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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

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A king was caught and a mayor installed: celebrations are part of volunteering

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