Friday, January 30, 2015

Getting Started

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Gearing Up for the Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) Humanitarian Aid project in the Bohong area of CAR.  Today, I want to share some news from the other side of the border.  It is true that I have not been in the Central African Republic, but some of those working on the project have been to Garoua Boulai to get supplies for the work.  They have brought news and some pictures.  Here’s a little information about work that is getting started and getting done!

Building Houses

First, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – CAR (EEL-RCA) went to five villages to explain the project to village leaders.  After discussion, they enrolled the teams.  The next week, they returned with tools – in pieces for easier transport.  Now, teams of villagers are working together and sharing tools.

To build houses the teams are making mud bricks, but this is the dry season.  So, they first need to pump water (with motors provided by the project) into large 1,000 liter containers (also provided by the project – and pictured in the blog two weeks ago).  Bricks are then fired in a village-made kiln to make them stronger. 

Walls are built – with even the youngest helping at times!  Later, grasses (cut in the bush) will be tied together and attached to the roof frame.

Building Spring Boxes
Many springs in the area form small ponds where women have gone for water.  The problem is that this water is stagnant, often dirty, and a breeding ground for mosquitos and other germ-borne illnesses.  The first picture shows women getting water from such a spring and transporting it to their homes on their heads.  (Note:  do you know how heavy water is?  It weighs 8 pounds a gallon – so these basins probably weight more than 30 pounds each.)  Once women arrive at home the open containers also present sanitation problems as germs can easily contaminate all the water and provide other places for mosquitos to breed.

The Project for the Development of Springs (PASE) workers already work in the region around Baboua.  They were included in this project to build/repair spring boxes in the same villages where the houses are being built.  The PASE team also built a roof so that women don’t stand in the sun or rain (when that season comes) as they get water.  The other picture is a women getting clean water and putting it in a container with a cover to help keep it clean.  (Note:  it still weighs a lot! And, is still carried on her head.)   
Health Care
In the same villages children are being vaccinated and basic health care is provided.  I don’t have any pictures of this work yet, but here is a photo of the project team being welcomed into the village.  People cut some greens to wave in celebration.  You can imagine how thrilled they are to have support to begin rebuilding their lives. 

Seed Distribution
Last year, emergency humanitarian 
aid proved seed to some villages.  Seed, though, is still hard to get – because of lack of availability and because most people don’t have the money to buy what is available.  Sometimes people put their money together to try to get what was needed, but the situation is still critical.  Of those who got seed last year, some could not save any to plant this year – the hunger situation was too extreme and they needed to eat that they grew. 
This year’s aid will provide seed in March at the beginning of the rainy season.  In the meantime, the Association of Volunteers for the Protection of the Environment (AVPE) team members are planting demonstration gardens to help villagers learn methods that are better for the environment. 


A lot of work is being done by village teams and EEL-RCA project staff in order to implement the LDR Humanitarian Aid Project.  I am sure that what I have reported here is just the tip of the iceberg.  Along with all of the material progress, these people are also rebuilding their communities and their hope for the future.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Working with the Regional Reps

Earlier this month I was feeling frustrated because I didn't have enough work to do.  Some people I work with were getting a slow start after the new year.  Some Central Africans have become involved in the Humanitarian Aid project I wrote about last time and have had little time to come to GB to work with me as they get it off the ground.  The Village School Program has trained some new teachers and personnel have busy daily for a couple of months and couldn’t come to GB.  (More on that when I have some pictures and a more complete report on the work, but it is exciting, right?  8 people finished the training, 2 of them women.)

I talked to Anne and Willie Langdji by email and on the phone, but Anne said, “Come to Yaoundé where we can talk face to face.”  I came last Wednesday and head back to GB today.  It was a wonderful idea to come.  We have fleshed out next steps (for many projects).  We have worked on planning a training session related to the new (again) forms the ELCA is using for Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation (PME).  We spent a long time working together in ways we could not have easily done on the phone or online.  I've got lots to do again and feel productive again!

While in the capital, I did some shopping, got some printing done, visited with people, etc.  Several Central Africans studying or working in Yaoundé came for lunch yesterday.  The former director of the Bible School in GB who is now a parish priest in Yaoundé stopped by this morning for some coffee.  A couple of people from the USA came Sat. night and left this morning for N’gaoundéré.  And, of course, I visited with the Langdjis.  Micah is of the age that he loves to chase and be chased.  He also has a great new toy helicopter that he can fly. 

