Monday, March 12, 2012

Ote, preparing for our arrival

We are taking tents with us to the rainforest which have been kindly donated by revellers at Glastonbury festival following an appeal in 2011.  We have 3 two-man and a 4-man between 6 of us and we are carrying a foam roll mat and we will leave all this equipment at the Forudef office in Mamfe when we are done so that future workers can go out and stay over at Ote and a couple of other tents for the extension worker, James and others from the NGO, Forudef.

We have been told that the villagers in ote are really looking forward to our visit.  They have dug a pit latrine for the occasion so we have somewhere to go to the loo, because normally they don’t bother to maintain one, instead opting to use the bush or the area along the river bank as there toilet. However, this is something we would like to discourage because of the obvious health issues attached.
One of my main concerns with the work that we are doing in Ote is that it feels hard to know where to start. While we are a bee keeping charity, and it is through this that we are trying to help people make a living for themselves, or according to our strap line, to alleviate poverty, it seems to overlook many of the major problems people in Ote face. The sanitation is so poor that people, especially children, are dying of water borne diseases with diarrhea and vomiting. This makes it hard to simply focus on beekeeping because it feels like we are ignoring some major issues that, although out of our remit, could make real differences to the community. Helping someone earn the money to eat but letting them die of poor sanitation feels like a hollow victory to us.

This is the main reason that we are looking into other ways in which we can help the inhabitants of Ote (like in earlier posts relating to nutrition or improving chicken stock). However we also know our own limits, we may be at the limits of our own expertise, and our remit to work on beekeeping.  While we may be able to identify what might needs to be done, carrying out the work when it is beyond our experience and expertise could cause more problems than providing solutions. We are therefore  proposing getting other expert charities to work with us in Ote and surrounding villages, such as inviting water organisations and development specialists to provide specialist help, so that we can provide real help for the village.

Behind Ote there is a cliff which has a spring, so there is potential to capture and pipe in fresh water, rather than relying on collecting water from the river which doubles as a toilet (hence many of the sanitation issues). It is projects like this that can make real differences to the people of this area. Also to solve the sanitation problems we are looking to linking with a specialist organisation to provide pit latrines.

On our arrival in Ote, the villagers are planning to dance for us, but they were asking if we would enjoy it or whether seeing traditional dances would be an imposition. Fortunately, James (our extension worker with Forudef)  knew that we would be honoured to attend this festivity, and that we would really love to experience such a thing, and so I'm told that they have been feverishly preparing everything.  The village does not have electricity either, instead people sit around in the evenings telling stories which, while sounding idyllic to us means the development of the village will be difficult to achieve. We are thinking about looking into a sustainable energy source and will investigate solar energy as a remedy to this; as the cost of solar panels is falling all the time, it may well be a viable option. At present they rely on palm oil lamps, burning the residue from filtered oil, which is both black and mucky (and bad for health) and a fire risk, or for those who can afford it kerosene lamps  or even  a few battery torches using LED's . 

My list of thing to look into and organise is growing by the day! But the advantage of working with a small charity is that I have the power to make a difference because i know i will be back next year.

We cannot operate or facilitate any form of honey trading or collection in Ote without some sort of building or base and that this will have a number of roles.  Primarily, it will be collection point for the farmers we have trained coming in to sell their honey and then Forudef can send it to market or store it during the rainy season when transport out of the area is impossible. Ote is a good site for this because it is the last village on the track from Mamfe accessible by vehicle during the dry season - other villages beyond can only be reached by foot through the forest.

Such a facility will also allow for a honey worker to monitor the quality and moisture content of the honey that people are producing. This is good because we can maintain a standard of product and help to raise the price of well produced honey and offer advice and guidance to farmers bringing in their stocks, which will all benefit the farmers.  Improving the quality of the honey people are producing- is an aim of our honey work here. The honey can then be filtered and sealed in plastic Gerry cans to prevent any deterioration when it is stored or transported from here to Mamfe and on to Buea where Forudef can market it.

A secondary benefit of the building is that we plan to have incorporate some lodgings, this is not only good for us to be able to stay in but also other NGO’s in the area and will encourage government departments to work in the area as well (at present officials, health workers or other services seldom come this far due to lack of facilities). The Nottingham UK architects Marsh and Growchowski have kindly agreed to design a building for us, so we will have been tasked with taking measurements and photos of the proposed site in preparation of their work, which is very exciting.

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