Traveling from Pittsburgh to Cameroon is not a simple task. CameroonFDP team member Will Dodds soon found that out after a 29 hour journey that included stops in New York and Istanbul, Turkey before finally landing in Cameroon.
What was Will’s first impression of Cameroon? It was hot: really, really, scorchingly hot. The humidity was so high that once Will’s bags were exposed to the humid African air, they looked like someone dumped a bucket of water on them.
After Will walked through security, he was warmly greeted in the baggage claim area by Justin, Wallace, and Biggie, who is CameroonFDP’s very own airport welcome man. Any sense of apprehension in Will’s new environment was eased with this warm welcome, among many that he would receive during his first week in Cameroon. Seeing that Will is a “white man,” many Cameroonians greeted him, shook his hand and reminded him that he will love his new surroundings.
Will, along with Justin and Lauren, were then stuffed into Wallace’s car and set off for Kumba, Cameroon. During this three hour journey, Will experienced his first scare of his trip when the car hit a police checkpoint. Will admits that he is heavily influenced by newspapers, where he sees many stories about civil wars, rebel-controlled areas, and police corruption in various parts of Africa. Often attached to these news stories are pictures of men dressed in police uniforms, carrying guns, and patrolling designated areas. So naturally, Will matched theses image and stories with the scene in front of him, which was Wallace arguing with the policeman over a few things. After panicking for a few minutes, Will was relieved when the policeman ended up being very happy to welcome them to Cameroon, letting them pass through the checkpoint.
The other, significantly less frightening moment of the drive to Kumba for Will occurred when the car passed by a farm. Will was hoping that he would see some cool wild animals while in Cameroon, and he got his wish in just the first few hours after his flight landed. The farm featured a wild herd of cows. But these cows were not ordinary, American cows; they were huge, about the size of a moose, with long and curly horns. They had little resemblance to the cows back home; they were some serious African “cows.” Will concluded that African cows are “sweet”.
After about three hours, Will and the crew arrived in Kumba, Cameroon. After an adventurous marathon of travel, Will retired for the night in his new home, which is a dorm room of sorts. More to come about Will’s adventures in Cameroon!
Swelteringly hot weather. Awakening to ants in your bed. Losing power on a near nightly basis. Eating fish daily. Getting acclimated to a slow and constantly failing internet connection. Lauren’s fist week in Cameroon introduced her to the African continent better than any textbook ever could.
Lauren arrived in Cameroon on May 7th after traveling for a total of 29 hours. Grateful to be traveling such a long distance with coworker Will Dodds, a jetlagged Lauren began working in the CFDP office at 9 am on May 9th. She then reviewed league-related documents such as a coaches handbook, sponsorship opportunities, information about organizations above league play such as the NCAA and pro teams, and procedures for match days.
After traveling to the Women’s Empowerment Center for a meeting and prepping for end of the year activities, Lauren walked home and realized how much she stuck out in her new West African surroundings. This walk allowed Lauren to realize she was not in America anymore; her newfound reliance on powdered milk and candles as a source of light aside, Lauren noticed the difference between her and the Cameroonian culture when she saw the true friendliness of the Cameroonian people when nearly all of them waved and took notice of her on her walk home.
The next day Lauren created forms to document equipment checkout and to detail the following day’s activities. The following day, Lauren and CameroonFDP team held a training session for the management teams and some of the league leaders. She had a blast watching the football games and can’t wait to see the kids play later in the week.
Lauren has enjoyed some of the social aspects of being a part of the CameroonFDP team in her first week in Africa. At the end of her first week, Lauren and Will went to church with Martin, a Kumba management team member, in an effort to become more acclimated to the alien culture surrounding them. Both Will and Lauren stressed how different this church experience was from their experiences in the US. The main difference was the length of the service: the mass was three and a half hours long! Anyone who thinks that American masses are too long should consider themselves lucky because church services in Cameroon are long, loud, and lively.
Though an integral part of CameroonFDP in only her first week abroad, Lauren is experiencing a bit of homesickness. She continually finds herself perusing Facebook to look at pictures of friends or wearing Pittsburgh Penguins and University of Pittsburgh clothes to remind her of her home. However, she is combating these feelings of apprehension and anxiety by swimming for exercise at the local pool. Lauren, a Division I swimmer for the University of Pittsburgh, is also giving swimming lessons to Cliff, a lifeguard looking to learn how to swim strokes.
In addition to her pool activities, Lauren is also looking into taking lessons on how to speak French and attempting to learn how to make her favorite Cameroonian snack dishes.
The friendliness of the Cameroonian people also has helped Lauren to feel more at home. Though she was told that the Cameroonian people were very friendly and accepting of strangers, Lauren has found that they are even more welcoming than she had come to expect! Lauren experienced this friendliness firsthand in her first week, when Francis, a motorcycle-riding Cameroonian, asked her out on a date.
Lauren concluded her first week in Cameroon by reflecting on her love for football and its universality. While watching Barcelona play a match on the television in her new home, Lauren began to grasp just how widespread the sport is. Watching a Spanish football team play a match while in Kumba, Cameroon, Lauren realized that football is more than just a sport; it is a rare commonality between radically different cultures, something which children from first world and third world countries can share, a unifying force that connects people from all over the world regardless of their nationality, socioeconomic status, or religion. Football, she realized, can be considered in many regards a way of life.
