Text by Renée Olson
“The villages are really in grave condition in almost every area of development,” says Shannon Daley C’09.
The Road to Mamfe is not for the Faint of Heart.
First you lash your luggage to the roof of a van, sardine yourself inside and settle in for the long haul, gripping your seat as your driver slows to dodge potholes the size of craters. Getting here, a mere 105 miles from where you started near the airport, consumes eight hours and leaves everything—including you, one of 19 Drew students—caked in a thick layer of dust.
It does not dampen your enthusiasm for what comes next.
Over the next few days, you fan out from Mamfe, meeting Cameroonians in schools, fish farms, health clinics and female-run savings cooperatives who help you understand grassroots development here. You drink it in, keenly aware of pressing needs everywhere. As one student writes in her journal: “Even in one small area in one small country, the problems seem huge.”
Massive challenges, indeed. And therein lies the paradox. In your predeparture course, Development in Africa: Successes, Failures and Trends, you learn that the practice of floating seemingly infinitesimal amounts of aid money directly to individuals is gaining momentum in development circles.
Given the opportunity to send small infusions of cash to this remote patch of Africa, how would you produce the greatest good for the greatest number? Forget term papers—you and your classmates write foundation-worthy proposals and review each one for sustainability using a framework of best practices. You’re filled with deep satisfaction: Three projects deemed most viable will be put into motion, using more than $5,000 raised back home.
In the village of Kembong, you pause in front of the sign at the local nongovernmental organization that will oversee your projects. Its hand-painted motto, a Cameroonian proverb about the value of taking measured steps to get to one’s goal, now seems particularly apt: Small Small Catch Monkey
“The majority of students here won’t make it to secondary school,” says Matthew Groch C’08. “Not every child is getting a shot—only the best and brightest.”
Grassroots Development in Cameroon
When: January 5–27, 2008
Led by: Associate CLA Dean Kathleen Madden and Andrea Talentino, associate professor of political science
Destinations: The University of Buea; small villages, including Mamfe and Kembong; a dense rainforest for a steep eight-mile hike; Limbe, on the Bight of Biafra, off the Atlantic Ocean
In a village near Mamfe, “the clinic was constructed because of a connection to a goverment worker, but he left before the clinic could be supplied,” says Mike Degen C’08.
A municipal official discusses development with Mike Degen C’08.
Cameroon DIS Funds Projects In Rural Schools and a Farm
Before they left Madison, DIS students raised money in several ways, including a fundraising event held in The Space. Their net was more then $5,000—five times the average annual income of a Cameroonian. The students broke into teams, wrote proposals for eight projects and chose, World Bank–style, the three most viable below:
Primary Education Project
Team: Nathan Hoffman C’10 and Robert Wnorowski C’09
The need: The Kembong Government Primary School’s first and second grades, each with its own teacher, are wedged into a single classroom, an invitation for distraction. “It’s so sad these kids have to endure another day under these conditions,” says Nathan.
What the money will do: Finish construction on a classroom needing a roof, floor and plastered walls to allow each grade to have its own room.
Long-term benefit: “I feel our project will build human capital,” says Robert. “Investing in education spills over into many other aspects of society.”
Jasmin Siegle C’10 listens to a member of a savings cooperative.
Textbook Rental Program
Team: Liz Bowers C’10 and Shannon Daley C’09
The need: The Kembong Government High School principal told Liz and Shannon that some 60 percent of his students can’t afford textbooks, even though they’re required for exams.
What the money will do: Start a program that rents books for 25 percent of the purchase price.
Long-term benefit: “We hope this will lead to higher scores on exams and an increase in the number of students going on to college.”
Farm Expansion Loan
Team: Gabriel Auteri C’09 and Matthew Groch C’08
The need: A local communal farm lacks the capital to expand operations.
What the money will do: Offer a 26-month microcredit loan and launch a legally chartered corporation, entitling the farm to government support in the form of seeds, training and equipment.
Long-term benefit: “By empowering people with much-needed capital, we hope we can spur development from within by creating a functional middle class with expendable capital.”
Additional funding will be sent to the health clinic in Kembong to supply delivery kits, office supplies and malaria nets for beds, and to a high school health club that will produce and distribute informational pamphlets on malaria, sexually transmitted disease and basic nutrition.
The entire village of Kembong comes out to welcome the Drew contingent.