Archives - ‘Cameroun’

Une expérience humaine avant tout

May 7, 2014 | Marie-Andrée, DVM, Alernatives, Cameroun, Protège QV

Les stages internationaux sont des moments de défis où nous apprenons à être dans un contexte radicalement différent du nôtre. Les défis peuvent être en lien avec la culture ou simplement l’environnement de travail, qui peut être un contraste au milieu académique. Après trois mois, il est difficile de ne pas se sentir comme si tout cela n’était pas qu’un rêve, tant cela a passé vite et que tous les souvenirs se bousculent déjà les uns sur les autres. Personnellement, je sais que les succès, les moments heureux et l’amour que j’ai ressenti avec ma famille ont largement dépassé l’ampleur des défis.
Bien que je n’aie été juste de passage au pays, je sais que mon impact aura été plus grand que ce que je m’imagine. Il est fou de croire que l’on peut « changer le monde » en trois mois, mais on peut faire un travail qui nous ressemble, on peut agir d’une façon qui est propre à nos valeurs et on peut laisser une bonne impression derrière nous. Du point de vue de mon organisme d’accueil, je sais que j’ai pu donner un coup de main pour faire avancer leurs projets en cours. De façon inattendue, je sais aussi que ma présence, ma façon d’être en tant qu’étrangère a bien représentée l’organisation et permettra à ce que les femmes que nous avons formées reviennent ultérieurement pour suivre d’autres formations. Bien que ce soit difficilement mesurable, je crois sincèrement que j’étais une énergie positive au bureau qui a permis de briser certaines barrières créées par l’inconnu (par exemple, je sais que les animatrices ne croient plus que « les blanches » ne se pas chaleureuses).
Pour l’université d’Ottawa, ces stages sont plus que des expériences de travail. J’ai vite compris que le milieu détermine beaucoup plus que le travail en tant que tel. Ce que nous en retirons ne s’inscrit pas facilement sur un résumé mais ce sont des apprentissages qui permettent de voir notre propre environnement sous un angle différent. L’accueil des gens du Cameroun, les coutumes et les rituels auxquels j’ai pu assisté n’ont pas de valeurs à mes yeux. On ne peut pas mettre un prix sur une famille qui est sincèrement heureuse que tu sois présente et triste quand tu dois partir. Comme ma famille me l’a confirmé par contre, chaque stagiaire n’a pas été comme moi. Chacun à une expérience différente et j’ai moi-même fait le choix d’être « comme eux » pendant que je partage leur maison. Cela impliquait de faire des tâches ménagère, certes, mais aussi d’apprécier ces moments avec mes sœurs, dont ceux où nous avons tous ensemble mérité de se reposer. Cette décision a permis de faire de mon stage une expérience agréable pour eux aussi, car il n’y avait pas de discernement entre nous. Je ne m’excluais pas et je ne faisais pas de ma présence un fardeau. Ce que j’ai vécu était la vrai vie pour ma famille au Cameroun et je crois que c’est cela l’intégration. Grace à cela, ils m’ont ouvert les portes à ce que j’assiste à des moments important dans leurs vies, des moments que je n’oublierai jamais.
J’ai été particulièrement chanceuse d’avoir une si bonne famille d’accueil, être dans un pays où ma présence était bienvenue, travailler dans un endroit généralement accessible. Toutes ces choses ont fait de mon stage, mon premier voyage en dehors de l’Amérique du Nord, un succès selon moi. À chacun ses objectifs mais, comme me l’a si bien dit la directrice avant que je prenne l’avion de retour, l’expérience est humaine avant tout, c’est ça la vie.

Les points forts du moment

March 10, 2014 | Marie-Andrée, DVM, Alernatives, Cameroun, Protège QV

Déjà moins d’un mois avant le retour à la maison! J’ai hâte de revoir tous ceux que j’aime au Canada mais ce sera certainement difficile de changer si radicalement de contexte.

