Christmas is a calm time, perfect for concentration. Specially christmas eve, nobody disturbs and world seems to become to a standstill. This year the time was spent to complete a series of illustratsions, what was then printed under the name of “calendar”. For the full set of photos, go here: http://www.creativitasnova.com/?page_id=1763
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.
Since I found myself a new place to be, I have been like squirrel on a wheel. Maybe it is so to balance the first month, when nothing much happened. Maybe it is because I’ve been here for so long that things start to happen, the critical mass has been reached. This is also a reason, why blogging has been secondary. In the end it is not earning me any money or giving direct benefit to anyone, in comparison with the things I do in Cameroon. I also have two separate lives already, one is work related and another is personal. But by looking at the activities I wouldn’t say they are different, only in one case I am the decision maker.
To give a short overview what has happened for the last month or so in the organization…
…we went to Bamusso to train local councilmen on their jobs. Bamusso is near Nigeran border, in the middle of nowhere, a fisherman village for outsiders. Best way to get there is by speedboat. Being there, one shouldn’t leave the group, as there is higher risk for kidnapping. And the electricity comes from generators or solar panels. In a place like this there are no trained or schooled politicians. There are only locals, a fisherman, a shopkeeper, a bartender and every five years they elect 25 among different villages in the area to reign over the area. In the case of Bamusso, they didn’t even have an idea how to govern, what are their rights and what are their jobs. So during two days with trainers who specialize, we organized a training for them. There is no way to put it in short, just how happy they were in the end to start comprehend the road they should take.
…helped Organize Open Day Forum, a conference between private and civil society. To teach NGO-s how to contact, how to create partnerships, how to be a partner with for profit companys. A rather high caliber event, as we had a long list of important names that don’t tell me or you, dear reader, anything. Worth mentioning is probably Southwest Region Governor and list of mayors. With partnership between NGO-s who work locally the private firms can help them financially. Help fund a roof for a new school. Help bring fresh water to a village. It obviously goes both ways, in return the private firm keeps a good image and has happy workers.
…started Amas (Spanish volunteer) project in Tole, about hygiene, washing hands. Giving the basic instructions of wash hands before and after toilet, before and after eating. So people wouldn’t eat shit.
… and many more smaller things. Usually I try to help out where ever I am needed, but mainly my job is to document the process. To document for later reports, to showcase the projects online, to create content for funding platforms online.
But as myself, what I have been doing lately is…
…went to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. It was mix of business and pleasure, as reason to go there was to create a website. There is a school, that has been founded through private money and is doing good, but for getting more visibility they want a website. So I went there with a local friend Al to take pictures for the website. Website is almost ready, by the beginning of next Al is giving the site finishing touches and it will be up. There will be a video about the process as soon the page is finished.
…went to Douala, to research and document what happens with abandoned cars and why are they left behind. It will be a mix of documentary and talk-show. A whole day of walking, filming and finding people who might know about the cars that are stranded on the side of the road.
… and so on and on and on.
So, what will happen next? I will probably spend the remaining 16 days running around like a crazy, to try to finish all the plans I have before I come back. That will mean probably limited content online, though not limited experience locally and will mean more content to bring back to work on later, if I ever get around to that.