The primary school was our biggest project in Batoufam. We were a little apprehensive returning to the school. Last year we renovated and painted 3 classrooms. We also provided a full set of schoolbooks to the 90 school children. Would our work stand up to hard climate and rain season where the water deluge very often closes down the school? Would the locals have looked after the school and maintained our work? We were pleasantly surprised; our work was intact and being cared for.
Last year we paid building contractors to undertake most of the construction work with the volunteer team then finishing out the projects though with very little interaction with the locals. A big difference in our approach to the project work this year is to support & empower the locals, giving them responsibility to undertake the work with the volunteer team supporting them. This is a fundamental and important pivot; giving the community ownership for the upgrading of their own school.
The school, as it was at the start of the week, consisted of our 3 renovated classrooms and another uninhabitable building with 3 rooms. There is no electricity, no toilets and no running water. A hand pump provides access to water though it is not safe to drink.
All the supplies we had pre-ordered were on site; gravel, aggregate, sand, cement and a mixer. Also on site were the local tradesmen and labourers who would undertake most of the work. We will pay them a daily rate; €23 per day for the foremen/skilled tradesmen down to €7 per day for the labourers. These are standard wage rates in Cameroon.
Tom, our architect was responsible for the school project. Goal 1 was to redirect the rainwater away from the classrooms so that the school could be open throughout the year. The classrooms were quite a bit below the access road so that in the rainy season the water would come streaming through the gate and straight down into the classrooms. Tom designed a solution that would divert the water away from the buildings into a run-off area. This meant building a 1 metre X 1 metre trench parallel to the road just below the access point. The trench was about 50 metres long. The only tools available were pick-axes and shovels. The trench was completed by local labourers supported by the volunteers who were highly impressed with Finola, Juliette, Kamila and Magda who toiled alongside them in 37 degrees of heat and more than matched them whether with pick or shovel. The trench was completed by the end of the week.
The 3 uninhabitable classrooms were a much bigger project. We had four local foreman each responsible for their own team. While Tom oversaw all of the work it was Yvette (originally from Cameroon and now a nurse in Ireland) who managed the foremen, oversaw the purchase of all the additional materials required and provided a hot lunch for the 30 plus team. Batoufam is a French speaking area and for Yvette it’s her original language. That was a big benefit.
The work consisted of internal and external plastering, flooring, the installation of windows, the construction of the pathway outside the 3 rooms and providing a run-off solution for the rainwater coming off the roof. Amazingly, all of the construction work was completed in 5 days and the only work now outstanding is the painting of the 3 rooms which is imminent.
A new friend to Ripplezoo, Dublin man Mick Toolan who founded and runs “Water for Cameroon” met us on site and will be providing a solution/proposal to complete the water run off area and supply a toilet & sanitation solution to the school.
The volunteer team met all their goals for the week, a big achievement. Another 60 Children can now attend school, the school will be protected from the surges of water which both damages and closes the school during the rainy season. The project has injected some much-needed money into the local community. The tradesmen men and labourers worked harmoniously and with pride in their school. New friendships have been forged and older ones deepened.