Durant les derniers trois jours, nous avons eu la chance de donner une formation à une vingtaine de femmes sur les bases de l’agriculture urbaine. Comme nous avons aussi engagé 3 animatrices pendant mon séjour, ce sont elles qui ont eu à préparer ces séances de formation. Bien que mon rôle n’a été que minime, je suis heureuse d’avoir pu observer comment se déroule une formation dans le contexte camerounais. En effet, les intonations langagières sont très différentes et je n’aurais certainement pas pu bien communiquer la matière. De plus, l’information transmise a été répétées à plusieurs reprises et de nombreux exemples contextuels ont été utilisés par les animatrices afin que le groupe capte l’essentiel. Pour ma part, mes capacités étaient plutôt au niveau technique, maitrisant mieux l’informatique que de nombreuses personnes ici (mais moins bien que la plupart des canadiens). Je crois que la formation a été efficace mais, comme l’on me l’a dit à plusieurs reprises, on ne saura le succès que par le nombre de femme qui mettra vraiment en pratique ces nouvelles connaissances.

Le weekend dernier, nous avons voyagé à l’ouest avec mes parents d’accueil pour assister à une cérémonie d’entré dans une société secrète. C’était pour le père à ma sœur qui se trouvait au village depuis déjà quelques jours. J’ai sût que nous avions développé un attachement réel quand nous nous sommes précipité dans les bras l’une de l’autre à mon arrivé au village. Malheureusement, il s’est mise à pleuvoir quelques instants après notre entré dans une des maisons et l’on ne m’a pas donné la permission de sortir me promener tant qu’il y avait de la pluie par peur que je ne tombe malade. La soirée a été longue (les gens ont quasiment peur de la pluie ici) mais le lendemain, j’ai pu voir l’initiation des enfants de la concession, un rituel habituellement réservé à ceux-ci seulement. Après ce premier rituel, les hommes, qui avaient apparemment passé la nuit à manger, boire et danser, ont revêtu des masques et des habits et ont fait une danse sous le soleil radieux du matin, afin de célébrer l’entrée officielle de cet homme dans la société secrète. Il est dit que les problèmes de santé de ce dernier serait dut au fait que son entré s’est fait tardivement après la mort de son père, lui-même membre de cette société.

Le 8 mars, c’est une fête importante au Cameroun. C’est la journée internationale de la femme et il semble qu’il y aura de nombreuses festivités. J’ai bien hâte de voir en quoi cela consistera et j’espère que j’aurai le plaisir d’y participer en revêtant un tissu pang conçu spécialement pour l’occasion.

Ma situation jusqu’a présent

February 26, 2014 | Marie-Andrée, DVM, Alernatives, Cameroun, Protège QV

Je suis a protège QV depuis plus d’un mois maintenant et nous avons entrepris plusieurs activités. Même si je prépare le terrain pour les 10 stagiaires qui arriverons une semaine après mon départ, il y a de quoi m’occuper. Nous menons les activités prévues selon le projet Louise Grenier, un fond obtenu avec l’aide d’Alternatives afin de réduire la pauvreté dans le quartier où œuvre Protège QV, soit Biyem-Assi, par la pratique de l’agriculture hors-sol.

Une des composantes de ce projet est l’accompagnement de 150 femmes du quartier dans leurs cultures urbaines personnelles et leurs formations. Pour arriver à atteindre ces femmes, l’équipe de Protège et moi-même avons recherché, passé en entrevue et engagés 3 animatrices qui auront tant des connaissances en agriculture que des capacités de mobilisation. Elles sont donc, depuis quelques semaines, mes nouvelles collègues de travail, avec qui je relance de jardin démonstratif de l’organisation, sous la supervision de l’agronome de l’établissement. Les difficultés rencontrées depuis le début de notre travail, tel que le manque d’eau ou de matériel, nous demande d’être créatif afin de s’adapter, puisque les cultivateurs urbains devront surmonter les mêmes défis.

