Deanna’s Experience in Cameroon

“Reality has a tendency to be so uncomfortably real”

As Neil Peart – whose band Rush was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame – put it in his book documenting his bicycle tour of West Africa.

I read his book in the month leading up to my visit to Cameroon. That’s how I prepare for any new experience in life, by overloading myself with information. In addition to reading Peart’s book I also researched the history of the country, zoology, entomology, herpetology, geology and hydrology of the jungle region. The Ecologist in me craves this type of information, but I also wanted to know everything I could about the issues faced by Cameroonian women as well as workings of the education system, and ins and outs of what has been documented about the development of the area. I spoke to people that had been there, worked there and lived there. I know it sounds cliché, but none of that prepared me for the reality.

Physically, an ICA monitoring expedition like the one I was part of is a challenge. I had trained for four months building up my cardio and the muscle memory required for the “uphills”.  Who knew the “downhills” could be that demanding? I kept close tabs on my water and food intake and rested as much as possible. The heat and humidity are not usually a problem for me, so I faired pretty well. I surprised myself with how good, energized and strong I felt on the 2 to 4-hour long treks between villages.

Our mission was to interview high school-aged students about their experience in ICA primary schools and to get some basic information about their transition to high school. We had the pleasure of visiting the newest primary school that is currently under construction in the remote village of Folepi. The care shown by the local community, who came out to meet us was incredible to witness. I was also a member of a team that looked at the existing water systems and possibilities for future expansion of secondary lines and treatment options. It was a lot of walking!

In the days since returning home, I have likened the emotional experience to “drinking out of a firehose”. There is so much to process and it comes at you so fast.  Day in and day out, there were all new, well outside of your comfort zone and evoking strong emotional responses (if you are anything like me). I knew that the interviews would be difficult to conduct, especially with the young women. Their reality dictates that they have few options available to them.  I found out that each of them had a dream for their future. They were generally very clear about what they wanted for their life’s path. Most of them expressed a need to use their talents to help their families and their village. The strong sense of community among these young people is inspiring. 

I spent hours each night lying awake in my tent assessing my own life thinking about my family, my children and everything we take for granted. With few life experiences to draw from in these situations, it is about building on what you know to create a new version of what is true for you. 

Here are some of my new truths:

  • Life can be so beautifully simple
  • Mothers are mothers everywhere
  • Education is a game changer
  • Wild is relative
  • Water is life
  • It most definitely takes a village

The Lebialem Valley is home to some of the kindest and most generous people I have had the privilege to meet. It is a harsh and unforgiving existence in many ways, and yet it is indescribably beautiful. My time there was amazing, exhausting, and heartbreaking, but without question I would do it again tomorrow. It has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I found it strange how wherever we went, the people were thanking us…Thanking us? I wanted to say: “trust me, I am getting way more out of this than you are!” 

To the people I met along the trail and in the villages of Njilap, Lekeng, Bechati, Folepi, Nkong, Bangang, Besali, Menji Fonjumetaw, Ndumbin, Tschogi and Lewoh, I will see you again.

A part of me belongs now to those hills. 

There aren’t words to express how grateful I am to the CIC/ICA and their fearless leaders for offering me this opportunity to be so totally uncomfortable, grow and learn from their vast knowledge. There is still much work to do.

Deanna Lindblad

ICA Board Member

UTE Hits $10,000 Fundraising Milestone to Aide in Humanitarian Efforts in Cameroon

The Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) has been supporting ICA Canada and its projects for over 10 years, including the construction of three schools and new classrooms. They don’t plan to stop anytime soon. In fact, they have recently reached the $10,000 milestone towards their next school in Cameroon!

The latest project we worked on with the UTE was the construction of new classrooms at the Rainbow Bilingual College in Dschang located in West Cameroon. It is the first private school to partner with ICA Canada for a project like this.

There have been positive impacts as soon as the new classrooms were available. The student enrollment increased by 39.4% between 2018-19 and 2019-20. The number of teachers also increased from 23 to 34 for the same period. By only adding new classrooms, we have helped increase the number of students enrolled and reduced the unemployment rate among the youth.  

