After weeks of banging my head against a wall, cursing at inefficiency, and later moving 23,000 books around, we were able to see the appetizer portion of the fruits of our labor on Friday, March 19th, when a small ceremony of book distribution took place in Bafoussam.
The Books For Cameroon team – Kate, Siobhan, Connie, Laura and myself – was present at once finally. Prior to this, we’ve been working largely through email or meeting separately. It was great to have all of us in one space and witnessing the books going out to recipients.
The ceremony took place at the conference hall in the governor’s office building. Over 100 people were present – principals of schools, community leaders, traditional chiefs, journalists, government officials, etc. I was pleased with the turnout and was incredibly touched during the moment when everyone stood to sing the Cameroonian national anthem.
The event was short and sweet. I made a speech (in French!) on the project. Théo gave a speech on behalf of RIDEV. Peace Corps Staff who failed to inform us of the Embassy policy changed was also present and made a speech on behalf of Peace Corps. The Secretary-General made a speech on behalf of the Governor (after a million meetings, I still have no idea who this guy is). Representative from each establishment came forward and we ceremoniously gave them a book.
After the speeches, pictures were taken, food was served (can’t have a ceremony without feeding people in the country!) and then finally, everyone made their way to the warehouse and books were distributed. I was incredibly impressed at this process; it was nearly flawless. Most schools and communities came with trucks to carry their books back. It was amazing to see principals and community leaders in suits carrying boxes of books on their head and loading them unto their trucks. Within two hours, we successfully distributed books for nearly all 35 establishments. I was extremely proud of Batié, where the mayor sent a dump truck to pick up ALL the books that were going to the village. The efficiency during this process was mind blowing compare to the ridiculousness we went through to get to that point.
The books are out, but the real work of following up with these libraries, training librarians and making sure these resources are putting to good use is just the beginning. I held a pre-training meeting a few days ago and today I made a tour of the 10 establishments around my village. I already see the obstacles with this part of work brewing. Development work is a process, and two years is only the beginning of it. As much as I hope that my replacement will continue with these follow-ups, there is no guarantee, and that, is truly unfortunate.
However, a good part of the books went to the Limbé City Library – a well established library in the anglophone region. Resource libraries are being established at RIDEV & RELUFA , so I know those books will go to good use. I suppose even only half of the 35 establishments end up function flawlessly, then our efforts aren’t for nothing.
Finally, I wanted to give thanks to everyone who made this project possible. Kate has been my rock through this and carrying me through when I wanted to punch people in the faces, which was often. She is also the mastermind behind the library management training design that are taking place and most importantly, she kept me sane and conducted phone calls and made things work when I was on the verge of throwing in the towel. Today happens to be her birthday, and I want to just take this opportunity to acknowledge her amazing ways of putting up with me through this process!
Next, Théo, the incredible man who carries the hope in Cameroon, and also the guy that made it possible for our container to finally made its way out of customs. Théo’s positive energy is what we all hope for in Cameroonians and there is nothing more encouraging to see people in this country taking measures to develop their own society. Bravo Théo!
Besides these two key figures, there are naturally a million people who were there for us in one way or another. (I feel like I am giving an Oscars acceptance speech right now) Thanks again for all who contributed to make the $11,500 fund raising possible, to MTN Foundation and Books For Africa for the financial support. Also thanks to volunteers who had came to help us sort books, those who had left us encouraging messages on our Facebook Page and much more.
The success of this project will take time to measure, but I am glad we are at this stage where we will be able to take such measurements!
PS-Apparently my interview with the journalists were aired on Canal 2 last night (twice!). Unfortunately, I don’t have a TV at home to witness my 15 minutes of Cameroonian fame. Today, people in village talked about it, and they were proud of me. That was fun! 🙂