Monday, May 27, 2013

Farewell to K-Man

Monday, May 27, 2013

We spent this past weekend in Limbe to bid farewell to Justin, also known in Kumba as K-Man (short for Kumba-Man), the founder and CEO of CFDP, as he was heading back to the US after six weeks of work in Cameroon. I fell in love with Limbe the first time around and now a week later it was easy to see why Justin wanted to spend his last day in Cameroon there. The beach is calm, peaceful, and quiet--a serious contrast to the nonstop commotion of busy Kumba--and the water temperature was perfect. I myself was feeling really sick when we left Kumba due to overconsumption of spicy foods, and despite all the medicine I took, I didn't feel quite healed until I spent an hour or two swimming in the ocean. I find Limbe to be really therapeutic.

Anyway, we dropped Justin off at Douala International Airport around 10:00 p.m. Sunday night. His flight left at midnight. He has a four-day layover in Istanbul and then he'll be back in the US later this week. Obviously, I was bummed to see my fellow "white man" leave. Justin has been a tour guide of sorts, as well as a personal confident for me as I try to get used to an environment here in Africa unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I do see myself, though, becoming more independent and adventurous now that I don't have Justin to lean on anymore. I think this will be good. I have experienced quite a bit of culture shock and times of serious discomfort over the past few weeks, but being forced to adapt to my new surroundings myself I think will help me make the most of the four months I have here.

The CFDP Management Team

So far during my time in Cameroon, I have become very fond of CFDP's management team. They have been very kind and welcoming to me so far, and have helped me learn my way around the city. Because we work together, I have spent more time with them than anyone else here. I would consider them the closest thing I have to a "Cameroonian family." They are as follows:

Collins: Collins is basically the director of CFDP's operations in Kumba. He is very smart, intellectual, soft-spoken. The other day he told me, "To sharpen a knife, you need another knife. To sharpen the human brain, you need another brain." I hope to put my brain to work with Collins. I expect to learn much from him over the next few months.

Wallace: In short, Wallace in the man. Whereas Collins is more of a visionary behind CFDP's operations in Kumba, Wallace is CFDP's "action man." He is serious, punctual, well-spoken, and very "matter-of-fact."When CFDP needs something done, Wallace is the man to do it.

Martin: It looks like Martin will be my football buddy during my stay in Kumba. He was an avid footballer until he injured his knee about a year ago. Now, he is training again and he hopes he can play for a semi-professional club in Cameroon someday. He is 26-years-old.

Ashu: Also known as General Cashcrof--not sure why he has this nickname or if I am spelling it right, but it is a great name--Ashu is CFDP's gentle giant. He is a big man, but always smiling and an overall genuine person.

Caroline: Justin plans on making Caroline CFDP's office manager. She has been very kind to me so far. She also gave me a snack the other day, this dried coconut of sorts, that was delicious. She will be like the older sister I never had.

Killian is not only a member of CFDP's management team, but also my housemate. The room I am staying in is right next to Killian's. Because of this, I have spent a lot of my time here so far with Killian. As his primary job, Killian is a headmaster at a primary school (similar to an elementary school in the US) in Kumba. Therefore people call him H.M., or jokingly C.H.M, which stands for "Criminal Head Master." Killian is very reserved, but my initial impressions of him are that he will be a very loyal friend during my stay here. He has walked with me when I am going somewhere new, has paid for many of my taxi rides around town, cleans my football boots when they are dirty, and is always asking me if I am hungry and need something to eat when we are at the house together. Killian epitomizes the kindness of people in Kumba that I have been talking about. I am lucky to be in such a welcoming environment.

Dickson: Dickson is second to Collins when it comes to strategic management of the CFDP office. He, too, is very intelligent. Justin plans on making Dickson CFDP Kumba's Director of Communications.

Kama: As his primary job, Kama coaches a youth football club in Kumba. He claims he was voted best "altar boy," or something like that, from churches of his religion in all of South West Region--ha.

Nenne is another female member of CFDP's management team. One of her main responsibilities is working with the Women's Empowerment Center, one of CFDP's partner facilities in Kumba.

A look into CFDP's office space on Commonwealth Avenue in Kumba Municipality.

League Update

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CFDP U-16 Youth Football League Update: Today, CFDP held a meeting at our office for all coaches of youth football teams in Kumba interested in registering a team with our U-16 league that will play out through July and August. The meeting was successful. There were 11 people in attendance, although some of which were from the same team. Currently, we have seven teams registered to play in our league. The management team expects that we will have between 10 and 12 teams by the time registration closes on 31 May.

The league will kick off Sunday, 7 July 2013. Our league is going to be unique. Although we at CFDP love the game of football, ultimately, we are only using football as a means to educate children in an underserved area of Cameroon, Africa and help them develop life skills. Therefore, our league will integrate CFDP's educational curriculum into each match. Each match will have an educational theme--for example, HIV/AIDS awareness--and an extensive pre-game ceremony based on that particular theme. There are two components to each pre-game ceremony. Firstly, teams will partake in an educational football activity that on the surface, appears to be centered on practicing technical football skills, but in reality has a deeper, educational purpose that coaches will discuss with their players after the activity has been completed. Secondly, minutes before the match is set to kick off,  coaches and players from each team will come together to read motivational statements based on the theme of the match through a microphone to the match's spectators, just as you see captains from teams reading anti-racism statements before English Premier League and international FIFA matches these days. Afterwards, two halves of football will be played, and once the match is over coaches will have a brief post-game discussion with each of their teams to connect their performances on the field to the educational theme of that day's match. In the end, there will be a championship match and all sorts of soccer equipment given out as awards thanks to all the donations we have received back home in the USA.

Before the league kicks off, throughout the month of June, I and others from the CFDP management team will be hosting weekly training sessions around Kumba for coaches with teams participating in our league so that we can familiarize them with both our organization's curriculum, as well as the unique procedures that will comprise each match. This is a really exciting time for all of us at CFDP. Everyone in Kumba loves football, but this league is going to be unlike anything they have ever seen before.

National Day in Cameroon

Monday, May 20, 2013

Today was National Day in Cameroon. It is a day to celebrate Cameroon's "independence" from France and Britain. Although Cameroon achieved independence from France and Britain on January 1, 1960 and October 1, 1960 respectively, the Cameroonian government chose the 20th of May as Cameroon's National Day because it was on this day in 1972 that former president Ahmadou Ahidjo united the Francophone and Anglophone regions of the country under one government. The day is celebrated with parades in the morning and beer drinking in the evening. As you'll see in the photos below, the main people marching in the parade are either military members or kids from the primary and secondary schools in Kumba, of which there are more than 100!

Day Trip to Limbe, Cameroon

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Today, our management had a team-building/get-away day in Limbe, Cameroon. Limbe is a seaside city in the South West Region of Cameroon, very close to Douala, the nation's business capital, and about a 90 minute drive from Kumba. In short, Limbe is beautiful. Since it is located right on the water, the city has a very misty, tropical atmosphere. Our team spent the morning swimming in the ocean and playing soccer on Tsaben Beach, and in the evening we went to Town Beach to east roasted fish, which was fresh and delicious. (Below you'll see pictures of all the boats at the harbor bringing fish in from the sea. I'm taking an educated guess that fish, in addition to oil and tourism, provide the foundation for Limbe's economy.) Overall, the day was a success!

Barombi Village

Friday, May 17, 2013

Today, Justin, Collins, Kim, Lauren, Wera, Leo (a CFDP "leader" from a local football academy in Kumba), and I journeyed to Barombi, a small, rural village located on the outskirts of Kumba. Barombi is remote--Rural Africa at its purest. The village is located on the other side of a lake from Kumba. It is only accessible on foot through the woods (about an hour's walk), or by canoe through the lake. There is no electricity in Barombi.

Justin was taking us to the village on this day because a few years ago, before CFDP even existed, it was to complete a civil engineering project in Barombi as a University of Dayton student that Justin first became associated with Cameroon. Before this project was completed, Barombi had no running water. Justin and the students he came with finally gave Barombi residents that source of running water by installing a below ground piping system and three above ground faucets at various locations around the village. For this, Barombi people LOVE Justin.

Anyway, we went to the village today to meet Justin's friends and spend the day with them. We toured the small village, drank palm wine, which is an alcoholic drink that comes from palm trees and is also known coloquially as "white stuff," and ate fish, the most common source of food for Barombi people given that they are so remotely located but still live near a lake. Below are some of my photos from the day:

On the walk to Barombi
From left to right: Leo, Justin, Kim, Lauren, Wera, Collins.
Trekkin through the woods to Barombi.

Yoga master and CFDP Board Director Kim Cermak showing little Barombi kids how yoga is done.

End-of-School-Year Games Day

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Today was a big day for CFDP. We hosted an End-of-the-School-Year Games Day at the Multi-purpose Youth Center in Kumba for some of the secondary schools and football academies with which we are partnered. Over 100 kids were in attendance, nearly 30 of which were girls! The day was a huge success.

Here's a schedule of how the day broke down:

9:30 a.m. We began by running a number of education-based football games around the schoolyard. The games were education-based in the sense that each one had an educational message tied into it. For example, one game was a team juggling—or “tapping” as they call it in Cameroon—competition, where each team was given a five minute time period to see how long they could juggle the ball with their feet amongst each other without letting it touch the ground. Before and after each game, though, a CFDP leader would take a few minutes to ask the players about what mental skills they needed in order to be successful at the particular game. So, for the tapping competition, players need “focus,” “consistency,” “self-control,” “teamwork,” etc. Next, the CFDP leader would have a discussion with the players about how these skills translate to real life, outside of the football pitch. The idea of CFDP is that we are using football to help teach kids about mental skills, or concepts—rather than technical skills, such as “ball control,” or “one-touch passing”—that they need not only in order to be good players on the field, but that can translate to real life skills off the field, too. Anyway, back to the games. In total, there were 11 stations, 11 teams, and around 10 players per team. Teams rotated around the field to each station. Each station had its own leader and there was a separate educational component to each station. Teams were evaluated not only based on how they scored in each game, but also on how responsive they were during the discussion of each game’s educational component. At the end of the day, the teams with the best scores in each category were awarded with football jerseys, shorts, socks, shin guards, and shoes. (Thanks to everyone back home that donated this stuff!)

12 p.m. Once the games were over, we had other organizations also working in Kumba, such the Peace Corps and Global Conscience Initiative (GCI), another NGO, come in and do educational group discussion sessions with all the kids. These activities were non-football related. For example, there were classroom discussions about maintaining good personal hygiene, malaria prevention, etc.

2 p.m. Lunch

3 p.m. We had all the kids complete a survey so that we could see how receptive they were to our educational material. (Remember—Although the day involved lots of football, ultimately, CFDP is about education!)

4 p.m. Awards ceremony. As I mentioned earlier, we awarded all the teams that performed best in the games competitions with all sorts of soccer equipment.

Overall, the End-of-School-Year Games Day was an enormous success. I myself ran a game station in the morning and acted as "event photographer" throughout the day. It was an absolute joy to be a part of the action and it was incredibly rewarding to see all the kids engaged and responsive to our educational messages.

Later in the week, CFDP’s management team had a discussion about the Games Day. Someone remarked that no one else in Kumba--no one in Cameroon’s entire South West Region for that matter--hosts “games days” for kids and rewards them with football equipment that they would otherwise never have, like CFDP does. I am left feeling really proud to be part of such a unique, innovative, and impactful organization. 

Caroline, a member of CFDP's Kumba Management Team, leads an ice-breaking activity with a group of kids as they warm up for the day's activities.

Collins, a member of CFDP's Kumba Management Team, addresses the kids just before the activities get under way.

Modest, a CFDP-trained "leader" from one of our partnered youth football academies, discusses with a group of kids the educational significance of a football drill they just completed.

Kim, a native of Holland and employee of Needs for Children, another NGO also operating in Kumba, gives a presentation about the importance of personal hygiene and malaria prevention.

Cross-Cultural Training at the Women's Empowerment Center, Kumba Town

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kim Cermak, the Director of CFDP's Board, is in Kumba this week!

Much of this day was spent in a classroom at the Women's Empowerment Center, a facility in Kumba that was built I believe either in the 80s or 90s to serve as a gathering place for women. There are conference rooms, sewing machines, and an exercise room there, among other things.

(Just a quick side note: The Women's Empowerment Center is one of CFDP's partnered facilities, which means that we host a lot of meetings there. I think it's really cool that this is one of our go-to places because pushing women's rights and female participation in sports in Cameroon is a huge part of CFDP's mission. In other words, I find CFDP's presence at the Women's Empowerment Center very symbolic.)

Anyway, we were at the Women's Empowerment Center for most of this day because Kim was leading a training session for our management team. The theme of her session was "developing cross-cultural relationships in the workplace, which was perfect for CFDP obviously because half our team is Cameroonian and the other half is American. Kim is very qualified to present on this topic because she has spent her entire professional career either working directly with foreign cultures in the sales industry or providing consulting services in this field to multinational corporations. Kim's session revolved around a PowerPoint presentation and other various sorts of games, activities, and group discussions. Overall, I think everyone found Kim's training session very helpful. Obviously, it was important for us to all acknowledge that our respective cultures have trained us to think, act, and work differently so that we can be conscious of this when working together in Kumba.

The Women's Empowerment Center, one of CFDP's partnered facilities, in Kumba Municipality.
CFDP workers take a break in between cross-cultural training sessions at the Women's Empowerment Center. From left to right: Killian, Nenne, Martin, Caroline, Wera (a volunteer from Germany), and Lauren Mills (American intern).

League Planning

Thursday, May 8, 2013

I sat down with Wallace and Martin today to discuss CFDP's big project for the summer: A U-16 football league for clubs from around Kumba that will kick off at the beginning of July. I myself am working in Kumba this summer as the Director of CFDP's U-16 Football League. I found that Wallace and Martin have already reached out to a variety of youth football clubs around Kumba to inform them about the league. It is now up to teams to register for the league with CFDP. Registration will last until May 31. Wallace says that he expects at least 10 teams to participate in the league. My job for now then is to determine the operational procedures for the league. Currently, I am writing the official league manual. Our league will be unique because as a CFDP league, it must be educational. Therefore, I am designing pre- and post-game ceremonies that will be implemented at each match and will revolve around educational topics, such as self-respect, teamwork, communication, HIV/AIDS awareness, good sportsmanship, etc. Our vision for this league is grand. I hope it will end up being that way.

Olympic Fruiting Youth Football Academy

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Today, I visited Olympic Fruiting Youth Football Academy with Martin, a member of CFDP Kumba's Management Team. Olympic Fruiting is one of CFDP's partner clubs, which means that at least one of their coaches has been trained in CFDP's educational curriculum and is officially certified as a CFDP "leader." Olympic Fruiting is a frequent participant in many of the football tournaments and other special events that CFDP organizes around Kumba throughout the year.

Here is a video of youth players at Olympic Fruiting warming up for practice:

CFDP session at Nkamlikum Secondary School

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Today, I attended my first CFDP sessions with Wallace. As a member of CFDP's management team in Kumba, Wallace is responsible for supervising various CFDP sessions that occur at some of the schools and football academies with which CFDP is partnered. It was really exciting to finally witness how the CFDP programs that I have been reading, talking, and writing about for the past few months actually work. The first program took place at Nkamlikum Secondary School here in Kumba. (A secondary school is comparable to a "middle school" in the US.) The session began around 4:30--5:00 p.m., so it functions as an after-school program for students of the school that are registered with CFDP. Once the kids arrived and the session was under way, my belief in CFDP's mission was immediately affirmed. The "leader" of this session was a man named Ivo. Ivo, like the rest of the leaders at CFDP programs throughout Kumba, was officially trained by CFDP in the organization's curriculum. Ivo led the kids in various ice-breaking activities, soccer drills, and exercises, while holding intermittent group discussions with them about the importance of like skills and values, such as teamwork, communication, focus, healthy relationships with one's family, etc. All the kids were smiling, laughing, and most importantly, fully tuned-in to Ivo. It was great to see. A bunch of other kids from the school even came over to watch the session and you could tell they were jealous that they were not involved, which obviously made the kids participating feel even more confident about being with CFDP. It was really encouraging for me to see that CFDP is actually making a difference in the lives of young children here in Cameroon, Africa.

Arrival in Cameroon

Lauren and I arrived in Douala, Cameroon around 11:10 p.m. the night of May 7--right on time according to our flight itinerary. Overall, we had been traveling for about 29 hours. We left Pittsburgh at 6:09 p.m. the evening of May 6, flew a quick US Airways flight to LaGuardia Airport in New York, took a 20-minute taxi to JFK Airport, then hopped on a Turkish Airlines flight that brought us first to Istanbul, Turkey for a layover, and then finally landed us in Douala, Cameroon. (The picture posted below is one taken from my airplane window of the coastline as we crossed over the Mediterranean sea into Libya, very near the city of Tripoli.)

A picture of the Libyan coast from my airplane window.
The first thing I noticed about Cameroon was the heat. The minute I walked off the plane I knew I must be in Africa because the heat that night was unlike anything I had encountered before. It was humid, too. Our bags had been kept in the temperature-controlled storage areas of our airplanes and then were exposed to the humidity of Douala with such immediacy that they were covered in dew. Once we had left our plane and walked through security, it was in the baggage claim area that CFDP greeted us. It was great to finally be on the ground in Cameroon and to receive such a warm welcome from the people we had been waiting to see for some months now. Justin and Wallace, a CFDP management team member in Kumba, came to greet us, along with Biggie, CFDP's personal bodyguard for all undersized people associated with the organization. I knew that Lauren and I were pumped to finally be in Cameroon, but to see how excited Justin, and especially Wallace and Biggie, were to meet us made me immediately feel comfortable in my new surroundings. One thing I have noticed so far during my first week in Cameroon is that the people here are very welcoming. Everyone shakes my hand, seeing that I am a "white man" they welcome me to Cameroon, and remind me that I will love it. When I have traveled in my short life, naturally, I tend to evaluate places based on the friendliness of the people I meet there. So far, Cameroon is good in my book.

Once in Douala, our next destination was Kumba, a mid-sized city in Cameroon's South West Region where CFDP is based and where Lauren and I would be spending the majority of our time here in Cameroon. Wallace, Justin, Lauren, and I--Biggie stayed in Douala--packed our seven bags into Wallace's small car and squeezed our bodies into the space that remained for what would be between a two and three-hour journey from Douala to Kumba. Since it was night, it was dark out and was difficult for me to observe my new home for four months on the drive. I would say, though, that there still were a few memorable moments during that drive that I will always remember as my first in Cameroon. The first was when we hit a police checkpoint and had to pull the car over to the side of the road so the policeman could check our documentation. Now, I must admit that I am heavily influenced by newspapers, and in the news lately there have been many stories about civil wars ,rebel-controlled areas, and police corruption in various parts of Africa, namely Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo. With these news stories, you will often see pictures of men dressed in police uniforms, carrying guns, patrolling designated areas. So naturally, matching these pictures in my head with the horrible news stories I've been reading, you might be able to picture me sitting there in the car while Wallace and the policeman argue over a few things, my mind racing, thinking, "Holy shit, what's this guy going to do to us?" But thankfully, Cameroon is not like that. The policeman ended up being very happy to welcome Lauren and I to Cameroon. We made it through the checkpoint, our bags, and ourselves, okay. There was another, less frightening moment on the drive home that I also recall very well. Just as I was telling Justin that I was hoping to see some cool wild animals while I was in Africa, we drove up to a herd of wild cows. They were huge. And there were about 10-15 of them. Wallace called them "cows," but they were nothing like the white-and-black-spotted, milk-bearing hunks we call "cows" in the US of A. These were some serious African "cows." They each looked about the size of a moose and had these long, thick, curly horns like mountain goats. We just drove right on by. African cows are sweet.

When I finally arrived to my house in Kumba, I slept for four days. See you next time.