The ceremony had speeches, singing and drums; dancing and a photo slide show; capped off with a big meal. The presentations by Roland the teacher, by the chef de village and by the Ambassador emphasized the future of the village, linked to the students attending the school. The village women, including Claire, all dressed in the same African print cloth, singing and ululating whenever they agreed with something said in the speeches. The beginnings of a school library comprised books that Claire and Bob had brought.
Ambassador Akuetteh pulled off the pink sheet hiding the plaque that would greet students, teachers and visitors who walked up the new steps to the school, reminding them that this was a Peace Corps school, renovated by Encore de la Paix and the residents of Doumandzou, with the generous help of Citibank Gabon, the town of Woerden in the Netherlands, and the families and friends of Encore de la Paix.
Drew and Claire departed the village after the ceremony, less than 24 hours after working in the dark to place a tin roof cap along the ridge of the school to prevent leaks, finishing off with the help of car lights and lanterns in the dark. They took advantage of the Ambassador’s car to catch a ride to Mitzic where they would start their journey back to the Haut-Ogooué to visit the village where Drew and Cliff Brown had built a school in 1977-8. Bob stayed the night, continuing the celebration, but also planning a meeting the following day to discuss the work remaining on the teachers’ houses.
And, just like that, the Encore involvement in the project came to an end. But did it really? Much like our two and three year stints in the Peace Corps, our involvement will probably continue in many different ways. This inauguration day was a very satisfying way to culminate a project that we all felt was immensely worthwhile and rewarding, not only in the completed project but in the connections made to the village, to the early volunteers, to our own past. Inevitably, the question looms, what next?
Photos below are of Bob Wesiflog and Gaston Biyogo the movers behind the project in Gabon with Ambassador Akuettah; of Claire and the village women in their colorful print dress, and of the Ambassador unveiling the plaque.