On January 18th Colm Lennon, Chairperson of the Portsmouth Bamenda Committee and Jo Overton, Vice Chairperson travelled to Cameroon to visit Bamenda, our twinned diocese.
The purpose of the visit was to demonstrate our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in these troubled socio-political times in the region and to see, at first hand, the progress being made on the projects being supported this year.
We also carried with us medical supplies collected by the charity Clinicare and items made and donated by the Girl Guide movement for vulnerable children and adults.
After an uneventful trip to Cameroon’s commercial capital Douala and an overnight stay, we travelled to Bamenda on a new internal flight, which only lasts 50 minutes in contrast to a 6-7 hour journey winding up into the hills and bumping through potholes by car. This short trip enabled us to get to work as soon as we arrived and travel that afternoon to a new health centre which we have collaborated on at Bamessing. The small centre developed from an old church hall is already fully operational and at full capacity. Plans are being prepared for phase two which is urgently needed.
We then travelled on to Babanki Tungo Health Centre where we were warmly welcomed. The centre is now being well used by the local community thanks to the presence of a doctor on a regular basis.
Enroute we also, visited sites at Sabga and Bamessing where the local communities are working hard to construct new churches. Without guaranteed funding the local people have brought sand, stones and their labour to complete foundations for the new structures.
After a long day, a good meal and comfortable beds at Archbishop’s House were just what was required.
Saturday January 20th
The day started with a visit to St. Blaise Hospital which is functioning well under the new Matron, Sr. Yvonne. We visited the site of the new water project which has had problems in breaking through a large bed of rock. The conditions of the job, digging down many metres to the water source with basic equipment, were very difficult however the technicians were hopeful that a breakthrough would be achieved soon.
Our next visit was to St. Paul’s Secondary School Nkwen where with the support of the local community of Romsey and North Baddesley (a former parish of Fr George Ngwa), work will shortly start on a new well for the school. Problems locating an adequate supply of water have delayed this project.
Sadly, during the Anglophone Crisis, this school has been the target of an arson attack on an administrative building but notwithstanding the socio/political problems, school numbers are beginning to grow again to just over half of the normal intake.
Next on our schedule was another targeted school. At Sacred Heart Secondary School, a dormitory had been burnt down whilst the children were in the chapel but we were pleased to note that parents had been very generous in supporting its renovation and school enrolment was slowly recovering there too.
Sunday Jan 21st
We attended a wonderful Youth Mass in Azire celebrated by Fr. Bonaventure who (recently returned from 6 years in Portsmouth Diocese) is now settling in as Chancellor of the Archdiocese.
The rest of the day was spent with the Youth of the Diocese who provided us with great entertainment, involving traditional and modern dancing, choirs and comedy sketches all under the guidance of Fr. Gatien Ngah the young enthusiastic head of Youth in the Diocese.
Monday January 22nd
This day was spent visiting the site of the Ambelle Water Project, a scheme to supply 3 remote rural villages with fresh water which is supported by a charity in Jersey.
It involved travelling to an area called Widikum and from there trekking for some 2.5 hours through the bush before we reached Ambelle. From the village we climbed further uphill through the bush to reach the catchment. From this spot the spring water emerges and is protected. It will ultimately be taken down to the 20,000 litre storage tank which has been built to supply 11 standpipes providing fresh water to the 3 villages.
The start of this project was delayed but since then has rapidly progressed and with a joint stakeholder’s discussion during our visit, it was agreed that the work of the local villagers (digging the pipelines between the catchment and the standpipes) is the next priority.
Visit of the Bamenda and Portsmouth Committee to Water Project Site in Ambelle Village
Tuesday 23rd January
Our first visit was to meet with the HIV Support group who have received some small financial support enabling them to make soap, washing powder, traditional embroidery and other income generating activities which they can use to support themselves.
Following a brief visit to Christ the King Secondary School Mbengwi where numbers are still below the norm we moved on to the primary school which is twinned with St. John’s PS Portsmouth. There we inspected the site of another arson attack. The Head Teacher Beatrice Diangang has shown great courage in ensuring the school remains open but they lost a lot of equipment for their nursery department.
On then to the Health Centre at Njindom which had received support in recent years and is well staffed and maintained but sadly has relatively few patients at the present time. We established that this was in part due to a number of new healthcare establishments starting up in the same area. The Healthcare Coordinator made a number of suggestions as to how things might be improved to encourage the local community to use their resource.
Wednesday 24th January
A brief visit was made to a special school at Fundong and its neighbour St. Jude’s, which is twinned with St Peter’s school in Winchester. Sadly again numbers were down to just over half the normal intake due to the crisis. Schools in more rural areas have had fewer pupils registering than in the urban areas.
With Fr. Noah, the local parish priest we visited St. Francis Xavier P S in Boyui, Fundong. This school has some 200 pupils attending at present. Some improvements have been carried out but a whole block is in need of being rebuilt. It is intended that the school is to be twinned with Notre Dame du Rosaire P S Guernsey.
At Njinikom Hospital we met the new matron Sr. Jethro Nkenglefac. It was encouraging to see things working well following a recent crisis and also to see the completion of the new footpath between the hospital and the patient’s kitchen. This was the latest project supported through the long term link with St Colman with St Paul parish Cosham and other Portsmouth Bamenda funds.
Thursday 25th January
Our final day in Bamenda began with a visit to the church in Alatening, Akum. Here, in collaboration with the community, we have been helping with the construction of the mission station church. The work is now at an advanced stage and is already in use (photos of it can be seen under the Faith projects section).
The remainder of the day was spent in meetings with the Bamenda Portsmouth Committee and representatives of the various organisations with whom we are working.
Throughout our visit we had a number of discussions with Archbishop Cornelius and Auxiliary Bishop Michael. It was very evident how deeply everyone is affected by the current troubles and how hard they are trying to resolve them peacefully through dialogue.
In these difficult times and in the course of our visit we began to understand how much our visit and our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in our twinned diocese in Bamenda is appreciated. Please keep them in your prayers.