“The two classrooms constructed with all the laid down standards of a modern classroom have gone a long way to facilitate this teaching-learning process by providing the learners and teachers ample space and a very conducive environment. Teachers and learners can move freely and there is no interference of sound,” said Asongu Severine N., Biology teacher at the Rainbow Bilingual College.

A year ago – just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the World – a delegation from ICA Canada went to Cameroon to see the newly constructed classrooms and witness the positive impacts it has made on the community, thanks to the UTE members.

Crisis in Cameroon

There is currently an Anglophone crisis ongoing for years in the South West and North West Regions of Cameroon that has forced many people in migrating to the town of Dschang. In 2019, it was estimated that 22,000 people including 11,900 children and young adults were those, who had been displaced to Dschang. This put a stress on the existing academic institutions that weren’t equipped to take on more students in the primary and secondary schools as well as vocational training centres.

Extra classrooms and more schools need to be built on an ongoing basis, hence why we are very excited about the UTE’s pledge to build their fourth school. The students we have met in Cameroon have shared with us how much it makes a difference for them.

“Ever since coming to the Rainbow Bilingual College as a displaced person, I was fortunate enough to be placed in one of the classes donated by the ICA. The block consists of two classrooms painted in blue and white. These classrooms have not only benefitted me, but also all the other students. Thank very much for your support,” said Alemngru Glory, who is a student.

Thank you to the UTE from the bottom of our hearts for your constant support over the years to help Cameroon children with their education.

If you would like to contribute and help the UTE in reaching its $30,000 fundraising goal, you can do so here.

 

Meet Monica – ICA Volunteer

Monica Chow has been a volunteer with the International Children’s Awareness (ICA) since 2019 helping the organization with social media management, and taking photos and videos. Born and raised in Ottawa, Monica is a Senior Project Officer for the Government of Canada with a background in business. Prior to her current position she worked in project management, government administration and high profile agency wide committees.

She learned about the ICA from a co-worker whose son visited Cameroon a few years ago and it turns out that her union – the Public Service Alliance of Canada is affiliated with the ICA and sponsors a board member annually.

Monica felt that the fit would be right to volunteer for a smaller NGO (non-governmental organization) focused on basic human needs, such as education and clean water. She realized that she is very fortunate to live in Canada and wanted to help those, who are less fortunate. Monica also appreciates that all ICA board members are volunteers unlike the bigger NGOs.

Humbling Experience

Monica was offered the opportunity to visit Cameroon in 2019, and she took it. She witnessed firsthand some of the ICA projects, including the Rainbow Bilingual College and Lycée de Litieu where more classrooms were built. These two schools and many others are in Dschang – an area heavily impacted by the displacement of people from the south west region. During this trip, Monica and the ICA delegation brought over 1,500 pairs of eyeglasses to donate and held a pop-up eye clinic.

Monica was truly amazed by her experience in Cameroon. She especially felt honoured to visit the schools and spend time with the students. “Seeing this developing country where people live with the bare minimum while being so kind and happy humbled me,” she said.

She believes that water and education are the foundations to help any economy improve and potentially thrive on its own. “Without these fundamental pillars, Cameroon will not only remain in poverty, but will never be able to self-sustain and will always rely on outside help,” she said. Monica hopes that the ICA can help change this reality in the long run.

You also can help!

 

Meet the Student

Meet Chantelle

Chantelle is 16-year-old young lady from the Village of Besali located in the South West region of Cameroon. The ICA team met this beautiful and soft-spoken student, who has six siblings aged from 6 to 20 years old. All of the children in the village are attending the ICA/CIC primary school that was built in 2010.

Chantelle shared with us that this school is one of the very few in Cameroon that has enough textbooks for everyone, and that it made learning easier. She is currently studying in high school and the textbooks aren’t provided. “My father works very hard to send us all to school, but there is not enough money for all the books we need,” she said. Chantelle also explained that she and her friends share their books since none of them can afford to buy them all.

