On the Eve of Adventure

Tomorrow is the day! A year and a half’s work promoting, fundraising, organizing, planning, collaborating, fretting, and dreaming, and it is all coming together. We are taking so many teaching, learning, and technology supplies for the high school and for the resource room for blind students at SAJOCAH. We’re also eager to start on the well project and the livestock purchase. Wish us well. We have two full days of travel ahead. I’ll make regular updates to the blog.

In the meantime, many thanks to Al Miller, Bridget Harris, and Megan Dixon for recent donations. Your generosity is overwhelming and heartwarming.
Jill

It is coming together.

Last night seven members of our wonderful team met at my home and packed up all of the supplies for the blind resource room, along with books, art supplies, and so many other things. We filled six big roller bags while eating Thai food and sharing our excited, nervous energy. Tomorrow Project Community Computers is having a packing party at their location downtown to get the 30 laptops, the Braille printer, and all of the tech supplies and accessories ready. We expect to have 12-13 bags just devoted to supplies.

So this is happening! I bought big, bright red stick-on vinyl numbers to put on each bag so we can identify and count them a little easier in the airports. We will be arriving with a lot of stuff. How on earth will Sister Judith get us all the way from Douala to the the convent? Well, if anyone on earth can, it’s Sister Judith. I hope she brings Dennis with her. He is my favorite of the drivers because he is completely unflappable in the wild traffic patterns.

I think I won’t be at ease until we are actually on the grounds of the convent. The 19 months preparing for this has been wonderful, exciting, and exhausting. I am looking forward to the plane ride (20 hours on planes to get there!) just to sleep. So wish us well, readers and friends, and expect many updates and photos during the next several weeks.

And from the bottom of my heart, thank you, each one of you who helped by creating PR materials, attending our fundraisers, making and selling jewelry, having a bake sell, donating a text book, collecting used laptops and jump drives, contributing to the fund (Yes, there is still time! CFCWI.org –> Cameroon Educational Computer fund) and doing all of the countless things that have made this happen. This is so truly a team project, and there is no way to identify the boundaries of the team because it keeps growing. I heard years ago that the definition of true success is planting trees beneath whose leaves you do not expect to rest. So each of you has been successful, and you will never know all of the fruit those trees will bear. Bless you all.

What has happened to my home????

We leave in 14 days, and my home is out-of-control crazy with stuff. Great stuff, for certain, but oh Lord I have no idea how we are going to make order out of this chaos. And it is, to quote one of my favorite authors Ellen Gilchrist, an embarrassment of riches. I have  HUGE suitcase full of books, art supplies, toys, and so on for the pre-school and elementary school kids. I have the boxes of supplies donated for the blind students at SAJOCAH. And I have the massive Amazon.com order that includes the digital voice recorders, headphones, canes, slate and stylus sets, and so much for for Ms. Evelyn’s classroom.

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June 15.[

 

Getting everything ordered was a comedy of errors, and I am using “comedy” because it would be rude to use some of the words that came out of my mouth during the process, which is far from complete. I opened up a dedicated savings account called “Cameroon” and applied for an Amazon.com credit card for supplies. I wanted to keep everything as clean and organized as possible. Over the past several months, Pujita, McKenzie, Jeff, Kiefer, and Troy from Vision Forward and I have been compiling a list of what to order. Of course, we’ve been calling suppliers, researching stuff on line, doing comparisons, and emailing back and forth with Miss. Evelyn in Bafut.

So finally, finally I thought I had the complete order. With 99+ items in my Amazon cart, I placed to order, to be charged to the Amazon card. The relief was immense. Immediately I started to get notices that my personal credit card was experiencing high volume. Amazon had not made my A.com card the default, as promised. Anyway, it took hours of phone calls, orders cancelled, items reordered, and endless tracking to sort of resolve it. Amazon wasn’t able to take some of the orders off of my credit card, so I have to go in and sort everything out there. But according to A.com, everything has been shipped and delivered.

I am doing inventory and tracking now, and I think everything has come in except the Brailon paper, four sets of keyboard stickers, and two books. I will make calls again tomorrow. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning in this process. But then I look at my living room floor and dining room table, and I think of what these materials will do, what worlds will be opened up to the students at SAJOCAH, and I am grateful for the chance to do this. As EC. said, it is an embarrassment of riches.

 

 

Collecting supplies!

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Rebecca Cauffman–teacher of visually-impaired students.

Many thanks to our new friend Becky Cauffman, for gathering and donating supplies for the blind students at SAJOCAH in Bafut! Becky gave me a box of Braille print out mystery books–and entire box!– along with more Braille kids’ books, canes, games, cards, a slate and stylus, and other treasures I haven’t unearthed yet.

Becky has spent 30-some years teaching blind students at all levels, and she is so excited about our work in Cameroon. I wouldn’t be surprised if she decides to make the journey to SAJOCAH some day. Thank you Becky!!

Cameroon Initiative 2014

Once again….

