women proud of their achievement

plaster practiceEvery program comes to an end and a good ending is a celebration of accomplishment and recognition of the participants.

Our Eco-building community courses had their closing celebration on April 11 at Alegnwi Community hall. It was an afternoon of memories of our time spent together working at various projects. There were images of work, some candid portraits and Better World’s short documentary movies.

she's done it

This was an opportunity for community members to see what we would be taking into the world.

Much talking and laughter rose when people recognized themselves and their friends.

People may see themselves in a different light when they understand that participating in these projects reaches far beyond the boundaries of this region.

It’s been a busy three months for them: many community work hours were spent on the water catchment project resulting in fresh water for drinking. Women and Youth came to learn natural building at Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage where we now have a small eco-hut almost complete.

Recently community members started working toward the High Value Agriculture Project by tilling and planting the trial plot.

Certificates acknowledge those who put extra time and energy into the regular training days.

“ We have never had a certificate for working with our hands” said Dorothy Nemuluh, the chairlady of Alegnwi and one of the ecovillage builder women.

woman with child plastering

That statement means a lot to me as instructor. If we can value the hands-on skills of people similar to academic achievement we may reach a better balance in our education.

Leaving the village and leaving Cameroon, I take away a sweet feeling of connection to all those I had the privilege to work with and I carry in my heart the songs we shared and the memory of being in the mud together.

women proud of their achievement

 

Watch us work together in the mini documentary Power of community:

 

 

Elke Cole at Bafut womens day celebration
Elke Cole at Bafut womens day celebration

author marching with group

I had no idea how important participating in the International women’s day celebrations would be, until I asked my women building group: “what about women’s day?” and they all started talking with excitement. It was as though they’d been waiting for the question.

Yes they wanted to march! They would need a banner. And what about a uniform?

We painted a banner: “Ecovillage women builders” in colorful lettering on the back of an existing Better World Banner.  Having a new one printed was beyond our non-existing budget.

We wore our headscarves that were given for the wedding reception, identifying the group as “we’re together”. Having uniform dresses made was also beyond our collective and individual budgets.

On the morning of international women’s day my husband and I took the taxi to the playing field in Bafut where the event was to happen. Canopies were set up for shade, and groups, or representatives of groups, were trickling in. We picked up our designated 14 chairs and found a good spot under a canopy to set them up with the banner leaning in front of them to bring in the group.

As usual things came together slowly until the place was filled with approx. 1500 people – including dignitaries like the mayor, several political representatives, and the fon.

Finally our women arrived. “How do we want to march?” Short discussion on holding the banner for good visibility, on what to do with our hands and arms as we march. (I realized that I had never marched in any formation before- not part of my education)

Bafut dignitaries donate to Women

Dignitaries make a donation to women’s day in Bafut

 

But first: speeches- “Women eh!” The call is answered “EH!”

Dignitaries speak, some musical performances and finally the call to line up by sectors for the march. There were more than 40 groups, some with large memberships, ready to participate.  We were divided into geographical sectors and would return to our seats after our march-by.

Bafut group marching at international womens day

women’s group march in colorful uniforms

 

Marching music and cheers from the audience accompanied the women marching in colorful uniforms identifying their groups. When our call came Scholastica and Mercy lead with our banner, Dorothy followed holding a builders level like a torch and we all followed  two by two.

building group marches

Alegenwi builder women march

Back in our seats I expected everything to wrap up quickly- but there’s more!

“We have to see who gets the prizes” – oh- there are prizes ?

I don’t know what is judged here- but we didn’t win a prize. Maybe a little more practice next time?

And then a truck brought in sacks. :”Everyone gets seeds” “This is where we get our corn” –

Ah, another piece I didn’t realize but everyone there was waiting for.

 

watching the march

waiting and watching from our spot in the shade

 

 

group of Alegenwi women

proud participants

Jump ahead a few hours and back in Bamenda, we’re going out for dinner- maybe a quiet meal somewhere.

NO WAY! Every bar and restaurant was filled with mostly women, shouting, singing, celebrating.

Our chosen spot was packed too- we squeezed into a couple of chairs and enjoyed the loud crowd and joyous atmosphere.

International Women’s day in Cameroon is an important event as women look to take their place in government and business, in schools and at work.

