• The Wonder of Motobikes

    CAC returning volunteer Mike Mazzullo blogs about getting around Dschang, Cameroon with Breaking Ground. Thanks to the Taiji Branding Group who support this project and bring CAC to life with their incredibly creative designs! Check out this website and our Annual Review for proof of their excellence.

    June 30th 2016. Our partner for the week is Breaking Ground, who specializes in sport for social impact and emphasizes female empowerment. I, along with many others, have written blogs on the power of CAC’s curriculum in confronting problems. Although Dschang’s participants warrant plenty of praise, this blog post is about something off the main path: motobikes.

    It’s a great value: about 20 cents a ride, to anywhere in town.

    As you enter the town of Dschang, Cameroon, the bus depot buzzes. Kids hawk peanuts and plantains, drivers honk to signal “let’s go!,” and hands slap the back of buses to say “stop there!” The cacophony of shouts and honks and claps is steadied by another, more constant buzz: motobikes.

    When I say motobike, it’s useful to think of a cross between a dirt bike and a bare motorcycle. The long seat extends to fit one, two or more passengers. I have not encountered their kind in the States. Motobikes and their operators have a tricky job.

    The clientele varies, and one must be prepared to transport nearly everything and everyone. Most locals of Dschang get around by popping themselves onto the back of the nearest moto, cargo in tow. Some fares involve the carrying of wooden planks, bundles of bananas, or a Western volunteer with his duffel bag and backpack.

    The terrain requires dexterity; red earth hardens into ruts and ridges with the sun, and dissolves into puddles and potholes with the rain. Riders must be nimble enough to maneuver the twisty turns and sturdy enough to slog through steep climbs.

    Motobikes compete with cars for space on the inside shoulder,  and the whir and whoosh of the motos ensure pedestrians don’t wander too far from the outside shoulder. The rules tend to be followed, if not enforced.

    Dschang is bumpy and hilly. As you snake from the high center of town, glimpses of farmland and villages pock the distant green. A layer of clouds sits on the waist of the hill-line, providing a latitude of fog cover. One of the great things about beautiful places is the way your eyes can surprise. Riding a moto can be exhilarating, practical, scary. As a foreigner, there’s a slight impulse to treat it like a scenic tour/roller coaster. Glimpses turn into stares. It’s a bit like taking a peek out your cab window and realizing the Empire State Building is before you. Landscapes can have that effect. A casual glance en route invites a momentary break from the world.

    Spedometers are an aesthetic accessory. One moto’s spedometer was stuck at 0 kph, another’s at 50. You get the sense everyone is speeding, but no one is in a rush.

    How to ride on the back? Do you embrace the driver, grip the side handles, or spend the time texting? Most put their hands off the back fender, as if they were really relaxing in the rear seat of a car. I clutched the driver’s shoulders, almost out of worry he’d forget I was there. Also, if I got lost looking into the hills and clouds, I might forget I was there.

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  • A Train Heading North

    June 24th 2016. CAC SDL coach Charlie Crawford writes about working with Breaking Ground in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. This program was supported by our partner Taiji Brand Group in 2016. Taiji have provided world-class branding and communications services to clients for almost 30 years. They have brought CAC’s work to life through our Annual Reviews, this website and our various logos and we want to thank them greatly for that.

    Picture a train heading north. To reach CAC’s next program required a 14+ hour rail trip through countryside and jungle. Ngaoundere, Cameroon has many things going for it. One would be the appreciation that comes from arriving after a long journey. Another has to be how the region is built around a boulder topped mountain that gave the town its name, strangely accurately meaning ‘belly button’.

    Our partner this week, Breaking Ground, is a Cameroon based NGO that specializes in using Football for Social Impact to address issues of Gender Inequality and Female Empowerment. Paul Zangue, Director of Breaking Ground, joined throughout the week providing camaraderie and much needed translation into French. After some weeks off-field, jumping back into work in a French speaking, primarily Muslim community was just what the doctor ordered.

    ‘Eggs-Spaghetti’ became a morning staple after realizing that a friendly street vendor was making vegetable omelettes with noodles and throwing it onto a French baguette for less than a dollar. France has influenced Cameroon to a strong degree. Nowhere (in my opinion) is that influence more reliably expressed than in a majority of meals coming with a crusty baguette. Someone once told me that my blog posts tend to revolve around food. I’d freely admit that. What experience isn’t highlighted by the meals you share and the people you share them with?

    On the final day of our program the public field we were using as a venue became the grounds for an impressive cooking competition. With a dozen bright colored tents and scores of chefs preparing their stations, our space for the week took on a new vitality. Only slightly disappointed in not being asked to judge this competition, Paul and I set off for the station and moved on to the next program.

