The following photos are of the primary school that was founded and is supported by the Baptist church of Cameroon, in my village of Bare, Cameroon.

The School CEBEC (Ecole Conseil des Eglises Baptistes et Evangelique du Cameroun) was privately created, founded, and established by the Baptist and Evangelical church of Cameroon, in efforts to make education affordable for low-income families. The school CEBEC in Bare Centre (a small village located in the Littoral Province) consists of eight classrooms where 385 primary students attend, along with 7 teachers and 1 director. Because the establishment is private, the school receives funding only from the church and other community organizations in Bare. The government does not contribute to the development of this school, so the school is supported only by administration, the students, the Parent-Student Association, and surrounding communities.

These groups within and supporting the school CEBEC are motivated and willing to take action into their own hands. In fact, more than 50% of the projects have already been completed over the course of two years,, using what little money they could, to fund the development of the school through construction of an office for the director and a room for school visitors. The Parent-Student Association contributed the finances to start the process, and the Director of the school, Mr. Ernest Fondja (who will direct and manage the project’s completion, see him in the photo standing to the left of me in with the staff) donated his own time and intensive labor to place the foundation and lay bricks to complete the walls of the building. The only aspect missing for completion of this school development project is funding.

We are also working to fix up the latrines that are more than ten years old and falling apart, which you can see in the pictures.

I will post the link to the Peace Corps partnership program website when it is available. The application is currently being processed in Washington DC at the Peace Corps headquarters- but when made available, you will be able to help me with this project!

A little would make a lot of difference!

modeling-Manjo3My friend Autumn moved to another post: Manjo, meaning “Little Elephant” in the local language. It’s so fitting, with all the friendly villagers and cute little boutiques. Her counterpart is motivated and willing to work with her, something that she had so many issues with in her last post. Most importantly, her house is secure, so there is no chance of her house getting robbed thrice (not unless the bandits can get through the five doors protecting her house!)! In fact, Autumn’s house is a little too nice for a Peace Corps volunteer, with tile floors and a bath tub and running water- and guess what- a chandelier! I don’t know if it is because we have been here so long or that it’s really true, but it seems that we aren’t bothered as much in Manjo either. I think this is my new favorite place actually! Going to Autumns, watching cheesy movies (being a practicing mormon, she doesn’t drink, so this take lots of pressure off of drinking too), making fruit salads, eating grilled fish and just being girls (talking, talking, talking). I have only one bad thing to say about my experience in Manjo. I had to chase down a bandit. Yes, I chased down and caught a thief!

We had decided to go out for grilled fish one of the first nights she had been living there, and all was going well at this little café-like place. The fish was made and brought, and all was well, although I was sure I would have to ask for more piment (I am addicted to piment pepper sauce)… but then a kid comes up and asks to take the water back that we had washed our hands in. He said that he would also take the money. I gave it to him without thinking, but a few seconds later Autumn and I were looking at each other, realizing that this was the same kid that had been standing next to the café since we had arrived, pretending that he was deaf when we greeted him. He had no work or affiliation with the fish lady. Without a second more, my adrenaline was pumping and I dashed up and after the boy. He was a good distance from me in the marketplace, but I had him in sight when he walked right past the fish grill and the woman that was grilling on it. I ran a little faster, caught up to him, and grabbed his hand that was holding my 1,200 CFA in it. “Donne-moi l’argent!” I screamed at him. He told me that he was looking for the woman who made my fish, and asked me to point her out to him. I ignored him and continued to pry the money out of his hands, all the while calling him out- “Tu voulais voler mon argent!” I continued chastising what he had done. A few seconds later, a crowd of men gathered around us and asked what was going on. Mob justice. That is what I love about Cameroon. Everyone supports you and fights with you as you fight for justice. It’s a shared mentality that the village raises the child- rewarding, teaching, and yes, punishing. I told the men that the boy had stolen money from me, and they pretty much took over from there. One of the men started to hit the boy, and as they stayed yelling at him, I walked back proudly with my money back in my hand, back to my grilled fish and piment sauce.


September 30th, 2008

“To celebrate without having done work is to lose your pride.”