Regardless of power outages and constant traveling, the past few weeks have been very busy for CameroonFDP! There are so many exciting plans for the summer, but these take much preparation. With the Coaches Across Continents (CAC) training complete, it is time to move forward with our summer plans! Besides upcoming team registration, the Kumba team is busy welcoming more Pittsburgh team members and networking with other great resources in Cameroon.
Welcoming American Team Members
The beginning of May brought the arrival of the eagerly awaited team members Lauren Mills, the Global Management Intern and William Dodds, Assistant Team Manager. The team members in Cameroon have been preparing for their arrival for months and have even been looking for a pool so that Lauren, a D-1 level swimmer for the University of Pittsburgh can practice during her stay!
Cameroon FDP has gained so much through our relationship with local advisors. In these past few weeks, we have had meetings with these local leaders to evaluate the future plans of Cameroon FDP. A few of these individuals include, Mr. Charlie Mbonteh, leader of the non-governmental organization, MUDEC, Mr. Roland Kwemain, the founder of Go Ahead Africa, and Mr. Ndikum, the General to the Governor of the South West Region of Cameroon (whose son has attended Cameroon CDP youth camps!). We were glad to hear that Mr. Roland Kwemain agreed to give a scholarship to one Cameroon FDP leader to attend a summit on community development.
In addition to all this, Cameroon FDP has also been working with nonprofits like United Action for Children and Global Conscious Initiative. There may also be collaboration with Dr. Nkwi and his History Department at the University of Buea in the near future. Just last, week we met with our Peace Corps volunteer, Ryan Arnold, to discuss future projects and see how we can further strengthen our partnerships with future Peace Corp volunteers.
After the CAC training, many of the coaches and participants are planning to join Cameroon FDP team. We are excited to combine Cameroon FDP’s experience with CAC’s new drill ideas. Additionally, when we recently met with the leaders of three of our programs, they gave wonderful feedback. They said that at the beginning of this year, kids were reluctant to participate, but are now actively engaged. Sessions have increased to around 20-35 kids per session with a large increases in involvement from girls!
We have every reason to expect an amazing summer filled with new ventures, community, education, and of course, soccer.
Right now, CameroonFDP is in full swing in Kumba. The K-town management team is expanding as more U.S. team members touch down each week. The developments underway in Kumba emphasize our organization’s steady growth. The week of April 22-26 was particularly significant as the team attended Coaches Across Continents training in Buea. Coaches Across Continents is organized by United Action for Children (UAC), a sports-for-development organization based jointly in Buea and Mamfe of the southwest region of Cameroon. This particular type of training coincides with the CameroonFDP’s goal – utilizing football for social impact. Management team training is essential to further improve our programs. The entire CameroonFDP Kumba management team was present for all five days of the training. We talked to CameroonFDP team member Diony Collins for a recap of the experience.
Day One of training addressed “Football for health and wellness including HIV/AIDS.” The sessions began shortly after the CFDP team arrived at the cathedral field Molyko Buea. For three hours the coaches ran drills and played games with the CameroonFDP team, who both had fun and learned valuable lessons. After the day’s training, the team converged and discussed what they wanted to gain out of the training. Overall, the team was hoping to learn how to better connect with the children in Cameroon so that CameroonFDP’s mission can be more effectively executed.
Day Two focused on “Football for conflict resolution, including social inclusion.” More drills were run; the team learned how to create a sense of community and friendship within football games. Later in the day, the CFDP team was given audience with a lecturer from the University of Buea. This led to plans being made to visit the Langa House, a research and publication organization in Buea, to begin a cultural assessment of the communities that the CameroonFDP is working with.
Day three focused on “Football for female empowerment.” The drills were inspired by the world’s best female soccer player, the Brazilian forward Marta. Marta actually has won more world titles than the infamous Lionel Messi. Day Three was great for the CFDP team, partly because they are currently seeking to collaborate with the department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Buea. They intend to implement women’s programs in the communities where young girls’ issues need more attention in Cameroon.
Day Four’s agenda consisted of “Football for life skills.” The drills and training taught our team about the benefits and amazing possibilities that arise with playing football over the course of one’s life.
The fifth and final day of training went back to the basics, as it centered on “Football for fun.” It reminded the team of the reason why their mission is possible. This is because football is an amazing sport that is played and loved by billions. After the training for the day finished, the coaches made a brief talk to the CFDP team and handed certificates of completion to them.
Before returning to Kumba, CameroonFDP team visited the Secretary General, Mr. Ndikum Clement, at the South West Governor’s office. He was a Divisional Officer for Kumba and chaired two of CameroonFDP’s annual Youth Conferences, as well as the inaugural and closing ceremonies of CameroonFDP’s maiden U-16 football tournament last summer. The team hopes to nominate Secretary General, Mr. Ndikum Clement as a member of the Board of Directors for his support and interest in CameroonFDP.
Overall, the Coaches Across Continents training was an outstanding success for the CFDP. The team learned five key social impact focuses, which will go a long way towards improving kids’ lives in Cameroon.
Written by Brady Langmann