Toujours dans le cadre de ce projet, j’ai pu participer à la préparation et la tenue d’une consultation communautaire où des groupes de femmes du quartier, des membres de la mairie et des professeurs de l’école Les Pigeons (où une partie du projet se déroulera) sont venu entendre en quoi le projet consisterait et amener leurs opinions et préoccupations. En vue de cette réunion, j’ai eu la chance de mettre en pratique les notions apprises en cours d’Introduction aux projets de développement international et d’élaborer un cadre de base pour l’élaboration et le suivi, tout en intégrant les contraintes réelles du terrain (un petit budget, peu de ressources humaines, manque de recensement de la part de l’État, etc.). Il m’a aussi été donné de présenter ce cadre devant le groupe, une tâche intimidante mais qui est pour moi un défi plaisant. Ma présence ici est perçue comme une validation de l’appui que reçoit Protège QV d’un organisme Canadiens. J’espère que leurs intérêts ont été suscités afin que ceux-ci se joignent à nous pour notre première formation sur les techniques de bases de l’Agriculture urbaine, qui aura lieu le 3 mars.

Le soir, je reviens à la maison à une famille de deux parents et 4 enfants, minimum. Ces derniers ont 14, 16, 18, 19 et 28 ans. Mais la famille s’agrandit à tout moment si quelqu’un veut venir aider à la maison pendant ses vacances ou simplement venir y passer la fin de semaine. Malgré le peu d’activités offertes en ville, les samedis soirs peuvent être passé en famille à danser et bavarder. Le reste du temps est souvent occupé des tâches ménagères mais rarement effectués seules. Ma famille d’accueil a permis de faciliter ma transition, en m’incluant dans leurs activités et en étant compréhensif envers les choses que je ne connais pas. J’ai bien hâte d’avoir la chance de voyager à l’ouest avec eux d’ici peu pour avoir connaitre les funérailles Camerounaise que l’on me dit être une célébration de la vie d’une personne pouvant survenir même des années après sa mort.

Working and learning hard until the very end!

August 6, 2013 | Carl, ECI, Alternatives, Cameroun, Protege QV

Hello everyone,

From what I’ve experienced, seen, and heard, an international posting of any kind either ends in a furious sprint or peacefully as if you’re finishing a hike on a cool summer morning with the sun gently outlining the path home. I am extremely grateful for a few of the latter moments in the last month, but I definitely believe my last few weeks would be better described as me being pushed to sprint harder, faster, and longer than I ever have in the past. Work being the primary contributing factor, I will start there.

Given the short time frame PROTEGE QV has to deliver workshops, it has to summarize a lot of aspects. As such, much of the learning comes from actually maintaining and caring for your garden and plants. This applied to the banana plantain nursery we built and filled with banana plantain shockers after our workshop because as the bulbs nourished new shockers to life, everyday phenomena tried to hinder their development. Being a nursery, it was up to me to keep them safe!

The first challenges I had to deal with were rain and wind. The nursery is completely wrapped in plastic tarps (2 because one isn’t long enough to cover the whole structure) to keep the relative humidity of the environment as high as possible. However, hard rains and strong winds always move it around. Thumbtacks fixed this issue quite easily. Next though, as the shockers started to grow, we noticed the angle of the tarp combined with the weight of any water building up was making it hard for the shockers to grow. As such, I had to build an extension/support to raise the plastic tarps. This might not sound too hard but in a setting where funds are always tight, finding the materials (i.e. wood and nails) isn’t always easy. Recycling ensued to the point I had to make my own nails from nails I banged out of old wood. This worked wonderfully until I noticed the new height facilitated the entrance and heightened the power of the wind because of the bigger tunnel created in the nursery. Thumbtacks would not suffice for this so I had to cut wood to add it to the support beams. After all of these changes and improvements, the nursery seemed to hold up but I know it’s only a matter of time before a new challenge presents itself and I’m sad I won’t be there to find a solution.

I also learned this past month that not everything can be solved or avoided. Lettuce being especially fragile as a plant, the same hard rains and strong winds I described above killed every single lettuce I had in my other nursery. I can still remember coming in to work and visiting my garden first thing as I did for 12 consecutive weeks, walking up to my lettuce corner and seeing all of them had drowned. I was devastated. While it was a mixture of me feeling I had failed my plants and been a bad ‘farmer’, it was mostly the realization that it can all end this quickly. I thought of real farmers who labour day after day, week after week, and month after month but that could see all of their security vanish with one especially hard rainfall as easily as it can end after one especially hot day. I don’t depend on the output from my garden for my livelihood and I was already really sad. I am extremely thankful for the greater respect for food and farmers this internship has given me. Growing food is NOT easy!