-Pere Michel, Kentaja Orphanage

This past Friday, I traveled to the village of Badzuidjong, a village with no electricity or water, where about 100 people live. Including one of three Kentaja Orphanages. Michel drove me there, down the rocky path, crossing bridges consisting of a few boards, and into what felt like the heart of the forest. Tim went with me, as well as Angel, another volunteer, and his counterpart, a last minute decision after finding out that he knew quite a bit about installing wells! A few days earlier, I was talking to Ernest about the trip, and realized that he is from this village, which was another kind of act by something greater, because he is a wonderful friend and to have his support and encouragement for this project, and to make him so proud, is just like a cherry on top of the sundae. So we drive into this village and everyone stops what they are doing and looks. Kids run up to the truck and the women wave, and everyone is smiling. At the top of the hill at the end of this road was the orphanage, where 30 children lived. We toured the place and took photos with the kids. And I met Ernest’s mother, and his grandmother, who is in a video but I had forgotten that she doesn’t speak French so when I asked her to greet my family, she just sat there! Haha. Ernests’ mom cooked a huge meal for us, and he gave her the BoGo light I had given him for her, and she was so appreciative! Later on, I was standing at the top of the hill, in awe of the kindness of the village and inspired by Michel’s motivation to do good things for others, and Pere Michel tells me that I encourage him, that I bring hope to the community; all I could say back was that he did the same for me! That same evening, he took me back to Bare where I typed up the letter he wrote to request a volunteer at one of his orphanages. He kept telling me how efficient and motivated I was, but it was as if I had finally found myself working with someone that is just as motivated! I told him what to do and he listened! We just worked! And the day ended up being extremely productive. I felt that it was what I was supposed to be doing, like I was really helping someone because he actually wanted me help- – and in the end my hope is that this village will have water. These are the kinds of things will not allow myself to feel useless for years to come, when I can think of my value as a person and look back to these days when I truly helped someone in the most need. I’ve said jokingly how my karma would be good automatically by doing Peace Corps, haha… but it does feel that way when I’m out doing things like this.

I wish that I could feel this productive every day. These are the ones that make all the mediocre ones in between worth it, as well as lift me up for the next time being of struggling and pushing and being stubborn enough to deal- haha maybe these same traits that my mother always complained about have come to be somewhat handy!

Visiting Bandzuidjong

September 30th, 2008

“To celebrate without having done work is to lose your pride.”

-Pere Michel, Kentaja Orphanage

This past Friday, I traveled to the village of Badzuidjong, a village with no electricity or water, where about 100 people live. Including one of three Kentaja Orphanages. Michel drove me there, down the rocky path, crossing bridges consisting of a few boards, and into what felt like the heart of the forest. Tim went with me, as well as Angel, another volunteer, and his counterpart, a last minute decision after finding out that he knew quite a bit about installing wells! A few days earlier, I was talking to Ernest about the trip, and realized that he is from this village, which was another kind of act by something greater, because he is a wonderful friend and to have his support and encouragement for this project, and to make him so proud, is just like a cherry on top of the sundae. So we drive into this village and everyone stops what they are doing and looks. Kids run up to the truck and the women wave, and everyone is smiling. At the top of the hill at the end of this road was the orphanage, where 30 children lived. We toured the place and took photos with the kids. And I met Ernest’s mother, and his grandmother, who is in a video but I had forgotten that she doesn’t speak French so when I asked her to greet my family, she just sat there! Haha. Ernests’ mom cooked a huge meal for us, and he gave her the BoGo light I had given him for her, and she was so appreciative! Later on, I was standing at the top of the hill, in awe of the kindness of the village and inspired by Michel’s motivation to do good things for others, and Pere Michel tells me that I encourage him, that I bring hope to the community; all I could say back was that he did the same for me! That same evening, he took me back to Bare where I typed up the letter he wrote to request a volunteer at one of his orphanages. He kept telling me how efficient and motivated I was, but it was as if I had finally found myself working with someone that is just as motivated! I told him what to do and he listened! We just worked! And the day ended up being extremely productive. I felt that it was what I was supposed to be doing, like I was really helping someone because he actually wanted me help- – and in the end my hope is that this village will have water. These are the kinds of things will not allow myself to feel useless for years to come, when I can think of my value as a person and look back to these days when I truly helped someone in the most need. I’ve said jokingly how my karma would be good automatically by doing Peace Corps, haha… but it does feel that way when I’m out doing things like this.

I wish that I could feel this productive every day. These are the ones that make all the mediocre ones in between worth it, as well as lift me up for the next time being of struggling and pushing and being stubborn enough to deal- haha maybe these same traits that my mother always complained about have come to be somewhat handy!