Chantelle would like to be a teacher once she has completed her studies. During her free time she plays handball and football with her friends.

 

Christmas in Cameroon Stories

Christmas in Cameroon – Story 1

Christmas in Cameroon is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and that he is our spiritual leader. Christmas is also a day where family members travel to meet extended family to celebrate together.

On December 23rd, families clean up and decorate their homes with decorations such as Christmas trees, balloons, and other things to show people that they are ready for Christmas day. Men of the communities get together to drink, hang out and laugh while the women and children clean and decorate the community. It is also the day where family members, who does not live nearby will travel home to celebrate with their families, especially students who attend school in other parts of the country. It is the same thing for family members, who work and live far away, and those who are married and live with their own families outside of the community.

Christmas Eve is a day of killings animals for the big fest on Christmas Day. To have animals for the big feast, some men will enter some financing groups called ‘Njangi Houses’ months before Christmas where they can contribute a certain amount of money and be able to buy stuff for December 25th. Some men will also come together as a group to contribute money to buy cows, figs, or fowls to be shared among the group.

On Christmas day, the women and children stay home to prepare these animals for the big feast. They must be prepared on this day. Chewable like chin-chin, peanuts, doughnuts, chickens, groundnuts, and puff-corn are being fried. Communities in Cameroon love to prepare their traditional meals, for example in the North West they make achu, fufu-corn and vegetables with caty-caty (fried chicken or fish sauce). In the South West, they prepare fufu, eru, rice and stew, yam and ndole, and achu.

In some communities, people will come together to organize a small gathering where each family will bring their meals to share and celebrate Christmas as a big happy family.

 

Ngeasong Nguni Forchin, 20 years old.
University of Bamenda
Northwestern Cameroon

 

 

Christmas in Cameroon – Story 2

Christmas in Cameroon occurs during the dry season, and in the heat of the coffee and peanut harvest. Over 70% of Cameroonians are Christians, and to them it is one of the most important days of the year. New Year day is also very important as it marks a moment of rebirth, moving forward, forgetting, and correcting the past while everyone is wished good luck.

No Christmas is complete without a big feast and music with songs like ‘Shall We Go to Bethlehem’, ‘Jesus Christ is Born’ and ‘O-Cocorico’. Many communities will decorate strategic places with anything they can find small or big from lights, candles, nativity scenes and wallpapers. Plastic Christmas trees or the traditional Christmas tree (local cypress) are very common. However, some families cannot afford it or do not see it as necessity as they prefer to save or invest.

Due to the diversity in Cameroon from different geographical areas, cultures, fashion trends and beliefs, there is always a guarantee that celebrations will be different, unique, and memorable for each Cameroonian. Many families dress in their best clothes to celebrate together. Children often receive clothing as a gift.

The most important aspect of Christmas day is the present of abundancy in foods and drinks, even for the less privileged families who do not starve on this day. Many people give without hesitating.

Atemnkeng Emiliene Atabong

Make Christmas more magical for Cameroonians by giving the gift of helping ICA with its clean water, education and community projects.

Letter from the Board Chair

November 2020

Hello,

The continuing civil unrest in Cameroon is putting additional pressure on a country already in crisis. This situation has only increased the need for foreign partners to redouble their efforts and assistance Cameroon. There are four unique crisis’ that are occurring simultaneously and any one of them is enough to bring immense hardship on a nation that ranks 150th on the UN’s Human Development Index with up to 40% of the population having little to no formal education.

The breakdown of the four crises facing Cameroon are:

1. In the North-West and South-West regions, a separatist movement has displaced more than 700,000 people.

2. In the Far North, between 230,000-300,000 inhabitants are displaced due to persistent violence by Boko Haram.

3. In the East, the ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic has forced more than 270,000 refugees into Cameroon placing a massive burden on an already impoverished nation.

4. COVID-19, this global pandemic has imposed a national crisis on Cameroon that only compounds the stresses on the entire population.

The violent crisis caused by the separatist movement has occurred in ICA’s traditional areas of aid and has forced us to react. In the areas of the highest violence, schooling has ground to a halt in 2017 and hundreds of thousands of fleeing school children have not been in a classroom for 4 years now.

