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Natural Building in Cameroon- start of another season

discussing project work with women

What does it take to get a building project off the ground in Bafut, Cameroon?

What will be our most successful ways to share knowledge and skills?

How can we work with the local community and have different interest groups meet and move together?

discussing the project with local builders

These and other questions are my focus at this time of beginning the work of building a meeting hall and small kitchen at Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage. The building will be the first part of a learning center where Better World Cameroon intends to teach “Permaculture African Way”. It will also demonstrate natural building and set the direction for the remaining development.

How did we get this far?

As a new volunteer last year I got engaged in the vision of a sustainable demonstration site in Bafut. This is part of a larger vision for Bafut as Ecocity for 2020. Part of this demonstration site is a farm, where people learn and practice organic growing and where Permaculture design is gradually being implemented.

A teaching site cannot fully operate without shelter for people. A design was developed for a learning center with accommodation in form of an Eco-lodge. Big plans for a small organization.

meeting hall for learning center

Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage is recognized by GEN (global ecovillage network) Africa as one of their African examples. This is bringing attention to us, and we expect to be hosting events at this site in the near future.

Close relations with Bafut Council and the local Palaces are also important elements for this vision.

eco-hut gets action

In early 2014 I worked with a group of local women to build the eco-hut. This was a teaching course to get a natural building to the village. Entirely self funded, this building was built largely as volunteer effort, in one or two working days per week. Suffice to say it didn’t get completed in three months. The local builders did put a roof on it and now the cabin is waiting for completion.

Fast-forward a few months to November 2014.

We are back in Bamenda after a stay in Europe. While abroad I was able to secure some funding from LUSH Charity Pot for the next structure, the meeting hall.

Coming back here, that means expectations- word gets around and as soon as funding is in the game everyone wants a piece of it. It gets political.

I am a builder in a foreign land here,

and I must observe local custom and learn about the local hierarchies at play. In the village we have a local government represented by the Quarter-head. He reports to Bawum Palace (which is different from Bafut Palace). As an organization we are also working with Bafut Council and Palace, Bafut being the larger Region that Bawum is part of. Our immediate community are the people of Alegnwi, part of Bawum.

The leader of the women’s group we worked with last year is also a representative in the village. Are you confused yet?

Villagers here have responsibilities to their community.

They are for instance expected to participate in communal work parties, some of which have been taking place at the ecovillage site.If an individual isn’t regularly turning up at such workdays, his or her reputation suffers.

 

Design is discussed with builders

So here we are looking at putting together a team of builders from locals, to exchange skill and knowledge and to build a beautiful hall. I have a rough plan, so as we discuss with the builders we refine just how exactly this will be done.

Meetings before action

At an initial meeting at the siteI explained my vision of the building to three traditional builders and the leader of the women, as well as a couple of members of our organization.

women will be building

The ball is now in the builder’s court to give us an estimate for the stone foundation and a post-and beam structure for the roof.

Before we actually make any contracts we will have to visit the Quarter-head and state our intentions and share our plan. Only with his sanction will this project be able to have the community-building effect that we intend.

Updates about the project

will be posted here occasionally and more frequently on Better World Cameroon facebook page.

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O.U.R.Ecovillage: 15 years of inspiring people

Today I want to share a campaign worth considering:

Of course I’m biased, I used to live there.

I spent more than 10 years designing, building and teaching at O.U.R.Ecovillage.

While life at O.U.R. Ecovillage consumed a lot of my energy it has given back equally:

I have

  • become a communitarian
  • learned to listen
  • had a venue for natural building and creativity
  • felt the power of the circle
  • witnessed the sparks when people wake up
  •  met hundreds of people young and old
  • enjoyed countless delicious meals in community
  • lived in a cob house
  • shared skills I learned at O.U.R. in several settings worldwide

and most of all O.U.R. Ecovillage is my home community no matter where I am.

community love

Consider this:

Eco-villages are seed communities for a change in lifestyle. Important processes happen there: people learn to live and work together, deal with personal issues that are triggered by living in close proximity with our “mirrors”.  Staying longer has us ever more deeply connected. Moving away from individualism to communal power.

Living in Africa I’ve experienced a culture where the community comes before the individual. This is something those of us from Northern developed countries are not used to and struggle with. The African village community quickly gave a sense of belonging for me. Helping each other goes two ways.

I believe it’s time we become villagers again and step over our fears of losing private space. Places and Organizations like O.U.R. Ecovillage are leading the way to sustainable community. Breaking new ground, sometimes literally with development permits and Natural Homes, with Permaculture vision and local food and the courage to step outside the box.

Speaking of food: one of the incentives of the campaign is a nice meal at the Zero Mile Eatery…..

Claim yours by making a contribution

 

 

 

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A certificate for working with our hands

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:

 

 

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Celebrating International Women’s day in Cameroon

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!

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Earth building volunteer opportunity in Cameroon

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