by Leona Franke
It was around 8pm when we finally arrived. It was dark in the Ecovillage. No light anywhere.
We had a long journey behind us, an over eight hours drive from Douala to Bafut..
One person led us into a room. Still no light, except one candle in the middle of the room. Silence, so many eyes watching us. I felt like disturbing some mysterious ceremony.
After some time someone gave us chairs so we could join the round. A short welcome, time for everybody to present themselves. Maybe I should also present myself to you at this point. My name is Leona, I am 18 years old. And I am from Germany. This summer I finished school. I arrived Cameroon on the 15th August and will be staying in Bamenda for one year to work as a volunteer with Better World Cameroon.
I came to Better World through the project “weltwärts”, which is a program supported by the German government that enable young people at the age of 18- 28 to spend one year in a foreign country to work as a volunteer in a project related to development policy.
Despite the curious welcome it was going to be a nice evening. We sat around the bonfire, songs were sung and stories told.
We stayed in Bafut for the next four days and took part in the seminar activities. It was a Mini “Ecovillage Design Education” course – seminar for farmers. Although I haven’t done any farming before and haven’t had any knowledge about such topics, some points were also quite interesting to me.
It was a hard beginning for me. Four days without any electricity or flowing water, that far away from home and almost every person I know.
The persons I met there, most farmers, were always very nice to me but it was very hard to communicate with them because they often just spoke in Pidgin-English while I even had problems with the normal English.
Nevertheless it was a very precious experience for me. I was able to get to know the ecovillage, I got an insight in the cultural life of the Cameroonians – with much singing and dancing – and I had the possibility to look into the work of Better World Cameroon out of a perspective – the one of the outsider – I’ll probably never see it again.
Now I am in Bamenda since almost two months. Five times per week – Monday to Friday – I have to work in the office, on Saturday at the ecovillage in Bafut.
The work in the office included at the beginning just the evaluation of the seminars. Later we started some new projects. One of them included empowering the farmers of Bafut in an ecological way. For that, we had a three weeks program where we went into the villages of Bafut to carry out a research with the farmers. Presently, we are analysing the data so we do implementation in November.
The other project is about environmental education in schools. In Germany I used to teach gymnastics in a gymnastic club and I love to work with children. While applying for this volunteering program, I applied mostly for projects that provided an opportunity for me to work with children. So, even if it is a completely different subject area than the one I am used to, I am very happy that I get the chance to practice one of my passions with Better World (working with children).
Teaching gymnastics isn’t the only thing I miss in Cameroon. I also still have to get used to the Cameroonian weather and food. Apart of that, everything else seems to be falling into place, the drive with taxis and motorbikes, the bad roads, the kids which cheering you when they see you, the noise and the dust everywhere you go, seems pretty normal to me.
By now I already made some great experiences in Cameroon, I gain a new perspective to so many things in life and also the difficulties I have to face here will probably help me grow.