I will end the work update with good news though. Despite various obstacles, the mushroom workshop was delivered! This is indeed the biggest reason my last two weeks just FLEW by. With only two weeks of work left, we got the finances needed to get all the material for the workshop. That meant that we had one week to get the workshop together, find the material, and advertise the workshop because it had to be delivered on my last week. Many might think late nights spent reading and preparing for presentations is normal for university students. However, when all grading systems are thrown out the window and the only goal is to teach someone how to grow mushrooms in their home for them to take ownership of their food security economically and successfully, work becomes personal. My supervisor and I spent every second we could trying to summarize some 125 pages of information from a training manual into 1 half day of theory and 1 half day of practical work; NOT easy.

We kept running into each other online late into the night/early in the morning. It was encouraging and yet scary because this was definitely new territory for the both of us. We also encountered many problems finding the materials despite having the finances for them. These being tight, I had to once again scavenge for materials for a mushroom house which I once again made mostly with ‘saved’ nails. Thankfully, we were able to find someone who had experience growing mushrooms. I’ve always thought this to be VITAL, especially for the practical day, because no matter how much theory you read, the actual work always differs. This was exactly the case for us as the our new colleague added steps to our ‘simple’ step by step guide to ‘guarantee’ we get high yields. Being in Cameroon, other challenges like no running water or electricity didn’t make this easy though. In the end, it was all worth it as I believe those who came out to the workshop learned and could replicate what we did together. As such, I believe it was a success and the only real reward I need for all of the hard work of the team.

Thankfully, not all of the running was at work. My last weekend I was also able to visit Bamenda, the ‘capital’ of English speaking Cameroon. While it was only the second trip I made outside of Yaoundé, this was especially important for me to complete the picture in which my work acts. I was able to meet with an agricultural engineer who showed me his anaerobic composter, local corn varieties, and how he protected his peppers organically since the peppers in the PROTEGE QV garden were attacked as well. He also accompanied me to a botanical garden, where we spoke about the different uses of local trees and plants, as well as a convent where we saw how they made local cheese, breads, and jams. Most interestingly however were our conversations on how urban gardening was being used to grow plants for transplantation into the edges of new roads to strengthen the soil banks and prevent erosion or mud slides during the rainy seasons, and the focus this town was starting to put on the reduction of plastic and garbage in order to protect the environment.

This internship has shown me just how impactful my passion for food and people’s livelihoods are interrelated in so many more ways than I could have imagined. It has encouraged me for years and perhaps decades to come as I continue my education and look for impactful work thereafter. Thank you to every organization and individual who has been a part of this life changing experience; I’m sure this is the beginning of a long journey.

Lessons learned from a banana plantain workshop

July 16, 2013 | Carl, ECI, Alternatives, Cameroun, Protege QV

Hello everyone,

In my last post, I spoke a lot about my work. It has occupied the majority of my time in Cameroon and been my most important classroom. As such, in this post I will update you on the progress of our work, but also share some of the challenges I have experienced in this international setting as well as the lessons that I’ve learned as a result.

Previously, I shared that my team at Protege QV (PQV) was preparing for two workshops: one on the rapid multiplication of banana plantain shockers, and another one on edible mushroom cultivation. At this point, we have ‘successfully’ delivered the banana plantain workshop but not the one on mushrooms due to tight finances and the loss of the room we were planning on using to store the mushrooms while they grew. I put successfully in quotations because by my rash evaluation criteria, I had failed to deliver a good workshop.

Here in Cameroon, I was informed people don’t take workshops of less than two days. They don’t believe them to be worthwhile. What’s more, people evaluate the merit of your workshop based on the first day and then choose to advertise and bring others on the subsequent days if they believe they’ll learn something important and useful. As such, the plan was to welcome everyone on the first day and go over some introductions and administrative items. Day two was reserved for theory; and the final day was for us to put all of this knowledge to use, and practice.