    Picture a train heading South.

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  • A New Style of Learning

    CAC volunteer Cameron Hardington, student at Amherst College, blogs about his first week in Cameroon with Breaking Ground. This program is part of our great partnership with the Games 4 Good Foundation, who we thank for all of their support.

    June 10th 2015. There are three passions that have categorized my early years: my passion for football, a desire to see and experience the world, and a love for people. It was these three qualities that inspired me to volunteer with CAC, so heading into Cameroon I was excited, but was also unsure what to expect. After a day and a half of plane flights, a night in Yaoundé, and an 8 hour bus ride we finally arrived in Dschang, the city that we would be working in this week.

    The first day of training brought many difficulties for me including nerves, culture shock, and the most obvious obstacle, the language barrier. Nora had told Rachel ( the other volunteer) and me before the session that we would not be coaching that much this week as neither of us could speak French, but that we could hop in on games and do demonstrations. Not being able to speak or understand the language turned out to be one of the best blessings for me. I was able to see and understand the games through visual cues and was able to gauge what the coaches thought of the game by their laughs, smiles, energy, or the odd confused face here and there. Most of the time it was hard for me to follow what they were talking about in their discussions but I was able to catch the gist of it by their passion, expressions, and hand motions.

    This group definitely had a passion for female empowerment and gender equity. It was obvious to see that during these games there were smiles and laughter on the faces of both men and women, but they were also extremely intentional and serious when we got down to talking about issues and how gender issues can be resolved. The most brilliant example of how highly they valued gender equity happened during a game called Marta for Gender Equity. The basic rules are that there are two teams and half the team is sitting out on the sideline while the other half plays. It’s a regular game of football, except when a team scores, they run over to the sideline and pick a player who is sitting out and say a good choice for empowerment such as “education” or “exercise” and the new player comes in to play giving a numbers advantage to the team that scores. It was near the end of the game, and neither team had been able to score, and then finally a team scored. Nora then yelled, “Choose three players to come in!” The young boy who scored ran straight over to where his two best friends were sitting and went to the first, grabbed him and said a good choice and he was in the game. He then went to his other best friend, reached down to grab his hand, then hesitated and you could see him think, and then he proceeded to pull his hand away and grab two of the women’s hands who then came in to play. This boy’s action was a perfect sample of this group’s attitude. They are passionate, courageous, and most importantly they are not afraid to adapt a game to show a different lesson than the one that Nora had intended.

    I have a great hope and expectation for this group in the future. From the first day, it was evident that they were very open and eager to share issues that they faced in their community as well as possible solutions to the problem. I think that the most valuable asset that this team has is their willingness to listen to other’s ideas and feed off them to form new ones. This characteristic that they share collectively has the capability to make real change within the community, and I look forward to seeing where it takes them.

    This week taught me one of the only things I value higher than learning which is a new way to learn. I have never been in a situation where I have had to rely on some type of communication other than speaking for 5 days straight. My French got better as the week wore on, but I learned through the games that we played, and the expressions that the coaches had on their faces rather than Nora’s translations or explanations of how to play each game. Starting in a community where I didn’t speak the language has prepared me greatly for the upcoming week in Kumba where I will get the opportunity to coach a few games.

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  • Thinking Outside the Box

    June 5th 2015. CAC volunteer Rachel Bloznalis blogs about her first ever African experience in Cameroon.

    Thanks to the Games 4 Good Foundation for making our partnership with Breaking Ground in Cameroon possible.  Their support is allowing our Breaking Ground programs to run effectively and bring about social change and local community development through soccer.

    What did I expect at the beginning of the week?

    After 24 hours of flights and a 14-hour overnight train ride, I had no idea what to expect from my CAC experience when I first arrived in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. This marked many firsts for me—my first time in Africa, my first CAC program, my first overnight train, my first time “speaking” French, and my first hole-in-the-ground-toilet,  to name just a few! I was excited for the experiences to come, but I was also nervous facing the unknown. Ngaoundere, I learned quickly, is a mostly conservative Muslim village—a culture and religion with which I am not very familiar. The men wearing traditional African Muslim robes stared at Nora and me and occasionally someone would call out, “nassara”, or “white person”. The insecurity I felt walking around the village, being one of the only women not wearing traditional Muslim dress and headpiece,  disappeared when I walked through the chain-locked entranceway to the Estade Ndoumoa—our safe place for the week. Inside the stadium was a clay-dirt field with two thin metal pole goalposts. The field was always filled with people—young and old, Muslim and Christian, male and female, white and black. What we all had in common was that we LOVE soccer.