I didn't take many pictures because the stuff I did wasn’t new and I didn’t always have my camera with me.  I must be at home here now!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gearing Up to Build Houses

So, if you want to build 600 houses, where would you start??  This is one piece of the humanitarian aid project developed by EEL-RCA, and funded by ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response International (LDR).  In addition to the mud brick houses, the project will repair/improve sources of water, re-open two health posts, vaccinate children in villages, and provide seed (to be planted as the rainy season starts in March).  The work will be done in the area around Bohong which was particularly hard hit by fighting.  It is also an area where EEL-RCA has been working for years; it is natural to build on existing relationship and structures.

In addition to improving many aspects of the people’s lives, this project is designed to promote reconciliation and peace.  Villagers will work in teams as they improve their communities.  (Yes, where possible, teams will include Christians and Muslims and/or others who have been alienated by the crisis over the last few years.)  AVPE (French initials for the Food Security and Environmental Protection project of EEL-RCA) has been working in villages around Bohong for years.  They have been training villagers to work in teams to develop projects that provide income while also better protecting the environment.  What better place to work and extend the teamwork idea?

As a result of this project, a large handful EEL-RCA personnel, in addition to their regular project work, have agreed to help start and then supervise this humanitarian aid project.  Catherine Naabeau, Director of EEL-RCA’s Health Projects, will supervise the vaccination of children and other basic health services.  Victor Ndolade, engineer and coordinator of PASE, will lead the repair and development of clean water sources.  Paul Daina, Director of the AVPE project, will help organize and train village work teams.  Mathias Votoko, Community Developer for the Village School Program, will help organize and supervise the teams building houses.  Meanwhile, EEL-RCA central administrators (President Andre Goliké, Administrator Patrick Kelembho, Assistant Adminstrator Antoine Mbarbet, and Anicet, church chauffer) will also be key as this project moves forward.  Here in Garoua Boulai, Station Manager David Gbabiri is also helping as am I.  In Yaoundé, Willie Landgji, ELCA Regional Representative, has taken point in drafting the plan, communicating with LDR and coordinating the project overall.  Even more important will be the large number of villagers who will work together to restart their lives.

This week, the “nuts and bolts” part of the house construction has begun.  Remember these will be traditional Central African houses.  Participants will make their own fired mud bricks.  (I borrowed these pictures of bricks being made.  Mathias took them as a part of the VSP school construction program.)  They will collect grasses in the bush to make roofs.  What assistance do they need?  Yes, they need people to help them create work groups and to guide their steps (including training on more effectively working together).  But, they also need supplies.  How can they make bricks without shovels to dig the dirt, wheelbarrows to transport it, containers to store water needed in the process, etc.?

And, on a practical level, where does one go to buy 80 shovels??  Where would you go?  Do you think the Lowes’ of Home Depot in your town would have enough?  Would they have to be ordered?  How would you physically get the supplies from the store to the villages where they will be used?  Logistic.  Planning.  Teamwork of another kind.


Although we checked with stores in Garoua Boulai, no one could provide everything needed.  Instead of asking merchants here to order in supplies, it was decided that David would drive to Yaoundé (8 hours away) where he and Willie would buy these basic supplies.  The hardest to bring back were the 11 containers.  (The 10 are for 1,000 liters are chest-high.  They aren’t heavy, but they take up a lot of space.  The other is 2,500 liters – taller than I am!)  It is interesting to me that shovels and other tools come in pieces – the shovel heads and handles are assembled once supplies arrive at their destination.  It does make transport of materials a bit easier…

Yesterday, Antoine, Mathias, and Anicet came from CAR to get supplies.  They left with two full pick-up trucks and will be back later to get more of the containers.  After they deliver these supplies, of course, and get 43 groups in 5 villages between Bouar and Bohong started on the construction of their homes.

Later, EEL-RCA team members will extend the work to Bohong and other villages nearby.  Teams that work well together and who can lead/encourage others, will be given shirts like the one I am wearing here.  I guess that means I am already being cooperative since I got mine already!

Watch this blog in the future for pictures and more details of the work.  (You could also consider supporting Lutheran Disaster Response and/or the ELCA’s Global Missions!)  Those who were here yesterday have promised to bring pictures of the workin progress next time they come. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Computer Training Project


Since I started work here in CAR/Cameroon the most common question I get is, “Will you help me learn to use the computer?”  (OK, to be honest, this question might be second behind the comment, “Teach me English,” which is an indirect question…)

People want to be part of the digital age – despite the fact that they don’t have a computer – or even electricity!  They understand the advantages computers can bring.  And, they want to communicate on the Internet. 

