For the first work week, preparation of a powerpoint presentation was all we did. There were multiple delays for different reasons:
-we only established contact with schools day before we were supposed to present, school replied “this is not how it works”.
-material was sub par. Other volunteers refused to present false information so we started from research.
After a month of pushing to start our personal projects, lastly we were taken to a school for blind children. We were expected to be there at the same time when the kids were in their classes. School had no experience working with full time volunteers nor we had any idea what were were supposed to do. It was a failure.
Meanwhile we had already given up on regular internet access, language classes and mobile phones.
So only logical conclusion was to drop the EVS objectives, NGO and take back the control and save whatever is left of our stay in Cameroon. This lead us to receiving allowances directly to my account, so we could take them out from the local ATM and solving financial troubles. After couple of confrontations, we also managed to get 50 euros back each, per month from accommodation budget. That left it around 280 euros per month.
CcreadCameroon also threaten to cancel my visa and sent a really ugly letter about me to the new organization, that I don’t even want to read, that dangered my position there. Luckily, new organization took the risk of not believing it and it worked out good for them in the end.
Part 2: Reach Out Cameroon
We walked into the office of Reach Out Cameroon, who luckily accepted us without any financial deal and where I worked for the last month and half. I was used to the fullest, that meant at one point my schedule was so full, there was no time to write a blog anymore.
For me personally, it was specially good. They used me as a photographer and designer. This meant I was always traveling with them to different projects and saw the full scope what they were doing.
When there was project that needed two persons, then taking a dedicated photographer with them meant the other two could concentrate on their own tasks full time, not switching between documenting activities and organizing. This also meant the photos were of higher quality, specially as the best cameras they had were mobile phones, to use later on reporting and capitalizing on the web. This would in the long run give better publicity to the organization therefore bringing more finance to create more projects.
Whenever there was a need for name signs, banners or whatever else, it could been done in house. For example, by the time I arrived, they had lost original file for the logo, so it had to be recreated. Having no-one in the office, who would know anything about vector vs raster, it was my job to retrace one for printing purposes.
But most memorable moment, to show the attitude difference between two organizations, was when I received my first field-trip allowance. Everyone who were on the field received daily money to cover expenses, like food and transportation, plastic covers over bags in case of rain etc. and whatever was left, was counted as your own. I must remind that I had no financial deal with Reach Out Cameroon at that moment. They hadn’t received no money from me or for me, but I was seen as valuable and equal member of the team.
Disclaimer: I would not say that Reach Out Cameroon was a perfect NGO, far from it, they have their list of issues but they have problems that are workable.
And to show that I am not just talking bullocks, pictures with prices to show two different apartments that I lived in Cameroon, Buea.
The first one, given to us by CcreadCameroon, costed us originally 432 Euros per month, for three months total of 1296 Euros. After many talks the price was bought down to 382 euros per month. Including utilities. Pictures are taken day before departure, so that explains the mess.
Living room, that was separated by a curtain. This is where I lived, for month and a half.
Only bedroom, that was shared by the girls. Notice the light on the table. It was ceiling lamp, that broke. And as incapable they were in fixing it, it was recommended to just plug the wires into the wall socket and that’s what we did.
Toilet (no hot water)
Apartment was located in the poorest area of Buea, called mile 16. Everyone we met in Cameroon were surprised that we are living in that area, as apparently it is the most dangerous place in the town. And it showed, it was the only place in the whole Cameroon, where we were called out constantly as “white man”.
The second apartment. I rented one room in there for 50 euros per month, including utilities. Total of 75 euros for month and half. There were currently total of two renters.
My bathroom (still no warm water)
My room. It is empty because my plane was leaving in 8 hours and I had to clean everything up.
Other room, that is being seperated. It was the same as mine, Spanish guy was living there.
Kitchen with everything we needed. We never got around using fridge, so it sits on the balcony breathing fresh air.
Storage. To keep the apartment free of excess furniture.
Balcony with our fridge. On clear day, with a view to the mountain.
And view from front balcony. As seen, the house is just finished and there is still construction going around around the house. It is 20 minutes walk from the main road, that is a bit annoying, specially in the dark, but the area is times better. It is also so much upper hugging the mountain when its rainy season, long clothes are compulsory as it is cooler than in mile 16.
I never expected that while volunteering I would manage to do something good in the way it happened. Thanks to our exploration in Cameroon, next volunteers will have a nicer stay, a more classical EVS, without having to fight for everything and trying to undo the damage. I only wish there was a project, that would send already experienced people to verify organizations around the (third) world. I would sign right up.
I would say that I am happy with my stay in Cameroon. I got to experience both sides of Cameroon and I liked one of them and would not change the experience I got from the other. I’ve lived on the poorest and the best areas, slept in villas and concrete floor where going out was prohibited, because of kidnapping threat. I’ve met awesome and honest people and the other kind. But I would say that Cameroon is a perfect African country: stable, virgin from tourist hordes and friendly. I would visit again if given a chance.