Cameroon Task Force
2012 Trip: Part 3 of 5
Laura Knapp is an active member of the CTF team. She traveled with the group four times (2010-2017). Knapp has offered to share her journal from the 2012 trip with everyone.
Visit With the PET Recipients
Meet Mr. Thomas
Lunch was at Pauline’s – another wonderful meal – and we were met by Thomas, one of the PET recipients in 2010. He invited us to his home so we could see the demands made of PETs and the condition of the home he and other PET recipients live in. We were all eager to see, too.
Living In Cameroon – Not Easy: Cameroon is not an easy place to live with physical disabilities. Thomas, is a middle-aged man who has lived life with effects of childhood polio. He lives in a home that would never make it in Alaska. It was easy to see daylight between the wood siding on the home he shares with several other families. Each has one or two rooms off a central shared space. It is unpainted on the inside and outside. He pointed to holes in the roof that leak during rain. The single window has shutters to close at night for privacy – but on that day – it was filled with curious neighborhood children. Thomas supports himself by renting out stackable plastic chairs for large family or community events.
Thomas said his PET gives him personal freedom and independence, and its sturdiness makes it stable when traveling on the road. However, he was aware of some flaws. He feels the structural mechanics contribute to his upper body fatigue, slowing his travel time. We had a very productive discussion suggesting ways to accommodate the needs of people with physical disabilities.
Our second visit was just across the street with a 57- year-old woman, Madame Julienne who lives with her son and his family. There are 8 people who live in a home similar to Thomas’. She was using a tricycle-modified contraption similar to a PET until just before we came in 2010. The PET has given her more personal independence, too. But she mainly uses it to help support her extended family.
Several times a week goes to the ocean beach to buy fresh fish. She puts them in the back of the PET and brings them back to her home where the family smokes them. Then she takes them to the market and sells them. Madame Julienne expressed concern that the metal parts are not sturdy enough to support large loads of fish, so she has to make frequent trips to and from the beach – making several kilometer round trips very long and physically taxing. She requested a new set of tires and suggested changing the upper arm gear system to reduce arm fatigue.
The last PET recipient we visited with was Roderick, a young man, who is a shoe maker, and lives with his parents and extended family down a long, uneven path that stretched far off into the jungle. I didn’t even know people lived that far off the road. The first thing I noticed was that he had added a cover on the back portion of his PET. It protects his tools and shoes when he makes home visits with customers. The second thing I noticed was that his home did not have a ramp to get the PET to and from the porch. He said people lift him and the PET up and down each day.
Infrastructure Problems in Cameroon
It was a big dose of reality to see how difficult it is for people who need physical assistance to live. There are no government programs to help people build ramps or get access to buildings. Paved streets with curbs have no cutouts. And in Douala, paved streets with sidewalks also have huge gutters (1 foot wide and up to 2 feet deep) to handle rain runoff. Some are covered and some aren’t – and I was always afraid I’d forget to keep my eyes open and fall into one.
Eli, Cathie’s oldest son, suggested a brilliant idea to tackle the issue for PET recipients – design a lightweight, portable ramp, and give it along with the PET. Wow, what a mature thought from a young, 11-year-old boy! Eli’s love for the people of Cameroon truly made my heart melt. Everyone praised him for the idea… definitely worth some thought by the PET makers.
Evening Reflection Time
We concluded the evening with another full table of guests that included the newly appointed director of the Nurse’s Aide Training Center and the management committee of the Center. It was very nice to meet them all. Others peppered them with questions about the Center, how it would operate, what were the credentials of the director and staff, how would students be selected, where would the graduates find work? But as the ones raising money for the Wellness Center and the whole first year operations, I guess we had the right to ask.
Then we sat around in an open circle and each of us reflected personal highlights and experiences from our day’s work. With JoAnn’s holy rock in my hand, I praised my mom’s accomplishments with the seamstresses because she is making a big impact on their lives – giving them financial hope and opportunity to support themselves. And we heard a lot of joyous sounds coming from that room – they were all having a great time.
A Triumphant Day!
It was a very wet morning at the Wellness Center today. Construction and painting projects were all postponed due incredibly heavy rain that continued all morning. Inside the kitchen, Tom, Kelly and Gail continued to assemble the two PETs.
When the first PET was completed, everyone cheered as Phil did a test run down the covered walkway. And, one of mom’s sewing students show-cased the first completed hand-sewn basket.
Eye glass distribution came to a close –not because we ran out of people – only because we were out of glasses. We had given away over 400 pairs of donated glasses (thanks to the Lion’s Club) in three days to the grateful people of Kribi. It was a triumphant day knowing we had given them (literally and figuratively) a new vision of hope. Many people had travelled long distances to receive the glasses.
A Confusing Maze
After another delicious lunch feast at Pauline’s house we went shopping at the busy Kribi Market. To understand the local market first you have to remember there are virtually ‘no stores’ in Kribi. Everything a person needs is sold by a vendor in an open air market. Each stall is located on a path, or in the middle of a path, made of hard packed dirt with a few rocks sticking up. One vendor may have a lot of what you want – and what that person doesn’t have, maybe the next one does. Everyone bargains for everything. And as foreigners we have no idea what the real cost of an item is – because everything seems so inexpensive compared to USA prices. We broke into groups of 4-5 with a Cameroonian to guide us around the confusing maze of shops.