    What on-field game had the biggest impact?

    Breaking Ground, this week’s partner program, has a strong focus on female empowerment. The program’s goal is to give women the confidence and the means to become successful and important leaders economically and socially in their Cameroonian communities. CAC’s new ASK for Choice curriculum is used to coach female empowerment. The games that we played created a lot of important discussions for this group. One game initiated a discussion about women having a choice. The simple game (called Brazil for Choice) divided the group into two teams: Team 1 was given only one goal to score on, whereas team 2 had two goals as well as the option of performing skills to earn extra points. It was clear that the team with multiple options was more successful. This initiated a discussion about the importance of having choices in life. The players explained to us that the culture in Ngaoundere is based on the traditional belief that women stay home and that men work.  They emphasized that it had always been this way. Most agreed that women in Ngaoundere society do not have many choices socially or economically. Since Nora and I were athletic, educated, female soccer players, we were not “really women” according to their cultural norms.  We explained that while women in our American culture still face many struggles, we have many choices. If we want to stay home and cook and clean and raise children, we can. If we want to play sports and make a living as an athlete, we can. If we want to start a business, we can. We all came to understand that there is no absolute right or wrong and that all cultures face problems, but that having choices empowers people. Choice increases a person’s options and provides more opportunities for success.

    Where could I see or feel a direct impact from CAC?

    This was CAC’s second year working with Breaking Ground, but many of the coaches participating this year were new. The group was composed of about 30 local coaches, educators, and young girls on the Breaking Ground football team. They were shy and quiet at first while we introduced ourselves, but as soon as we started playing, personalities emerged and soon everyone was laughing with us (and at us)! The Ngaoundere coaches seemed eager to learn and hear what we had to say. Nora, myself, and the Breaking Ground directors, Paul and Etienne, had an interesting discussion after the first session about how the culture in Ngaoundere was deeply established around their strict religion and traditions.  They felt that these traditions kept them thinking “inside the box”. Throughout the week, they described to us problems they had observed in their community. During the course of the week, with our assistance with sport for social impact, some of the coaches started to be able to think “outside the box”. They realized there could be multiple solutions to some of the problems that they saw everyday. Our local coaches started to appreciate the importance and power of having a choice. I could see the direct impact of our teaching increasing throughout the week.  Certain leaders began to step up in games, proposing ideas and initiating discussions about possible solutions that no one else had considered. As more and more coaches become comfortable thinking “outside the box” in Ngaoundere, I believe they will be able to better identify, address and solve the problems they face in their community.

    What has been the most challenging part?

    Not being able to speak French or a native language here in Cameroon has been very challenging! I am eager to learn and find myself quickly picking up short phrases and words and “speaking football”. Maybe by the end of the trip I will be able to get by as a “novice” French speaker!

    Where do I find the most comfort?

    On the field! Anytime we gather on a field with a soccer ball and a group of motivated players, I feel more at home.  Our shared love of soccer lessens any cultural, religious, and language barriers we face off the field. The mutual understanding that we love to play the same game and share the same goals (literally and figuratively!) is a great comfort as I face this new experience. Good coffee and Internet access are also very comforting!

    Where did we stay and what did we eat?

    Breaking Ground set us up with a home-stay for the week, so we got to experience real Ngaoundere village life. The family that took care of us was very nice and welcoming and the five kids were great entertainment; I loved reading, drawing, or playing ball with them! During the week, extended family and neighbors came in and out of the house, really making us feel welcome. I even got to celebrate my 20th birthday with them—one that I definitely won’t forget! We ate a lot of the staple foods like eggs, couscous de maize, plantains, cassava root, meat and lots of mangos! One day Nora and I excitedly thought we were buying already peeled fresh mango from a woman on the street, but we found out later it definitely was not mango! We still don’t know what it is, but we gave it to our host family as a gift and they appreciated it. Experiencing life with our host family for our week in Ngaoundere was memorable and they definitely made it difficult to leave.

    What was something that surprised me?

    Every night at 8 pm, the family that we stayed with would gather around and watch a translated Spanish soap opera. They loved it and watched it religiously, which was surprising to me because the messages and culture in the soap opera were pretty much the opposite of their religion and culture. It was surprising to me to see the outside influence of technology and western culture.

    What was my favorite part so far?