“A woman’s place is not only in the kitchen, a woman’s place is not only at the farm” was the refrain of a catchy song we heard- Lets keep singing that one, for the women in Cameroon and elsewhere!

preparing the improved cook stove

Did you know that countless women in Africa cook the family meals on 3-stone fires? I don’t have statistics, but I see the evidence all around us both in the city of Bamenda and when we go to the Village. I have mentioned building improved wood stoves frequently since our arrival here, and many women say “I want one”,  but it took initiative and some funding (VSO thank you) to actually start building.

learning about building

It’s a project!

Wopong Jocelyn Achu asked me to come and teach 15 women in the small community of Pinyin in Santa, to the South of Bamenda. She is working as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) national volunteer for HEDECS (Health Education Development Consultancy Services).

We set the goal to build one stove with the women in a workshop, perhaps start a second one and then leave supplies for them to build another five stoves by the end of the month of January. We hope that this will trigger further stoves to be done under people’s own initiative.

Some research into the topic in combination with my own experience from previous stove projects produced a handout with mostly visual instructions. I know what it feels like to learn something in a workshop and try to do it alone the next time: a guideline is helpful, and since not all women read or speak English, it had to be visual.

To make things affordable and easy to repeat I looked for simple, local solutions for elements like form work, chimney building, tools and materials.

presenting benefits of improved cook stoves

The workshop

We left Bamenda in the early morning by shared taxi to Santa, from where we carried on by motorcycle to Pinyin.  Mountainous terrain with densely farmed valleys, this is a highly productive region for vegetables that are distributed throughout Cameroon and beyond.

The women gathered in front of Lillian’s house, where we would be building the stove under a good sheltering roof next to the front door.  But not just women wanted to learn, a group of secondary school girls attended as well and many men and youth came by during the course of the day.

The list of materials :

the main material clay is in the yardMud bricks (the women had produced 230 bricks approx. 10x10x20 cm )

Claysoil ( the pit was in the yard)

Two sacks of sawdust

Small quantity of sand (most precious there because it is brought in)

 

Tools to have at hand:

Tropical hoe to dig and mix clay

Cutlass (machete)

Measuring tape (if unavailable use body measurements)

Buckets

 

Steps to designingsize the stove to the pots

  1. Take the largest pot that will be used on the stove and determine its volume
  2. The volume relates to the size of combustion chamber and heat path through the stove (all the same cm2), a simple chart is available to look this up:  download publication
  3. The width of the stove will be determined by the diameter of the pot plus insulation plus bricks
  4. The length of it is the sum of the first pot plus a second, smaller pot, plus chimney plus edges and channels.
  5. Finally the height of the stove as illustrated in the sketch

drawing of improved cook stove

 

much interest in cook stoves

Building the stove:

  1. Prepare a 1:1 (by volume) mix of clay and sawdust  (estimated 4 wheelbarrows of clay) and a clay mortar mix
  2. Layout on the ground: position pots, mark center lines  and edges on the wall
  3. Set edges with bricks and configure firewood feed and combustion chamber (considering 5cm insulation)
  4. Build up edges and combustion chamber.using banana stems as forms
  5. Insulate combustion chamber. We used banana stems as guides which I saw in my research, but decided to pull them up as we built up instead of leaving them to rot in place, as suggested)
  6. Fill voids with compacted earth or bricks
  7. At appropriate height set the first (larger) pot in place and fill around it with insulation mix.using the pot to form the stove top
  8. At the same height the channel to Pot 2 will be built with insulation mix, followed by pot 2 set into place
  9. Continue building up around the pots to desired height.

10. Make a channel to the chimney and set up a form to build the pipe (banana stem works here too)

11. Remove the pots and smooth all edges and surfaces inside, scraping down the surface around the pots to create hot air circulation. Place three clay supports to lift the pot- allowing heat to move under and around the pot.

proud owner of the improved cook stove

Tadah!

With the experience the women had – they already know how to mix mud, make bricks and lay bricks- we accomplished the first stove in about 4 1/2  hours- with much deliberation and figuring out the process.

To my great surprise everyone got up after the meal that followed, and carried bricks to the next house. And then the women went ahead and within 1 ½ hours built another stove with little input on my part!

women build the second stove Built in less than two hours

We will return to Pinyin to do some surface finishing and to see how things are. And we hope to light the fire in the first stove at that time. When all is done and our feedback is in, I will publish a full report and make it available for download.

At time of publishing this post, the women have built three more stoves and are on track for the last 2. I am now working with another group of women on constructing a cabin, an oven and a stove….stay tuned!

Pinyin workshop group

 

 

work and cultural exchange

Get your hands into some good African Earth!

