I saw a two-year old boy die last week. It was interesting what went through my mind as I stood in his hospital room and his mother, with tears streaming down her cheek, wrapped him in a cloth, bundled him against her breast, and walked out as his father gathered the men of the quarter to bury his son. I knew I was going to have to deal with this kind of thing before coming to this remote part of the African plains, but I didn’t really know what it was going to be like. It’s something to see death in Africa through the lens of television but a whole other experience to watch a child die whose mother has fed you, laughed with you but also angered you. I did not know this family very well but they were no different than my neighbors: a family struggling to feed their seven children while trying to avoid the disease and dangers which suck the life from so many here. Unfortunately, this family failed. Their son died from a water-born illness which caused severe diarrhea and his family waited too long to bring him to the health center due to lack of money.
Sorry if this post is a downer but I wanted to tell this story because it is directly related to the two projects I have started so far. Here they are:
1) Nyamboya is well known for having terrible water (I have actually gotten sick twice so far from different water-borne illnesses). Normally, many Cameroonians get their drinking water from a pump well, which in my village is a well that has a foot pump that you use to bring water from deep under ground to a tap made of metal tubes. The water that comes from pump wells is much safer to drink than water from an open well. However, two out of four of these pumps are broken in my village which means hundreds of families drink straight from the open wells (which is what you normally think a well looks like). So I have taken up the task of not only fixing these wells but designing a system to keep them maintained after I leave. The first step is to build walls so that the wells are not overused or overly played with by children (the main reason they broke in the first place). I have convinced the leaders of the community to use their own money to build these walls (it is important that a community uses some of their own money and time to help with the projects since this builds a sense of ownership and is more sustainable). I did this by getting a water sample from a local open well whiche the lab technician at my hospital spun into a sample. Then I took a picture of that sample and showed the leaders of my community exactly what the water their people are drinking looks like. After this, I was blessed enough to meet an American water engineer in a local town who came out and inspected the broken pump wells. He told me all that is wrong and exactly how much it would cost to fix the wells. Now that I know exactly what needs to be done physically, I am working with fellow volunteers to design of system of upkeep so the wells can be sustainably maintained after we leave. However, I need to come up with the $400 it is going to take to fix the wells before we can implement that system (hundreds of people have died in my village from water born-illness because of $400. Isn‘t that incredibly sad?)
2) My second project involves the part of the story where the mother did not bring her child in fast enough because of lack of money. I have joined a local tontine (kind of lack a savings and loan but just within one family) and we have decided to start a yam farm and business in order to create a kind of family health-insurance. I taught them how to write a business plan where we planned exactly how we are going to grow and sell yams in the local market. Once we have done this, we have agreed to put the profits in a special lock box that will be kept at the hospital. This lockbox has three locks and two keys will go to two of the family members and one key will go to the chief of the hospital. Once the money is in the box, the family will only be able to use the money for health expenses since they will need the permission of the hospital chief to open the box. Then, if things go to plan (which is somewhat rare here), we will use some of the money to do the exact same thing next year.
So these are my projects so far. I have gotten more joy from them than I expected before coming here. Hopefully that will continue.
The water engineer inspecting the pumps
The tontine and I in front of all our Yams