While we were visiting schools and making home visits in Njinikom for the Orphan and Vulnerable Children’s Project we visited one school in Twayongha-Balikumato. This primary school is operating temporarily in a 2 room private home. There are 50 students at present, from 4-6 years old. The community has a plot of land allotted to them and it has been cleared for the building of a school for these children, but they are lacking funds. The families are busy drying bricks for the construction and raising monies from the population, but it is not enough. The people who live here are mostly peasant farmers. They produce Arabica coffee as a cash crop and assorted food, vegetables and fruits for their own consumption. They need outside help to get the school built. We were curious about the costs and we visited the site that has been cleared for the school. The plan is for a two classroom schoolhouse with the possibility of one more being added on. The total cost to build this schoolhouse is $24,000 USD. The community will raise 40% and is looking for external support for 60% or approximately $15,000 USD. Imagine that, helping a peasant community to build a schoolhouse for 50+ young children for $15,000! Access to education should be every child’s right. It is the only way out of poverty. I post this in the hopes that someone reading this may know someone who would love the opportunity to make a grand difference in a small community of 3100 in a small village in Cameroon. We have the proposal and can put you in touch with the people in charge. Click on any picture to go to Gallery Mode.
Joy is in the richness of relationship and answering the call to love.
There are several children who have left the orphanage since we were here last year. They were older children, 12-14 years, who had spent a few years here, caring for their infant siblings. When an infant is accepted into the orphanage, often because of a mother’s death in giving birth or from HIV/AIDS, an older sibling must come and help care for them. They also help the baby maintain a connection to family. When the infants grow to age 2-3 years, they and their caretakers (older siblings) are given back to be reintegrated into their extended families and villages. Carol Clementi, or Mimi, as she is known to all children, was heartbroken that she did not get a chance to say good bye to the ones who had gone back. Two of the boys had left her a love note, expressing their own love and gratitude for her kindness, thanking her for loving them. Bittersweet. They thought they would never see her again. Mimi has a way with children. Every child feels her love and feels truly special in her presence. It is that special kind of love you would call “God Love” that comes through her. It has a bright light to it. So last week, we enlisted the help of two young adults, Angela and Anistine, who had worked at the orphanage to help us find two of the boys in their village. We taxied to Fundong and then trekked into the village up and down dusty, rocky steep hills. We asked people we passed if they knew where the boys lived. Some did not. Others simply pointed ahead, up another hill. Our friends kept saying, just a bit further, again and again. We walked for many miles, at times wondering if we would ever find them. Finally, Anistine spotted the boys’ older sister on the road. We knew we were close. These pictures are of Carol’s reunion with Deron and his younger brother Ahfombu. It was wonderful to witness. And wonderful to see that the boys were doing well. This is the love that started “A Call to Mercy”. Then as a bonus, during our trek back to the town, we came across another child who had been in the orphanage, Gottie. It was a very sweet day. Trekking, the way the people of Africa do, gives one an insight into the real life here. How difficult it is, how strong the people are. When we were about a 1 mile walk from Njinikom, I expressed how tired I was and asked Angie if she was tired too. She said, “I cannot yet be tired, because I still have further to go.”
Yesterday was Youth Day, a national holiday. All of the schools practice for the big day and the children come out in their best uniforms to march in front of a grand stand filled with local dignitaries. There are prizes for best formations and outstanding students are honored. Project Hope was there set up for free HIV testing and was also represented by children in the Project Hope sponsored Health Clubs that we featured earlier in this blog. PH staff and volunteers moved through the crowd of students encouraging everyone to get tested, to know their status. The final counts were not in yet this morning but when we left the field yesterday, over 150 youths had been tested with 2 positive results thus far. One is too many and Project Hope is dedicated to raising HIV/AIDS awareness, eradicating the stigma attached to HIV status, and providing free testing and counseling. The results of their work can be seen in just the last few years. HIV/AIDS in this area is now 6.7% of the population. A few years back it was 12% and in 2003, approximately 22%. Project Hope’s involvement in schools is saving the next generation from life threatening illnesses that have devastated previous and current generations, leaving many children without parents. A Call to Mercy is proud to partner with the caring, dedicated and skilled organization that is Project Hope, TSSF, Njinikom,Cameroon.
Last week we posted pictures of Carine, an 8 year old orphan girl who we visited at her family compound. Carine was known to Project Hope because of her HIV status. She had defaulted on her medicine and had not been seen at the clinic for many months. Although the meds are free, the required periodic lab tests are not. The clinic will give the lab tests if a family cannot pay but they will “owe” the amount and most do not want to incur the debt. Also, the clinic visit costs 500 CFAs, the equivalent of $1. That is more than many can afford. So we went with Project Hope in search of Carine last week. Carine’s caretaker is her elderly grandmother, who lives at the compound with two daughters and their children. Project Hope’s Nyongo Jean Benard Komtangi spoke sternly with the adults about the importance of making sure the child, an innocent, got back on her medication. Carine has been enrolled in Project Hope’s Orphan and Vulnerable Children’s program in partnership with A Call to Mercy. Friday was children’s day at the HIV clinic and Carine arrived around 7:30am. She had walked many miles accompanied by an 11 year old cousin to reach the hospital. She was checked in and waited for hours to complete the process of receiving her medications. This 8 year old girl sat alone with the medical counselor, answered questions about her health and any side effects and took instructions on the proper way to take her medication. These children have a strength and resiliency born of necessity that is difficult to put into words. There were several other children whom we had visited during our implementation of the project who also came to the clinic on Friday. A great big thank you to all who have supported us and continue to support us. There is still much to do, but the fruits of your generosity have been set in motion.
Our last trek of the week was to the villages of Baichi and Mughef . Once there, we met up with Project Hope volunteer, Ndiwum Chrysanthus Ngeh. This is his village, he knows the people here and has begun to identify vulnerable children who will benefit from A Call to Mercy’s program with Project Hope. These villages cross small creeks and bridges that can only be reached by foot. We parked the bike and trekked. It is a beautiful place, mountains in the tropics. Because it’s the dry season there is always a haze caused by the Harmattan dry winds blowing across the Sahara Desert. We love trekking in these hills and mountains, walking the paths that these people walk. Being on foot, we feel more connected to this place. Alongside the extreme poverty and the lack of development you find a people very connected to the land. Most people here plant some if not all of their own food. They eat what grows in their environment. They waste nothing. They use their natural environment in ingenious ways. At one home, we were gifted with a 6ft stick of sugar cane, looks much like a thick bamboo stick. In order to take it on the motor bike, it was broke in half and tied onto the bike with a strip of dried leaf from a palm tree. I’ve seen children take the same strips of dried leaves and tie together for a jump rope. We in the West could learn from them., how to come back to the land. As always the families we visited were humble and welcoming.