Inviting Natural builders to come and help build our first buildings at Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage , Bafut, Cameroon.

Ndanifor Permculture Eco Village is located in the village of Bafut , not far from Bamenda

Ndanifor Permaculture Eco Village is located in the village of Bafut , not far from Bamenda

It’s time to build something this dry season: we have plenty of good building earth, raffia and access to wood.

Come and help create a small cabin as a first place to stay on the beautiful rural site. We have called out to women groups and local youth to participate in community training programs from January until March 2014.

Part of the activities will be the building of a wood-cook-stove and bread oven for the ecovillage learning center.

Work with me to support this community effort and give Better World Cameroon its first real natural building experience. Share what you know and get practice by immersing yourself in a different context. And escape the northern Winter.

You can also find the project on thePOOSH and follow updates there.

Lets’ talk logistics:

  1. You’ll need a Visa to enter Cameroon– this is usually not difficult, but it poses a time factor. So get on it quickly. We will provide a letter of accommodation or invitation as required for the Visa. Check with your closest Cameroon Embassy.
  2. You’ll fly into Yaounde or Douala- both are about 6 hours distance from Bamenda by bus. Buses leave mornings or evenings and cost about $10. It’s easier for us to arrange for someone to meet you in Yaounde- Better World has an office there.
  3. Living in Bamenda is fairly low cost- Better World will help find a suitable place to stay and negotiate a price for you.
  4. Good food is readily available at low cost. We will share some common meals and spend free time exploring the hills in the area. Our plan is to work on construction for 4 days a week starting January 13. You can join any time until March- we hope to be finished by April 1.
  5. Better World has a FAQ page that may be helpful.

Can we complete this building in 12 weeks?

If you have time and a travel budget consider our offer. Get your hands into African Earth!

Please email me to discuss details and if this is not for you, share it with someone!

Twiga store

traditional celebration

When a traditional Cameroonian fon (king) has passed a new one must be “caught”. This was the case in Nkwen, one of the communities in the urban area of Bamenda. Ritual celebrations go on for days culminating in the catching ceremony at which dignitaries, traditional dance groups from many villages and the local residents gather at the palace grounds to greet the new fon. catching the fon at Nkwen

This happens with tremendous noise: guns are being fired, drumming and singing and a master of ceremonies on loudspeakers. People wear their colorful traditional clothing and anyone of stature in the community is there. We were happy to meet Mayor Langsi of Bafut, with whom Better World Cameroon works in close relationship. Bafut Mayor Langsi at celebration

Only a few days later, the Mayor Langsi was installed into office at Bafut council- following a successful re-election earlier this fall.

But it’s not just major celebrations that make volunteering rewarding and fun. While work isn’t always exciting or glamorous, we do make sure that we spend time together and acknowledge our achievements. When Italian volunteer Isabella Bonetti was about to return home we organized a farewell party in connection with our own housewarming. It’s not easy saying good-bye after three months of collaboration- but we’re grateful for a new friend.

The launch of the new website for Better World that is one of my projects here was highly anticipated by all of us here and our partners in the world. We’re happy it’s there and we continue to add more information and events as they come up. Check out next years International Summer Workcamp for young activists and change makers from Cameroon and abroad.

Joshua Konkankoh and the team in planning meeting

As the year draws to an end, plans are now made for the 2014 calendar: Permaculture classes, Natural building projects and a new office location in Bafut will keep us busy in the coming months. Sonita Mbah from our team is now a National Volunteer under VSO (Volunteer services overseas). In Cameroon VSO has been a strong partner to organisations supporting them with capacity building and placement of national and international volunteers. Sadly, CUSO has withdrawn their funding to VSO Cameroon which means that as of March 2014 there will be no more VSO Cameroon.

Volunteer Action

In my role as independent international volunteer and line manager for Sonita’s VSO program, I was invited to be on a panel on local radio”Afrique Nouvelle” . The program was part of the celebration of international volunteer day on Dec. 5. Also on the panel were from Better World, Silvestre Ngwasuh from VSO and Pascaline from COMINSUD.

interview on afrique nouvelle

Christmas is coming into our awareness as every morning some neighborhood loudspeaker is blaring Boney M’s Christmas album. The region here is very much christian so I expect that the holidays will become more and more evident.

Should you be interested in directly  supporting my work with Better World  Cameroon I’d be grateful for your donation through paypal (see link at top right).

Happy holidays to all – Peace and Prosperity in Sustainability