Hello followers of the UWaterloo MDP Blog! It’s been my utmost pleasure to help my classmates share the stories of their placements as the MDP Student Engagement Coordinator and the Manager of the Blog. I would just like to give a huge shout-out and thank you to my colleague Laura who helps me edit the posts and takes over my role when my access to Internet is cut. As well as maintaining the UWaterloo MDP Blog, I have also created a personal blog to share the many aspects of my time in Cameroon.
As the last post from our summer placement, I wanted to share a quick snapshot of my summer placement in Cameroon. A brief introduction to my placement: I have been working with a rural Commune named Akom 2 in the South Region of Cameroon. Cameroon is a bilingual country much like Canada. I was in the French region which covers most of the country. My work for the summer was conducted in French. My placement was coordinated and overseen by the Canadian NGO Cuso International who has had a partnership with the Commune of Akom 2 since 2014. I’m writing this on my flight back to Canada and it feels like the past three months flew by in the blink of an eye.
Spending three months working, living, and learning in Akom 2 – Ville, I quickly discovered a rural council run by dynamic and highly motivated individuals. It is an exciting time to be working with the Commune as the Mayor and municipal staff are ambitiously pursuing various projects and partnerships in order to improve the lives of the population in Akom 2. This makes for an excellent work environment as a volunteer because I know that the two projects supported by Cuso International were requested by the population and fit with the Commune’s master plan of community development.
The first project supported by Cuso International is the Cassava Processing Factory. It is the hope of the population, the Commune, and Cuso International that by concentrating the production and transforming it into a product such as flour or cassava sticks a greater profit will be made by reaching a larger market such as the nearby towns of Kribi or Ebolowa.
From this project a second initiative was conceived: a local micro-finance institution. My mandate was to conduct a thorough feasibility study in order to understand the current trends and attitudes towards saving and credit. Ultimately, I wanted to know if the community wanted a micro-finance institution and how to best facilitate the establishment of one. During my fieldwork the response received in the many villages of the Commune was overwhelmingly positive. The responses ranged from eagerly nodding heads, to thank you speeches, to applause, and finally in one village an improvised song about development (translated loosely as: “what do the women of Akom 2 want? Development! Development!”). Such a positive response from the community was truly inspiring and motivational. The population of Akom II is filled with enthusiastic and committed individuals who are working toward improving the lives of those in their community.
As I pass above the Northern edges of the African continent there are some aspects of my placement that will stay with me. I will truly miss these aspects of Cameroon when I’m in Canada:
- My Cameroonian mother who calls herself the “mother of Canadians” and who welcomed me into her home and took care of me for three months.
- The feeling of my first walk in the darkness of Akom 2 without a flashlight – using only the light of the stars and my memory to avoid tripping on the dirt road.
- Cooking alongside some of the Mamas of the village and learning local recipes.
- Realizing that it only took me a couple days to adjust to living without running water or electricity (bucket showers aren’t that bad).
- The food – braised fish, cassava sticks, spicy beans, beignets, and most of all the unique and delicious wild fruits (‘cherries’, cassamanga, red fruit, etc).
- My seamstress friends who made everything I requested beautifully even when it was last minute!
- The ability to do most of your shopping from the car or at a bus station, you can find almost anything as it’ll come to you! Books, clothes, electronics, fruit, veggies, entire meals, etc.
- The many volunteers I met and forged friendships with. Many of which are still in Cameroon completing their missions.
- Learning Cameroonian dance moves every Tuesday and Thursday in Yaoundé.
- Finally the quirky aspects to the French spoken have probably become a part of my vocabulary and will definitely confuse francophones I meet in Canada.
But there are also some aspects of living in Cameroon that I will not miss at all:
- The almost daily marriage proposals – I’m relieved that I wont have to fend off unwanted advances every time I’m out in public.
- The fact that it takes a day out of your life to travel anywhere no matter what the distance.
- And talking about travel – I will most certainly not miss being squished in dusty/muddy bush taxis.
- Drinking solely bottled water – my first drink of water in Canada will be straight from a Vancouver tap!
- The inconsistency in cell service and internet connections.
- How complicated cell plans are – I still don’t really understand what I was paying for every time I refilled my credit.
Overall, although at times it was extremely challenging my time in Cameroon was probably one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. I learned a lot about myself both in professional and personal capacities. After five years of studying international development, it was amazing to experience various aspects of development theory in the field.
Thank you so much for following the MDP Cohort 4 on their journey around the world this summer. Please continue to check the blog for posts reflecting on placements, various development topics, and events on campus.
Kaylia Little is a student in the 4th Cohort of the Master’s of Development Practice program. She works as the Student Engagement Coordinator for the Program. Her research interests include community development, human rights, decolonization, gender equality, indigenous land rights, and sustainable agriculture.