I am so lucky to have found this passion and to have a way to continue this work.
In 2012 I returned to Bafut with a team of amazing people to set up a computer lab at SJCHS. This June, 2014, I am heading back for my third trip to Cameroon. Our team is HUGE! We are: Me, Tracy Stockwell and Sharyn Warren, educators from Alverno and MSOE; Maria Nicholas-Groves, Founder of Feeding Mouths Filling Minds; Jeff Hanson, Kiefer Stenseng, and Tyler Nickerson from Project Community Computers; and the following students: Pujita Vazrala and McKenzie Valley from MSOE; Angela Carrington from Alverno; and Jack Bertram from Shorewood High School.

We have four projects going.  We will be

  • expanding and improving computer labs at the high school (along with networking the school)
  • setting up a small computer center for blind students at SAJOCAH
  • repairing a well at the TSSF’s bush farm
  • buying livestock and poultry for the bush farm and Sr. Judith’s sustainable food distribution program.

So we have been busy researching needs, raising money, securing resources, and generally workiing like crazy. We had a fabulous fundraiser, thanks to Maria and Tracy, and have raised nearly $20,000. Alverno President Mary Meehan continues to be a strong and generous supporter of this project, and her matching donation challenge helped us exceed our goal.

We have also had wonderful help and advice from Vision Forward in Milwaukee, especially Troy Hergert, Cory Ballard, and Jacci Borchard who not only helped us figure out what technology and supplies would work for our project but who also donated a Braille embosser / printer. This was amazing, and we are so excited to get the lab set up at SAJOCAH.join

The Alverno community has joined in our work with such enthusiasm. We’ve had jewelry and craft making sessions and sales, great support from the Association for Women in Communication, donations or supplies and funds from so many people (a huge shout out to Barb Groshek and the Alverno Childcare Center who have gathered school supplies and four laptops!), excellent promotional materials by our excellent intern Sarah Kosalos, and good coverage by our student-run media, Alverno AIFR Free Radio and Alverno Alpha on-line newspaper.

I’ll do the best I can to get online and keep readers up-to-date during the two weeks we are in Cameroon, and of course, I will be taking photographs. Many, many photographs. On a personal note, I am SO EXCITED AND PROUD of my adopted daughter Elizabeth Ngevnjo who will be graduating from her nursing program in Bamenda this summer.  Elle was a student at SJCHS who lived and worked at the Convent, and she, Annie, and I became friends during our stay in 2011. Elle is smart and hard-working, and I know she will be a great nurse. I hope her late parents are looking down from heaven and can see what a wondeful job she has done. And I can’t wait to see Mirabelle Zepha, who is in her first year of university studies in Bamenda. These wonderful young women give me such hope for the future of Cameroon.
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Our Computer Center–before

Our Computer Center--before

SJCHS now has one of the best computer centers in all of Cameroon.

What happens in Bafut stays in…the world!

Clearly I wasn’t adding posts as we worked in Bafut. A combination of long, full days and weak Internet (more on that in a minute!) kept me off the blog. So here’s a quick overview, and I’ll supply details and ask my fellow travelers to fill in with their experiences and perspective.

Nov. 18. The A-team (A for Africa, action, awesome!) met in Chicago and managed, despite TSA’s exceptional interest in Tracy and her carry-on luggage) to board a late night flight to Brussels. We were all too excited to sleep much.

Nov. 19. After the transfer and second flight, we arrived in Douala, were met by Sister Olivia and Sister Amelia, gathered our luggage, had dinner, and got settled into the Cardinal’s House for the night. Some of us were exhausted and headed right to bed, but Jeff, Tracy, and a few others went exploring. Luckily it was fairly uneventful.

Nov. 20. The long ride to Bafut kept most of us mesmerized. Not Chinel, though. That girl can sleep better than anyone I know! We arrived at the convent just as it was getting dark. The road was lined with hundreds of students, teachers, sisters, and villagers singing and welcoming us. Later we heard from a young woman from Belgium that she thought the Pope had arrived.

Nov. 21–> 29

Camera 1. Focus on Work

mousepads1

mousepads3

Oh, we worked! We cleaned out and set up the computer room, took several trips into Douala for supplies, exchanged money, negotiated for wireless service, got a dish put in at the school, installed software, ran training sessions for staff and students, and did everything single thing we could think of to make sure the school would be able to use the lab. It was wonderful and exhausting, and through it all, we transformed from a team into a family.

 

Chinel and S Prisca 1

Almost out the door…again!

Tomorrow our group leaves for Cameroon to set up the computer lab at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School in Bafut. Our group: Me, Shellie Moore (my wonderful sister!), Tracy Stockwell from Alverno, Sharyn Warren from Alverno and MSOE, and three MSOE students: Chinel Plunkett, Keenen Quick, and Jeff Hanson.  Our mission: To get 34 computers installed and to train the staff and students how to use the hardware and software.

This is possible through the generous donations of many people–from jump drives to mouse pads to laptops to money donated through our link, Cameroon Educational Computer Fund, at the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin: http://www.cfcwi.org

We’ll post updates while we are there!

