This AidCamp was held in conjunction with our partner organisation Strategic Humanitarian Services (SHUMAS) in the rural village of Bangwe in the Northwest province of Cameroon.
The project provided a proper primary school in the village to replace the previous pole and palm frond structure used by the 230 pupils, as well as desks and a garden for the school.
The volunteers were also taken on quite a few visits to see SHUMAS's work in the area, as well as on several local and regional sightseeing trips to markets, the palaces of traditional chiefs, and to see local artisans at work.
The following report about the AidCamp was written by Penny, one of the volunteers:
"On Saturday 1st November 2003 a diverse group of fifteen volunteers (age range 21 to over 60, seven nationalities) assembled in Cameroon for the start of the first AidCamps project there. Led by Julie (AidCamps project leader for Africa) and Stephen (co-ordinator for SHUMAS, the local partner NGO) we were to provide a primary school for the children of Bangwe in the Northwest province.
I guess all of us were a bit nervous, all wondering how well we would 'cope', whether we would get along together. Three weeks on I can say we all had the most fantastic and rewarding time. Monday's journey north took all day and we arrived in the dark.
Only the following morning did we realise the beauty of the place we had come to, surrounded by hills and very green. We received an extraordinarily warm welcome from the village and the neighbourhood. That first morning the children and several village groups sang and danced for us, the Lord Mayor of Wum district, the Fon (traditional ruler) of Bafang and others made speeches of welcome. Wherever we walked in the village we were greeted by everyone we passed. Every day gifts of bananas, papayas, yams or cassava arrived at the house.
We had no doubt that our modest assistance was both needed and appreciated: Bangwe is a village of subsistence farmers; many of the children wore ragged clothes or had no shoes and many had the swollen tummies typical of malnutrition, particularly lack of protein. In class several children might be sharing a tiny stump of pencil.
And so for the next three weeks, under the expert guidance of Justin (the builder) and Eric (the carpenter) we mixed concrete, nailed roof timbers, weeded and levelled the floors, made blackboards, assembled desks and laid out flower beds.
The women of the village collected sand, gravel and water from the river for the concrete, sometimes helped by volunteers though few of us managed to carry the buckets on our heads. The children helped too, treading the earth to level the floors, carrying stones from the river to edge the gardens and sometimes joining in with their 'dig-axes' (shovel cum hoe, shaped like a trenching tool) or machetes (!).
We all enjoyed the constant presence of the children while we were working. Several of us spent time in class teaching songs like 'The wheels on the bus' or 'Give me oil in my lamp' and at break there were often games of football or catch.
What about our living conditions? Well, there were those who never quite got used to the curious jumping spiders which inhabited the latrines (long drops) or the mice and geckos that shared our accommodation. And nothing makes you appreciate every drop of water like seeing it carried by schoolchildren in buckets on their heads from a nearby stream.
We enjoyed our weekends out, especially running hot water and bright light, and we enjoyed our local visits, but we were always happy to 'come home' to Bangwe. On 20th November we officially handed over a finished school, classrooms decorated with balloons, and sadly left Bangwe for the last time.
Thanks to the organisation of Stephen, Julie and all the SHUMAS team and thanks most particularly to the villagers of Bangwe and the teachers and pupils at the school we had completed a really successful project. We felt privileged to have shared the life of a village in a remote and untouched corner of a little visited country and our time in Bangwe will remain a highlight in all our lives."
"Wow! Overall AidCamps/SHUMAS was above my expectation. I would definitely do another project. I have found my mission. Point of correction, AidCamps/SHUMAS has enabled me to discover my mission in life."
"A unique opportunity to experience life is a rural community, whilst also making a contribution to the development of the village."
"A fantastic insight into the culture, working with and living with the local population. An unmissable experience."
"This first experience in Africa is for me a great opportunity that I'll never forget. It was really interesting. I wanted to live it and it's done and I hope that I will be able to do it again. To meet the people, to discover their culture, their society, their traditions were wonderful. I realise today that this trip is going to change a lot of things in my life and I am so happy about it. It was a dream, I did it."
"A fascinating experience allowing me both to understand and integrate with another culture, which benefited me and I would hope the team around me and the people I came into contact with in the village."
"It was a wonderful experience which far surpassed my expectations. The welcome received was totally overwhelming and I was touched by the warmth of the people."
"I feel like I got so much more out of this trip than my other travels. I was able to experience the true rural way of life, untouched by tourism."
"A truly humbling and unforgettable experience."
"The experience made me feel part of the village community for the length of the stay. I had the feeling of being welcome. It was great to work hand in hand with the local people and the cultural exchange was huge."
"This is the best thing I've done in years. If you want a vacation, go to the Hilton. If you want an experience, call AidCamps."
"The interaction with the local community in the project village was very special."
"A wonderful three weeks. Fascinating insight into rural Africa."
"A wonderful experience and a learning and appreciative experience. One I will cherish."
"'Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore...'"