I was very excited for the workshop. I had been reading a lot in order to be able to answer as many questions as possible on the topic and felt well prepared. I had my supervisor, summary material, and my team’s PowerPoint that I had practiced and re-practiced numerous times which would serve to guide our discussions. However, my evaluation of the first day: a mess!

I introduced myself to the group about four or five times since people kept showing up. I figured 8-10 am would suffice to achieve all of our objectives for this first day but people were still arriving at 10 am. Furthermore, while I wanted to keep the session brief and centered on the topic of banana plantains – for my benefit and everyone else’s, I thought – the attendees asked questions about their papayas, avocados, and watermelons as well, no matter how hard I tried to “stay on topic”. Since most of my prep-work for this workshop was on banana plantains themselves, I couldn’t answer many of these and had to defer them to my supervisor. Thankfully, he was able to answer all of them. At one point, I felt so lost in the room I went to our urban garden to get some air.

After discussing a few issues with my supervisor the afternoon before, I felt rejuvenated for the second day. It started better. People were more on time and even seemed to enjoy my little ice-breaker game asking them for their favourite Cameroonian meal as I took note of those I hadn’t tried yet. However, once we got into the actual PowerPoint presentation, we quickly got “off topic” again. The give and take that was supposed to take place between my supervisor and I quickly became a presentation my supervisor gave and I summarized as we got to the corresponding slide in the PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, I figured this was the last day we had a chance to “jump” around since the third day would be practical work and couldn’t possibly change much in my opinion. I would be wrong again.

The location of our nursery was moved last minute in order to accommodate a request by the president of PQV. With a smaller space, we had to move the building of the plant nursery for our bulbs until after the practice portion since we had over 20 participants, they would all be working with knives, and the nursery itself would have taken up a lot of the space. This caused a lot of confusion within the team, and I was bitter because I was fed up of us not being able to follow a schedule.

At the end of the workshop when we gathered all of the participants in the room for a final debrief and asked them to complete an evaluation, I was certain we would get horrible reviews. However, following the theme of the last three days, I would be mistaken yet again. 20 of the 22 participants were very satisfied and left the training confident they understood what to do should they decide to produce banana plantain shockers. I was confused.

After taking the time to think about the workshop, here are a few of the lessons I learned:
- Trust must be earned. Despite the workshop being free, people were still ‘paying’ us with their time and needed to know, from day one, that their time was worth it. They did this by evaluating the knowledge present in their teachers, which for this workshop were my supervisor and I, thankfully.
- The ‘correct topic’ is whatever they need help with. If this workshop is presented in order for them to improve their livelihoods, we have to answer the questions of their other plants and how they will fit, or not, with the production of banana plantain shockers.
- You must repeating things multiple times! The majority of the students being farmers, they don’t take notes to their field of work. If it’s not in their heads already, it likely won’t be done. They aren’t like students at the University of Ottawa who can, and hopefully do, review notes before an exam. As such, they have to know the material by the time they leave the classroom; that is our responsibility.
- Assumptions are the worst form of communication. I was named the ‘primary’ facilitator and thus had the privilege of guiding everyone’s learning experience. Despite no one telling me that the location of the nursery had been changed, I should have confirmed the day’s itinerary myself. A simple team meeting would have accomplished that and saved us from all the confusion.
- Students evaluate the success of your class, not you. They are the only ones who can properly assess what you transmitted. Whether you think you failed or succeeded doesn’t really matter.
- Lastly, the biggest one, you’re ALWAYS in class! A month and a half of training will not make you an expert on anything. What’s more, I had never given a presentation in Cameroon before, so what right did I have to think they would follow ‘my system’? Indeed, I was being trained throughout the workshop proving once again that ‘work’ is still my most important classroom.

I’m glad this lesson came before I entered the last month of this internship. While I’m getting very comfortable with my surroundings, it was a good reminder that I should always be looking for learning opportunities and not take something for granted. I can’t believe how quickly time has flown, but I hope that with the correct mindset, I’ll be able to keep expanding my knowledge of Cameroon well after I get back home.

Thank you for reading!