ICA has made a commitment to help the people displaced by this unrest, and have shifted our school building focus to ensure that we are building schools that contribute to the critical need to provide education for these refugees of the escalating violence in the North-West and South-West regions. Pre-existing schools in the areas where the refugees have been forced to settle are bursting at the seams. Classrooms designed for 60 children are hosting 160 and, as a result, the quality of education has been reduced dramatically. ICA is building classrooms in these areas to help ease the burdens caused by unmanageable class sizes.

In the past 3 years we have built 6 large classrooms that have helped to a great extent. In the grand scheme of it all, it’s a small contribution to a problem of this scale, but we remain dedicated to working to the extent our funding allows, to facilitate an education for the children of Cameroon. At ICA, we firmly believe that education changes everything for a child.

As the Chair of ICA I am proud of our efforts to continue to serve the people of Cameroon in the face of some of their greatest trials. We continue to work extremely closely with our local partners, the Centre for International Cooperation, to provide assistance in some of the most negatively impacted populations of the ongoing violence. None of this would be possible without the steadfast support of our many individual and organizational donors. Together we continue to make a difference.

Sincerely, 

Michael Johnson, Board Chair ICA Canada

Let’s educate these kids.

The future is NOW!

#newgeneration

Featured Board Member

Dr. Lorraine Frost

Dr. Lorraine Frost has been involved with the International Children’s Awareness (ICA) as a board member from 2003 to 2006, then again since 2018. She travelled to Cameroon in 2003 with a group of teacher candidates as a part of her work, and became interested in what Ed Smith – founder and previous president of the ICA – was doing to help Cameroonians. Once she was nominated by outgoing board member Dr. Dave Marshall to take his place, the rest is history.

Dr. Frost was deeply marked by the generosity and humanity of the people she met in Cameroon during that trip. “They welcomed us, cared for us and shared with us,” she said. She believes in the work of the ICA, because the organization’s approach respects and collaborates with the Cameroonians. The ICA’s volunteers also work on the initiatives that are important to people in Cameroon.

Dr. Frost’s most meaningful involvement with the ICA has been to work with The Retired Teachers of Ontario to help raise funds that went towards the purchase of textbooks for schools in Cameroon. It is a project that had a direct connection to her career as a teacher.

She began her career in Norway House in Manitoba – an indigenous community accessible only by air. Dr. Frost was born and raised on a farm just outside of Teulon in the Interlake region of her home province. She taught in rural Manitoba and Toronto before starting her PhD studies in Special Education at the University of Toronto. She has taught and supervised at the undergraduate and graduate levels across Canada since 1988.

With over 45 years of experience in teaching Dr. Frost is currently the Director of the Concurrent and Consecutive Bachelor of Education programs and a professor at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, where she lives. She and her husband have two daughters and one grandson.

When we ask Dr. Frost how the ICA is important for the future of Cameroon, she responded “Cameroon is a country that has been ignored by the mainstream media, even when horrific attacks on schools and teachers are taking place. Nearly one million people have been displaced from their homes due to violence.” She hopes that the ICA can help bring attention to the situation in Cameroon.

 

Let’s educate these kids.

The future is NOW!

#newgeneration

Meet the Student

Rose

Age: 13

Rose is a shy young lady from the village of Tchogie.  The ICA team met Rose and a few of her classmates in the village of Nkong.  She is one of 7 children in her family and all but her older sister are in school.  When asked about her older sister, Rose explained that she is 15 years old and has two children of her own.

Rose like so many of the other students seems to really enjoy school.  Now in secondary school, her father cannot afford to buy her all of the necessary text books.  She told the team that her favourite subject is physics and that she would like to continue to study science after secondary school. 

She went on to explain that she would like to be a nurse so that she could help her family.  The team was struck by Rose’s candor and her desire to help her family and her community.

Rose loves physics and would like to be a nurse.

By supporting ICA Canada you support students like rose. 

$10 a month will keep me in class. 

I am the Future. 

#newgeneration