Partners of EEL-RCA (French initials for the Evangelical Lutheran Church-Central African Republic) have provided money for programs and institutions to have computers.  Some programs/institutions have also put money in their budgets to buy them.  Some training was provided when the first wave of computers arrived, but computer use is still low.  Some programs have gotten new leaders who missed the initial training.  Also, do you remember when you started using a computer?  Was one training session enough to enable you to do all you wanted to do?  Did you even have a clear idea of what was possible (let alone how to do what you wanted)?  Here you can’t buy an Apple/Macintosh and then run town to the Apple store for lessons!  (You can buy an Apple product, I think, in Yaoundé, but PCs are much more prevalent.)

EEL-RCA has started a capacity building program sponsored by Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) and East Liberty Lutheran Church (Pittsburgh, PA) that is teaching basic computer skills.  A leadership committee was formed that found Sani, a qualified trainer in Baboua, CAR and response has been strong. 

What initial capacities are we trying to build?  Principally, communication and planning.  Programs and institutions formally communicate with the EEL-RCA administration and partners through narrative and financial reports.  (Yes, they also meet in person and talk on the phone, but written summaries and explanations are critical.)  Now that humanitarian aid has been arriving in CAR through EEL-RCA, reports and management of data is even more important.  Some leaders have the needed skills (the church administrator, accountants located in each center, etc.), but now more leaders are becoming comfortable with Word (for narrative reports that includes charts) and Excel (for financial reports).  As leaders become more comfortable with software, the hope is that their planning and reporting will be more thorough and clear to those outside of the program for which reports are written. 

Another goal of the program is less tangible.  We want to help reestablish positive contact and interactions among all groups in Baboua: Christian, Muslim, and animists.  So, this short-term project is not just for Lutherans.  In fact, the trainer is a Muslim.  Anyone with a computer is welcome.  (This last requirement has received some push-back; even those without computers want to come!  The problem is two-fold.  Without a computer, a participant would be less able to put what he learns into practice.  Also, we don’t have “spare” computers.)  I have been told that at least two people have asked about buying their own computer so that they could learn and then use the new skills.  So far, everyone involved in the project has worked well together.  On their own, classes agreed to put in some extra money so they could have a coffee break on class days!  As you can also see in the pictures, participants work together in class. Cooperation abounds!

We initially planned to offer two-hour classes a couple of times a week.  Participants were so excited and interested the classes have turned into 6-7 hour seminars twice a week!  In addition, there are now two classes – beginners and those who are a little more advanced.  The initial class was offered to EEL-RCA program/institutions leaders using the computers programs already had.  The second class is open to government workers and other leaders in Baboua. 

In the future the project hopes to teach participants the basics of internet use and courtesy which would greatly promote communication among participants and with others outside of Baboua.  We have run into a major snag, though.  How do people in Baboua get internet access?  This is a town that doesn’t have electricity (except for rare cases, like the Lutheran station that has a generator). Charging computers is already an issue.  We had heard about USB internet keys that work in CAR, but further exploration (so far) has shown that these keys are not really very effective, especially not for operating more than one computer at a time.  We are not, however, giving up on this part of the training; we just need to explore other options to see what we can work out. 

So, skills I have come to take for granted: writing in Word, creating reports in Excel, surfing the net, communicating with others (such as you!) through email, a blog, and Facebook, are slowing coming to CAR.  I am pleased to be advising the Leadership team of this project so that we can develop skills Central Africans can take into the future.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Celebrations with Joy

Happy 9th Day of Christmas! This is a season of celebrations.  First, we remember Jesus' birth and his second coming –whenever that will be.  The Central Evangelical Lutheran Church where I usually attend had a service in the afternoon of Dec. 24.  (It used to be held at 8 p.m. and some would stay until midnight in anticipation of Christmas Day.  This year as well as last year, the service was moved to the afternoon so that people could home by dark.  There have not been any security issues lately, but it is better to be cautious.)  I was told that the liturgy would start at 3 p.m., but as I was told again today, time here is “elastic.”  It actually started at 3:45 p.m.  A large part of the celebration was baptisms (about 60) and confirmations (about 60).  Wow.  It makes for a very long service, but imagine having so many reasons to celebrate!

On Christmas Day there was another liturgy with communion.  I was a little disappointed that people here don’t seem to know many Christmas carols.  I would be happy to learn some in French or Gbaya, but they don’t sing many.  We sang one from the French hymnal but many didn’t know it and few people have the hymnal.  (You buy your own and bring it with you.)  The choirs sang a couple, too.  Still it was a joyous occasion.

I made Christmas lunch for Dr. Solofo and Dr. Joely Rakotoarivelo, the Malagasy doctors who work at the Protestant Hospital of GB. It was good to have time to visit with them since our schedules don’t often allow much time for that.