“Christmas, don’t be late…”
-Alvin and the Chipmunks

My dad asked me to start thinking about what I want or need for Christmas.

So there are lots of things I could say I want. There are lots of girly frilly things that would please me for a while, there are teas that I would enjoy and new work out pants would be nice, I could eat lots of pepperonis and freeze-dried ice cream, which I miss lots here… and a year ago I would have loved to splurge on nice restaurants and movies, and shopping at Bath & Body Works and clothing stores and such; I would still enjoy these things short-term, sure. But then they go away. Many of these unnecessary things we buy are eventually thrown aside, overly consumed or lost.

All of this luxury, that I didn’t even realize was luxury, was all around me. I remember during my visit, complaining about 20$ parking, saying it was too much and that I would rather walk a few blocks- and my cousin telling me, “You’re in America now. It’s not a lot of money!” Haha, later on she bought a beer for me because she knew that I wouldn’t spend the money on one. I just think of 20 dollars and what that would do for some orphans, or some primary kiddies running around with tires and boards for toys. Maybe it’s not that much, but it is in this context, which is what I am trying to help all of my American supporters realize.

I know you realize this, Dad, and that you care. You’ve always been my #1 fan and I always knew that you would support whatever was in my heart.

And so when it comes down to the core, I realize that in the long run what will fulfill me the most will be getting my projects underway and completed. I’ve been a little worried about everyone contributing though. People always say they want to help and contribute, and many family members and friends bought bracelets to support scholarships for school (which applications are being submitted for currently, and soon I will be going through them- and later there will be a ceremony of awards which you will hear all about for sure… please let everyone know that…) which is great, but there are so many needs that it’s been hard enough just to limit investing myself into a few! I really care about these projects and the people involved in them. I want to return from my mission, holding my head high because of the tremendous support and hope that I brought into my communities, because I impacted someone’s life significantly.

But I realize that it’s not all about me; it takes everyone’s helping hand. I keep hoping that people will realize that if everyone contributes a little bit, it will make a LOT of difference. I am already here doing all the necessary groundwork projects and following through. Everyone has a part, and not everyone is expected to be on this side of the world. You all can make a difference from your side, doing what you are good at and contributing in ways that I can’t!

It will make a difference for the orphans in the small village of Badzuidjong, where there is no water or electricity. It’s my priority to get these kids water. In addition, I am working together with my best friend in village, Ernest, who is from this village, and a priest who are both extremely caring and motivated for the same reasons. But they don’t have any other friends that have twenty dollars to contribute to the project. They have worked hard enough to gather the needed 25% from various groups and people for the project. The money is missing and I am that link. And I don’t mind giving up Christmas presents because I am needed here for something that will impact the rest of these Cameroonian lives.

It will make a difference for the primary school development in my village, where they began constructing an office for the school visitors and director but did not have enough funding to finish, where the Director is currently working out of an empty classroom along with his secretary. In beginning the office building, the Director himself laid the bricks that are there with his own hands. Cameroonians just don’t have the choice in getting their hands dirty most of the time. At least I do. I have the choice to bug and bother people for a few dollars, yes, I know. I have the choice to save and save until no end, and in doing so, knowing that there will always be some source of money for me (being able to work in America). Cameroonians don’t have that kind of security. I don’t know how I would stay sane without it. So I don’t mind begging for once in my life, especially after seeing so many Africans beg for the bare necessities. I am getting this project’s application (CEBEC School Development Project) submitted today, and will let everyone know when it is posted on the Peace Corps website.

ArnaudMy first project will always be Franck of course. Taking him in and getting him into the boarding school has been one of the best, yet most personally fulfilling, things I have done in my service here. It’s amazing how good it feels when you just give yourself completely to something. I realize that Franck is a life-long project! He is my adopted son, no matter what any document says.

I’ve said it before but it makes a lot of sense: If everyone contributes a little it will make a LOT of difference! Please take this to heart and into your communities- churches, organizations, groups, where you work… some people really want to help causes like this but don’t know how. This is one of the best ways, too, because the contribution goes straight to the project, without taking out a percentage for administrative costs which happens with many organizations. The contribution is direct and I will be happy to share with everyone exactly where it’s going.

All donations will be through the official Peace Corps website only.

So don’t worry or bother about sending me gifts. Just give me the gift of giving, and by giving everyone around you the opportunity to give also!

This is all I want for Christmas!

Sending lots of love from Africa,
Tara Lynn Smith