    I love playing with kids! The fact that they love to play with me makes it one of my favorite things to do. Playing soccer (even though some of the ten year olds are better than me) or just throwing a ball of string back and forth always makes me happy. I love how easy and simple it is to please them and make them smile and laugh. It also helps that they don’t care that I don’t speak French. One of my favorite parts was when the younger girls in our host family taught me French from their schoolbooks and I helped them with their English homework. A close second is that it is mango season in Cameroon!

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  • Games 4 Good Foundation

    May 22nd 2015. CAC is delighted to announce that we will be partnering with the Games 4 Good Foundation to deliver our sport for social impact programme with local partner Breaking Ground in Cameroon.  We will be introducing our new, innovative ‘ASK for Choice’ female empowerment curriculum to the participants in Ngaoundéré and Dschang from 24 May to 6 June.   The CAC and Breaking Ground Football partnership ensures that young women and girls have safe spaces from which to share their knowledge and express their own visions for their lives and communities.  It creates an opportunity for girls to question harmful social, cultural and religious practices.  Civil equality laws in this region, where they exist, are frequently overruled by traditional, patriarchal ones.  The majority of women and girls are not even aware of what their rights are.  This partnership will raise awareness and empower women and their communities to implement, respect and protect these rights.  We are incredibly excited about the potential of this partnership and thank Games 4 Good Foundation for their invaluable support.

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  • Getting our feet wet… literally

    June 11, 2014.  This blog was written by our volunteer coach Kathryn Keefe in her first Coaches Across Continents experience – a memorable one!  Our first night together in Cameroon is a night that our team will not soon forget. I had a suprise awakening at four in the morning to what I first thought was rainfall, but then quickly it started sounding more like a waterfall – a very close waterfall. It was then that I realized that this sound was actually my water pipe that had burst in my hotel room bathroom! I woke up both Sophie and Josh and in the process also accidentally woke up Paul, the director from Breaking Ground, the program we were working with this week. Thankfully, he ran in and was able to shut off the water pretty quickly. After this alarming welcome that left us literally getting our feet wet in an inch of water, we were ready to begin our adventure in Cameroon with Coaches Across Continents.

    This is my first trip with Coaches across Continents and is also my first trip outside of the United States. As a graduate student studying sport for development, I was excited to have the opportunity to move beyond the theory learned in class to being a part of a program that focuses on the use of sport for social change in partnership with local communities.

    Ngaoundere is experiencing its first CAC coaching program, much like myself and Josh. Sophie and I were able to stay with a nice host family who provided us with amazing food, great hospitality, and hot showers. Josh and Paul were able to stay at a nearby hotel, but joined us for meals at the family’s home. When we werent coaching, we managed to keep ourselves busy this week by hiking Mt. Ngaoundere, hanging out with local Peace Corps volunteers, and enjoying a delicious dinner at the home of one of the local coaches.

    This week we worked with Breaking Ground, a local community development non profit focusing on rural development, entrepeneurship, and female empowerment as well as other coaches from nearby. It was exciting to see over 30 coaches ready to go when we arrived the first day and even more showed up throughout the week. They were excited, engaged, and very vocal throughout the training. Neither Josh or I speak very much French and the coaches spoke very little English, so it made for an interesting week of learning and teaching games without words. It also made us very thankful for Sophie’s ability to speak French to be able to translate and coach in their native language. You really realize how much you take your teaching voice for granted to when you are forced not to!

    It was during our first training session, during a game called ‘Mingle Mingle’ that I first felt the warm welcome of the Cameroonian community. In this game, everyone jogs around in a circle chanting “mingle, mingle, mingle” until a coach yells out a number. Then, everyone must quickly scramble to get in groups of this size. As you can imagine, there was a lot of pushing and shoving to make sure that your group is complete because if not, your group must do a short dance in front of everyone. This is a great game to teach about conflict resolution and it was also a nice ice breaker to begin feeling like we were among friends.

    Josh really enjoyed a game we played called, ‘95% football’. In this game, we play a generic game of football, except without a ball, and the player who has possession of the ball holds a hand on their head. To pass the ball you point to a teammate and say their name, forcing us to learn some of the coaches names. The experience brought out a feeling of unity among coaches. Regardless of where we are from or what our coaching objectives are, we are all here because we believe in sport and there is something about it that fosters such feelings. We are lucky to be working with organizations that work to cultivate this unity.

    It was hard to say goodbye to such a fun group of coaches at the end of the week. If this week was even a taste of what lies ahead for us, we are in for quite a treat in Cameroon. Speaking of taste, the food here is amazing! We would all silently cheer when our host family served us dinner because we quickly realized that we couldn’t be disappointed; everything that they cooked was delicious. Ngaoundere, you’ve really spoiled us!

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