Kiwi Volunteer’s Wanted in Nigeria
Michelia Ward (the Development Manager at Trade Aid) is on a mission to find some Kiwi volunteers to help out at BERUDA - a rural development organisation in Cameroon, helping the poor to help themselves. Michelia had an amazing experience as one of the first volunteers with BERUDA back in 2003. She recently returned to Cameroon to celebrate the wedding of her “sister” Joy, and reflects on this experience below.
Volunteer roles like this are a life changing experience and they give opportunities to gain skills, experience a different culture and set you on the path to job opportunities that do good…Sound like something you’d be keen to do? Check out the job roles at BERUDA in the latest jobs.
Past BERUDA volunteer, Michelia Ward (current role Trade Aid Development Manager)
In August 2011, I went back to Cameroon for the first time since 2003 where I spent the year as a volunteer for BERUDA in a small rural community off the tourist trail. In 2003 I had no idea what I was going to find, whether it was even a legitimate organisation and how long I was going to stay. This time I went knowing I was going to spend two weeks catching up with all the people I had thought about a lot of over the last 8 years and that it was going to be hard to leave when my two weeks were up.
I had timed my return to coincide with the wedding of the BERUDA Director’s daughter. Joy and I had become close during my stay and we had stayed in touch. It seemed like the perfect excuse to book my flight back – and it was. I was treated like a VIP having come halfway around the world for it, and it really is halfway around the world – if you don’t want to travel non-stop and do it in around 40 hours which I did this time, then you can take the route I took in 2003 which involved 8 flights, 6 days and three stop offs to check out the various countries along the way! The wedding itself was a cultural experience with nothing going to plan, nothing on time, yet with amazing dancing, singing, speeches and the most good fun I could’ve imagined. I was introduced as the bride’s sister and told I was now a ‘daughter of Kom’ (Kom being the name of the local culture) so I felt honoured and accepted and welcomed in a way I hadn’t dared to dream of.
I spent the rest of the time in the village, attending meetings and events organised by BERUDA and collecting information so I could bring their website up-to-date (www.beruda.org). I set up the website on my return to NZ in 2004 because they didn’t have one when I first went over. Since that time, many many volunteers have visited – either to volunteer or to participate in responsible tourism projects – and the facilities for volunteers now are world class compared to what I had in 2003! Mobile phones now get service and there is internet in the village for a start. There are more than four types of vegetables available and more than three books in the bookshelf (two of which were in German, and War and Peace which kept me company as my only form of solitary entertainment). Now volunteers use wifi and bring laptops and TV series, and I think the balance of living in a traditional village while still having access to news from family, friends and English movies now provides an easier experience, albeit still challenging our western comfort zone!
Before leaving I decided to go back and do a home-stay with one of the families that I trialled when we set up the responsible tourism programme. It was a Fulani family – the other main culture living in the area – who live higher in the mountains than the lower dwelling Kom, and whose religion is Islam. Fulani used to live nomadic lifestyles but have now staked their claim on the hills surrounding Belo. Al Haji Sali remembered me and was incredibly excited that the girl who had started the process of him receiving visitors from around the world, had returned. A homestay with Fulani gives you the chance to ride horses around the mountains and see the beautiful views that would take you hours to get to on foot. Two of the boys from the family were our guides and on the way home we became part of a cow herding process as they brought the cows home for the night, it was a great experience to be a part of.
I had the chance to visit orphans living with grandparents and extended family who had received goats for breeding to help with school fees and hospital bills. I visited widows groups being given lemon trees to plant for health and income generation purposes and other widows being given microfinance loans to start small businesses. I heard plenty of singing and laughter and everywhere I went I saw small bits of progress. However considering it has been eight years I was aware that the progress has been slow, and this is because funds are short, organisations like BERUDA are rare in this part of Cameroon, corruption is high and infrastructure is scarce.
Change is happening but it could do with a little hurry up… I came back reinvigorated to support BERUDA as best I could from New Zealand and hope that the progress continues and that the village can continue to increase their income, health and education levels to ensure the rich Kom culture thrives and survives.
If anyone reading this has an interest in being considered for a volunteer opportunity with a great organisation like BERUDA, check out the job descriptions available at www.dogoodjobs.co.nz:
Responsible Tourism – http://dogoodjobs.co.nz/jobs/responsible-tourism-role/
Marketing and Sales – http://dogoodjobs.co.nz/jobs/marketing-and-sales-role/
or learn more at www.beruda.org