Day 1 was an early start, out of bed at 3 am for a 6 am flight to Paris and then a seven-hour flight on to Yaoundé, Cameroon.
The last couple of weeks have been hectic; visas, vaccines, final fundraisings, buying last minute goodies for the orphanages and packing. There’s an awful lot of admin involved and it’s not straightforward transferring money to Cameroon to pay deposits on the hotels, security, building materials, bus hire etc.
A big disappointment has been having to pay over €9,000 in custom duties so that we could get the container released form the port of Douala. We were hoping to get an exoneration because all the goods are donated and going to support local causes, charities and people in desperate need of help. However, it was not to be and any hope of getting a reasonable explanation why we were not successful in our exemption claim has been met with a big blank. Welcome to Africa.
On a positive note the container has over €500,000 of medical equipment, drugs, beds, wheelchairs, crutches and supplies onboard and we are all very proud and grateful to the Irish business & medical community for this amazing generosity.
The mood of the 9-person volunteering team is incredible, all on a high. Everyone is excited & apprehensive in equal measures. Juliette and Magda are our first timers and the rest of us are enjoying winding them up with stories of all the hardships in front of them.
Everyone has worked really hard over the last year to raise circa €40,000 that we will invest into local projects. We simply could not undertake this work without this incredible financial support, and we are all aware of so many other charities and local Irish worthy causes that we are competing with for funding. So, thanks to everyone who made a contribution, with money or their precious time.
In addition, the volunteers each pay €2,000 to go on the trip; some run their own fundraisers, and some pay the fee directly which covers all their travel, food and accommodation costs.
We arrive around 10 pm and overnight in a local hotel before another early start and a bumpy 6-hour bus journey to Batoufam. The beautiful landscapes and vegetation array are in sharp contrast to the endless imagery of poverty, squalor and rubbish strewn roads. Sanitation is pretty well non-existent and access to clean & safe water a major problem. This is the third world where most of the people face a daily fight just to survive. There is no welfare of any kind. This is survival of the fittest and for me the one word to describe it all is chaos.
In Batoufam we are welcomed by his Majesty King Innocent who is the Chief of the local community. His first words to us – “We never believed we would see you again”. Apparently, he welcomes quite a few overseas visitors with promises of financial aid and commitments to return and yet few do. Perhaps because of the harsh environment, perhaps because the challenges are so overwhelming, perhaps because Batoufam is a difficult place to get to, well off the beaten track.
Our HQ this year is the local primary school. 3 classrooms are uninhabitable and one of our main goals is to enable more students to attend school. Education is the key to taking people out of the poverty trap. We are also hoping to install toilets and running water, though that might be a step too far for this year. There is no electricity and no current plans to bring it in to the school. There are too many other priorities. We will also provide about 100 students with a set of schoolbooks.
Other projects include upgrading the computer multimedia centre and providing more training to the locals, another education driven initiative. We will also undertake work in the hospital and 2 local orphanages. It will be a very busy week if we are to achieve all our goals.
In the hotel that night everyone is excited, looking forward to getting stuck in, inspiring and motivating each other.