Carl

Cameroon - Urban Agriculture

June 3, 2013 | Carl, ECI, Alternatives, Cameroun, Protege QV

Hello everyone,

My name is Carl and I am a fourth year International Economics and Development student working on urban agriculture in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with Protège Q.V. (Promotion des Technologies Garantes de l’Environment et de la Qualité de Vie – Promotion of Technologies that Guarantee Environment and a better Quality of Life). I applied for this internship because I want to pursue a Masters in Food Security and realize urban agriculture is one way people can take charge of their food insecurity. I also wanted to work with my hands and get them real dirty!

While I chose the job, and not the country, I am incredibly thankful and blessed for the opportunity this internship has given me to fulfil one of my dreams; to visit Africa. While I know Cameroon is only one of 54 countries in Africa, I am blessed to be in the country referred to as “Africa in Miniature” because of the diverse climates and soils as well as the many cultures. This has not only enriched my own education by making what I’m learning about agriculture so much more tangible, pertinent, and applicable, but also made my first month here a fascinating discovery of African cuisine, music, languages, traditions, clothing, and so much more.

At Protège QV (PQV), I spent much of my first two weeks learning about the different ways they approach urban agriculture/gardening in Yaoundé versus in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. For example, temperature and sunlight might be a limiting factor in agriculture in Canada, but it certainly is not one here. In the PQV garden and workshops, we concentrate more on how much space a plant needs in the soil, how much space it needs above ground, and how much sunlight it needs. I also learned about the (historical) reasons food insecurity exists in Cameroon, and the many climate + soil combinations that exist in Cameroon and what they mean for vegetable production.

Currently, we are preparing for the delivery of two workshops, one will be on the rapid propagation of plantain trees, and the other will be on mushroom growth. Both come highly demanded because plantains are the third most popular/consumed vegetable in central Africa, they can also grow and multiply RAPIDLY, and mushrooms are a great way to fulfil one’s protein requirements. To be precise, 1kg of the pleurotus type mushroom (the type we plan to exhibit during our workshop) has been found to be equivalent to 2kg of pork, 3kg of eggs, and 12kg of milk!

Aside from those two projects, we also plan on learning about composting. This is important because if one stereotype holds true about Africa here in Yaoundé, it is that it can get REALLY hot, and this despite the fact Yaoundé is a mountain city about 750m above sea level! Known as the city of seven hills and built in the middle of the forest with decent rainfall, Yaoundé is blessed with lots of organic matter that falls to the ground. However, once this matter falls to the ground, temperature is one of the deciding factors in whether this will decompose and mineralize or break down into humus, a fertile organic layer that oxygenates root systems, holds water, and is essential for the growth of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, the microorganisms that break down organic matter into humus prefer colder temperatures. As such, much of the organic matter that falls on the ground becomes mineralized and inhibits plants from growing; this is why we want to learn how to compost. By creating our own humus, PQV and I believe we can address this issue in urban gardening.

If this post seems heavy on my work, it is because it is about 90-95% of what I do here in Cameroon. However, I do not think this is bad or that I am missing out! I believe this because every time I eat, every time I travel and see new scenery, every time I learn about culture/tradition/soils, try a new food, or even hear new music and see a new dance, they are often connected to food and thus agriculture. Food and agriculture is a very important way Cameroonians stay in touch and remember their history and cultures; and I love it. It makes my work here feel useful, relevant, and appreciated. It encourages me in the pursuit of my own education and career.

In conclusion, I am having a fantastic time discovering this place and can see its importance all around me every day. It hasn’t all been easy, but I will elaborate on those challenges in a later message.

Thank you for reading! Have yourself a fantastic day!

Carl

Le Grand départ

May 27, 2009 | Émilie, stagiaire, PROTEGE QV

Courir, acheter, penser, planifier, sortir, revenir, appeler, causer, prendre rendez-vous, procéder, laver, compter, calculer, gérer, commencer, arranger, pleurer, penser, dire adieu, espérer, lire, chercher à savoir, craindre, anticiper, régler, se résigner, prendre un souffle, partir.

Voici une petite description de l’élan que prend ma vie en ce moment de pré-départ.  Ça fait partie de l’expérience de ce voyage et je ne changerais cela pour rien au monde.