Our representative in Gabon, Bob Weisflog, has for years tried to convince us to take on a project in the month of August, when the country celebrates its independence. It’s a time, he told us, that people from the cities return to their villages to take advantage of the long dry season, the school vacation and to celebrate the national day in grand style. For years, we have preferred travelling to Gabon in the northern hemisphere winter months.
Until this year. We finally gave in, and, now that the project is complete (just in time for the August 17 independence day), we understand why Bob was so insistent. It was truly a celebration, and grand style.
The village was packed with people, many who normally come back but others who wanted to see what we have been doing. Festivities included running races, soccer games, board games, copious amounts of food and libation, extending deep into the night. Joan was our only representative to run in the races, although we all joined the different board games.
We worked hard to get the school completed in time for the celebration. Final steps included fixing the pre-school chairs and desks, pouring the last of the cement for the apron/gutter in time for it to dry, fixing the flagpole stand, hanging the stenciled alphabet and numbers in each of the classroom, painting the railing in front of the school and then cleaning up the work site. We had a lot of help to push through to the final hours before the holiday. In addition, Claire and Joan had put the finishing touches on the wonderful world map mural in time to help out with these other projects.
The village set up a tent just up the hill from the school which first served as the site for our anti-malaria training, testing and mosquito net distribution. Over 100 people attended the training that extended into the early hours of the night, so Dick pulled the car up and shone the lights on the tent so people could see. The nurse tested 20 people for malaria, 3 of whom tested positive and we gave them a three-day treatment. The next day we handed out 150 nets to the households that had been first identified back in March by the earlier group of Encore volunteers.
The final ceremony included handing out the medals for the winners of the competitions and then the re-dedication of the school, first dedicated in 1964. We unveiled a plaque on the pre-school that spoke to children who represent our future and the common bonds that unite the U.S. and Gabon. Drew gave a speech on behalf of all of us who worked on the project, including our Gabonese colleagues, Medard, Sharif, Boris, Jordan, Ernest and the primary school director.
We said our goodbyes, with a few tears, especially when we left our hosts’ house. A little weary from both the work and the celebration, we hobbled into Oyem for the night, but still riding high from the grand conclusion.
We have many thank yous which we will send out separately, especially to everyone who supported both the March and August teams that allowed us to complete these ambitious projects.
From this: To this: