Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reading Follow-up:

October 15, 2008

I wrote a blog on reading in Cameroon in which I described how reading, whether for business, learning or pleasure, is just not common here. I talked about how it’s not promoted in school, but also showed that the price and availability of books here make it nearly impossible for someone to get into reading in the first place. Then, I asked you, my readers, to send me books. For those of you that have already sent books, thank you so much!!! I wanted to give you an update on what I decided to do with your contributions.

A few weeks ago, I headed to Tiko in the Southwest Province. It is rather small town in between Doaula, the commercial hub of Cameroon, and Limbé, one of two popular beach towns. It is also the home of my friends and fellow Peace Corps volunteers Joe and Debbie. Looking at my options for where to distribute the books, it had to be in one of the Anglophone provinces, so either the Northwest or the Southwest. I didn’t want too big of a town, because of the smaller scale of my operation and because bigger towns already have more resources. And the last of my criteria was that I wanted to go to a town with a Peace Corps volunteer. I needed to have a lot of trust in someone that knew their community well and would have good ideas about how to distribute the books and to whom. Tiko seemed the perfect fit. So I packed a small bag, gathered all the books that were sent into one big box, added a few of my own to give away, and jumped on a bush taxi for the 5-hour trip.

When I arrived in Tiko, Joe met me on the road leading to his house and we hopped on a moto because the box of books was pretty heavy. I think I’ve talked about this before, but Joe and Debbie’s hospitality, their house, the fact that they live where people speak English – add it all up and it’s just really easy to feel at home there. I always like visiting them. The first day, it poured non-stop. And when I say non-stop, I mean for 24 hours straight. When that happens, nobody does anything but stay in their house. We had a very relaxful day with great food. We read and napped, made crepes for breakfast and enchiladas for dinner, and in the evening we watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics (when the rain didn’t cut out the signal).

The next day, when the rain finally died down, Debbie and I set off to donate the books. We had already decided who we wanted to give them to. Joe and Debbie had two good ideas when I arrived. One was to give them to the library in Tiko – small, a little run down, and in need of more books. The other was in Ombé, a town nearby, that has an orphanage Debbie had visited a couple of times. The decision came easily to donate the books to the orphanage. The library already had some books, it just needed more. And it takes a lot of initiative to walk into a library for the first time, probably never having been in one before and not knowing the system. The orphanage gave us a chance to put the books into someone’s living room. But it wouldn’t just affect one family. There would be 50 or more kids of all ages with more continuing to cycle through. Then there’s the fact that they’re orphans and they have so much working against them already. I really liked the idea of being able to give this opportunity to those kids. And any time I went back to the area, I would be able to see the kids, talk about which books they’d read, and get an idea of the impact they’re having.

So Debbie and I set off to Ombé, to the Rhema Grace Orphanage. The taxi drove us to the door and there were already some kids there waiting for our arrival. They love having visitors! They set out all the chairs in their main hall and greeted us by singing dancing and drumming. Some songs were religious, some were traditionally African, and a few were literally saying ‘welcome to our home.’ After the festivities, we passed out the books. I’ll try to get a picture or two up soon. The books were of all reading levels and the kids were of all ages, so it worked out great.

Let me give you some details on the orphanage. It’s the Rhema Grace Orphanage in Ombé, in the Southwest Province of Cameroon. There are 53 children living there at this moment. Of the children, 9 are babies (0-2), there are 5 little children (3-7), 11 minors (8-11), 10 major girls (12-16), 7 major boys, 3 big girls (17-20), and 1 big boy. Two are mentally handicapped, one is deaf and mute, three are legally blind, and one is HIV positive. Beyond the older children magnificently looking after the younger ones, there is Mercy. Mercy and her daughter Gloria run and live at the orphanage. They are incredibly compassionate souls that essentially decided to stop everything else in their lives to create and take care of this giant family.

The children gathered in this orphanage are incredibly lucky to have Mercy look after and take care of them. And now thanks to your help, they have the beginnings of a library. I believe that this small step will encourage them to excel in school, increase their creativity and critical thinking, and eventually lead more productive lives. I was really nothing more than the middle man. Thanks so much for your generous contributions! This is something that I am incredibly passionate about and would like to continue doing throughout my service here in Cameroon. So please keep sending booksJ I might give a few more to the Rhema Grace Orphanage, but am looking forward to finding other places in the Northwest and Southwest that could benefit from a donation like this. Once again, here’s the address:

Tim Hartman
C/O US Embassy
B.P. 215, Yaoundé


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