Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tough Spot, Bright Spot.

Recently I’ve been working with a local NGO that coordinates all kinds of development projects. The director had asked me if I would accompany him to visit a nearby village in need of a school. I’m always up for a free moto ride so I agreed.

For whatever reasons, the villagers thought I was the Ambassador of the United States, and one of the village leaders stood up and read a four-page handwritten letter to me (or rather, the Ambassador) asking for my financial help in any way possible… to fund a school, a well, a granary. It was of course horribly awkward, and I had to explain to them that I was not in fact, the US Ambassador, (do Ambassadors wear Tevas?) and I was not a source of financing. In these situations what I do say is “I’m located in the MC2 in Mokolo, and you can come to me any time if you have questions about opening a bank account, getting a loan, or developing any projects you have, as small or large as they might be, even if it’s just buying a couple of goats.”

The only thing that makes these situations slightly less painful is that the US Embassy does have what it calls the Self-Help fund. After I asked the villagers assembled a lot of questions to get a feel for their town, its resources, etc., I told the folks that if they want to apply for a grant from the Self-Help fund, I’d be happy to read over their proposal.

These situations are so humbling to me. Twenty kids are stuffed in a hut, sitting on rocks on the ground, in tattered clothes without a book or a notebook to be found. One chalkboard at the front of the room is the only sign that this is a school. At the same time, I’m angered. I told the NGO director and the village leader that they also needed to be petitioning their own commune and mayor—my government cannot be the band-aid for what your government should be doing. Every time I see certain unnamed Cameroonian government officials on TV, in their lavish presidential palaces living large off this country’s oil revenues, it makes me sick. I have to go do a prison workout to calm myself down. (Ref previous blog.) On the moto ride back, the images I couldn’t help but have flash through my head were of the high-tech Clemson computer labs, the Clemson library, the sparkling new Clemson student center (if you hadn’t guessed it, I went to Clemson University.) I told Brooke yesterday afternoon that living here, the meaning of “life is not fair” has become so very real to me. There are times when I think “man, I’d love to have gone to that fancy expensive liberal arts school, or geez, if I could manage to get into and afford grad school there…” I told her if she ever hears me complain about my educational options, to just smack me.

Bright Spot.

Whew. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are days when I feel useful, effective, motivated. Today, one of Brooke’s Cameroonian colleagues asked me if I could help him better organize his finances and accounting for a huge agro-alimentary endeavor he’s undertaking. This man has an advanced engineering degree in “agro zoo-technologie” from one of the universities in the south of the country (as there are literally no universities in Northern Cameroon.) He’s in the process of constructing a HUGE facility to raise egg-laying chickens. He’s completely spotted a need that he can fill: the north of Cameroon gets its eggs from the southern provinces, which requires three days’ travel in largely unsanitary conditions. Naturally, the eggs here cost at least 75 CFA and are of poor quality, in comparison to the 50 CFA eggs you’ll find in most places in the southern or western provinces.

He took me to the facility he’s constructing today. He’s already invested in an ample amount of land so that he can allow this business to expand, eventually moving into raising meat-chickens. (Sorry, I don’t know the more technical word in English!) So, could we have a more win-win situation? My amigo here is going to make bank in a huge way. I, and all the other protein-hungry folks in Northern Cameroon, are going to get higher-quality eggs at 2/3 the current cost. My friend knows the technology necessary to keep his costs low, and he’s thinking long term. I just hope I can give him the best possible advice regarding his finances. I’m duly impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit. Recently, people like him have been motivating me more and more to consider tacking an MBA on to my studies when I get home. There is so much room for growth in this country, but I think is going to be led by private industry, as the jury is still out on the public sector.


usedtofeellikeheaven said...

Kate this blog is really awesome. It brightens my days to hear about your adventures. I'm not sure if this would be helpful at all, but you might consider contacting a poultry science prof at Clemson to see if there are any new technologies your friend can take advantage of when he's developing his facility. Hope all is well.
Good luck with your underwear.

usedtofeellikeheaven said...

p.s. this is katie brock