I heard several times recently that Christmas is more a holiday for children.  They expect to get presents (as do kids in the USA, but no Santa Claus or stockings).  Girls often ask for dolls.  Like in the US, sometimes toys don’t always last long!  On New Year’s Eve I was visiting a friend and saw an abandoned leg (of the baby doll variety) on the ground near the house.  Cheap toy, rough play, or both?!?

On both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, children come around singing “Oh, Noel-y.”  They will sometimes also sing a song, but they definitely expect candy!  (They repeat the process New Year’s Eve/Day, singing “Bonne Année!”

A week later, people celebrate the end of the year and the starting of a new one.  In fact, in Gbaya, they talk about Dec. 31 as “kaɗa pɛ” (end of the year) and Jan. 1 as “mbɛ pɛ” (new year).  Interesting the way language reflects the way we think about things… 

For New Year’s Eve, I was invited to share a goat dinner with Cameroonian friends.  I had seen the goat around the house for a couple of weeks before that.  When I arrived (½  hour after the appointed time –trying to be a little elastic with my time, too), we sat outside and talked.  There were girls/women cooking over wood fires near where we sat.  The friend said, “We aren't having goat tonight.  You can come back to eat with us tomorrow.”  It is not that they weren't cooking (or eating that evening); in fact, they made greens in a sauce that I found delicious.  It was that the mother of the house (and others) had worked in the garden all morning and had not had time to butcher and prepare the goat.  I couldn't accept the invitation for New Year’s Day since I had a full “party” schedule.  So, when the food was prepared and I got home from my lunch, a daughter brought me goat in sauce and manioc “cous cous.”  I couldn't eat it then as I was full, but had some later, enjoying it.  (I have to admit, though, that I liked the greens in sauce better than the goat!)  When I took the meat out of the refrigerator to heat and take a picture, I also uncovered the manioc.  (I had not put the manioc in the fridge thinking it would not be necessary for the time involved.)  I didn't realize that sugar ants like manioc too!  If you look closely at the picture, you can see them swarming the ball.  I knew that bees are attracted to manioc that is sold in the market, but now I know that it also attracts the tiny ants.  The bowl of candy is there since I had it for the children who came to visit.

I went to Solofo and Joely’s house for lunch.  Solofo grilled brochettes which were delicious.  Solofo thought to get sparkling wine so we were able to share a toast to welcome the new year.  Their house is closer to the side road that leads out of the station.  As we ate we heard music and saw people marching past on the main road (at a distance).  Wow: a New Year’s Day parade.  None of us knew it was to happen.  Neither did a couple of other friends I mentioned it to.  We figure it was a military parade, but didn’t go closer to check it out.  
Later in the afternoon, I went to Marthe Yapana’s house.  She works here at the station and has recently completed a new house.  Her Aunt Marie has been visiting from Meiganga (where she cooks and cleans for Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson.  Marie has also cooked and cleaned for the Troesters in Baboua where I first met her.)  So on this afternoon, some people were invited to a house warming.  Marthe prepared snake (boa constrictor), beef in squash seed sauce, fish, plantains, and manioc.  I had never had snake before.  The taste is fine, but I was surprised by the number of bones.  Marthe had told me that she had bought part of a medium-sized snake, but I still associate them with being pretty big around.  I also know that boas unhinge their jaws and swallow food whole
working it into their stomachs to digest it – which necessitates bones to move it along.  But, still, there were a lot more bones than meat in the piece I got! 
Marthe’s daughter did a dance of celebration for the 20 or so people assembled.  After eating, the food tables were removed and 4 couples did a dance to open the dancing part of the celebration.  Some adults danced, but lots of kids did.  Such joy on their faces!  It was a pleasure to see.

When I got home (about 6 p.m., just before it got dark), I had a visit from the Cameroonian Chief Customs Officer who is staying here at the station.  We toasted the new year and enjoyed some conversation.  Around 8 p.m. the Bible School students who had not gone to their villages for the break came to my house to toast the new year.  8 men came and 2 of their wives.  They, too, wanted to dance.  What joy was reflected in their faces – part of the celebration, and partly because they were invited to drink a beer with me.  (I know that they cannot easily afford to buy beer, so why not share with them?) 

Churches here have services on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  I choose to stay home for both although I heard the liturgies were moving.

I got the share in the joy of the season with friends in Garoua Boulai.  I also talked to my family on Christmas Day (and Mom on New Year’s Day).  I hope that you were also able to spend time with family and friends in this Christmas season.

Remember, Christmas continues until Jan.6 when we remember the Wise Men arriving at the manger.  This is only the 9th Day of Christmas, so keep celebrating!  May you find much joy in your lives now and throughout 2015.