Jill

Where the Path Led

It has been more than a year since Annie and I left Bafut, but those days live in us. There has been so much change for everyone involved. We have lost two very beloved women: Mary Rose, whose experiences were the catalyst for our work at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School, and Sister Angeline, who came to direct the health center in Bafut while we were there.

These two women never met, but their spirits worked together for the same outcome: improving the lives of people in Cameroon. Mary and Sister Angeline were so similar. Mary was American, white, tiny, and a woman of means. She married and raised a beautiful family. She wore the most gorgeousl clothes, had a penthouse condo with a breathtaking view of Milwaukee, and she used her privilege to help others.  Sr. Angeline was African, very dark-skinned, substantial in build, and she took a vow of poverty when she took her vows to serve God.

Each of these women had a heart that was matched only by her will and determination. Mary got a dormitory built at SJCHS. Sr. Angeline ran the country’s largest hospital before coming to Bafut. Mary sponsored young women in continuing their education. Sr. Angeline mentored young nurses. Each woman gave everything inside her to leave this world a better place. Annie and I feel so blessed to have known them and shared in their mission, and we grieve the loss while remembering the love.

Although we left Cameroon, it never left us. Now, there is a new project afoot. In November I will return to Bafut with a small group from MSOE. We are taking computers to the school. As of this writing, we have 10 laptops to take, and we are working to collect more. We are also trying to partner with Project CC (www.projectcc.org) to take desktops, and we are trying to raise funds for materials to install a modern, functioning computer center at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School.

I invite anyone who reads this to contact me at jill.moore@alverno.edu if you have a working laptop that you would like to donate, or if you know of any person or organization who may want to help with this mission. The students at SJCHS need to be computer literate in order to realize their potential. Scholarships, college, careers…these all depend on having access to and knowing how to use computers.

Annie teaching computer skills to SJCHS girls in 2011

I will keep you all posted on the next phase of our work. In the meantime, please consider joining us in our on-going work. Everyone talks about making a difference. SJCHS and the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis would love to host others to teach at the elementary or high school, volunteer at the health center or Sajocah, or support their work in any way possible. I promise that if you do, it will change your life in ways you cannot imagine, and it will make a difference.

Jill

Looking Back


We’ve been home a month now–or a bit more–but Bafut still hovers at the edge of every thought. How do you leave a place and a people who have transformed you? How do you let go of days filled from dawn to dark with purpose? How do you say goodbye to the wisest women in the world without feeling your heart twist into an aching knot?

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Bafut bathed me in ochre light and burned the discontent right out of my soul, replacing it with joy. The Sisters–S. Judith, S. Pauline, S. Prisca, S. Celestine, S. Martina, S. Olivia, S. Petra, S. Paula, S. Angeline, S. Inge, S. Celine, S. Amelia, S. Victorine, S. Belinda, S. Bianca–lived their faith every moment of every day. To say that they are good is like saying the ocean is wet. I have never met people more dedicated to using their hands and hearts to create a better world.

There were parties for us, presents, cake, tears and hugs and promises to stay friends. There was a hellishly long and hot ride to Douala, the nightmare of checking luggage, more tears at the gate, then a day and a half in a fog of changing time zones, airplane food, babies crying pathetically as their tiny eardrums throbbed and popped, flight attendants passing out juice and earphones and immigration forms, tears and hugs on this end, then a week of not knowing what day or hour it was. Annie stumbled downstairs and asked me what time it was. I said 3:00. She said a.m. or p.m.?

Then there was unpacking, mail sorted, bills paid, gifts given out, stories told, photographs shown, haircuts and hot baths, and emails emails emails from our posse in W. Africa.

And now we are fully back, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. We haven’t heard a cock crow, a goat bleat, or a child yell “White man!” in weeks and weeks. Annie got all 4 wisdom teeth pulled, and S. Prisca emailed “ashia” today.

So how do we keep this alive? Work. Faith. Love. And for me, a belief that I will go back.

I am collecting laptops to refurbish and send to the school. I wrote a grant application to Express Union for the guest house at Sajocah and have started one to the African Development Foundation for the same thing. I have bought computer programs for math, science, history, fashion design, and CAD that I”m sending over. I have a camera for Gladys and another for Jeffrey. I have clothes and purses and sewing notions and many many patterns for Carine and Marbel and the girls.

But no matter what I raise or find or buy or send, nothing will ever come close to repaying the school, St. Joseph Comprehensive High School, or the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis, for what they gave me. They gave me back belief in my own value, faith in a God who is good, and a heart that allows itself to feel love without fear or panic or regret. Because there is nothing to regret if your heart leads you to a place that needs you and that you need. There is nothing to fear when you know that God has put you in the exact right place at the exact right time, and you accept each challenge that place and time presents with a willing spirit.

The last night at the convent, I told the Sisters that I was not ready to take vows, but that they should know that a Sister lives in my heart and will stay devoted to them and their work. I am truly blessed.

And so it is.

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