Sam is a bigger village than where we were last year. It’s more spread out; the school is on the edge of town, a mile plus away from where we’re staying. As a result, this year Gaston loaned us his small pick-up for transport. It has made a world of difference not only in getting people from four different places in the village out to the school but also in getting over to Doumandzou where Doug is working on the latrines. We also took an hour drive to the closest large town for resupplies.
From the first day of work here in Sam, people heard the hammering and came to help. A few stayed through the week, sweating and getting dirty and joking around alongside those of us from the states.
Pictured here is Yves, who is the caretaker at the house where Drew and Claire are staying. Desiree (with an accent at the end) is a neighbor of the school and he is strong and skillful. Xavier showed up and reminded us he helped in Doumandzou last year for the first week, but he’s from here. Floriant is our driver but he pitches in, even through a minor bout of malaria. The first day two women – Hortense and Marie Therese – were helping with the demolition. Somewhere we have a photo of Marie Therese removing rotten wood while continuing to clutch her pocketbook. With Christian and Eko we have a good number working on the different areas.
Rundown of the first week of work. At the school, it was removal of the leaky roof, windows and doors. That went fast but more slowly was the tedious, difficult task of taking out all the nails that had rusted solid in place for 50 years. If you look closely at the picture, you will see on the wall in the front of the school a pile of the bane of our lives this first week. I want to find the guy who invented these nail clasps that hold adjacent pieces of wood together with four nails on each board. They have worked well to hold trusses and cross pieces together for fifty years. Too well, though, as we struggle to remove each one.
Anyway, by the end of the week we started the rebuild, putting up what they call here “chevrons” but might be the purloins across the trusses. We’ll screw the new aluminum roofing into those chevrons. Claire, Terri and Mary are treating wood with some anti-termite concoction and Drew built saw horses that will double as scaffolding when we start painting.
Over in Doumandzou, Doug, Nguema and Gabriel have started laying the cement block the first latrine pit, and the second pit was dug by some hardy men from a nearby village. It’s all coming together, not sure how but I know behind it all are Bob and Gaston making all the right calls from Libreville.
One week down and we’ve settled in and have a nice routine. No work today, Sunday, but we hear there’s a soccer game between the two villages today. That should be good for a few photos for the next blog.
It’s hard to believe we’ve only been working three days. We have accomplished a lot, have hit our exhaustion thresholds and we still have 5 weeks to go!
We left Libreville on Sunday in caravan style. Gabonese volunteers from both villages drove us out. The long trip allowed us to get acquainted, stop for lunch of grilled meat and see a couple of the sites, as we crossed the equator.
We had a wonderful dinner on arrival with all the contingent from Libreville and our hosts here. Then we split up to go to the places where we’re staying. Terri, Mary and John are staying in Giselle’s house while Drew and Claire are not far away in the house of one of Giselle’s family members. Doug continued on to Doumandzou with Gaston and settled into Papa’s house. All our lodging is comfortable; there’s electricity a couple of hours at night and indoor plumbing features. We are cooking on gas stoves and everyone is bending over backwards to make us feel at home. And we do.
Monday was a planning day. We were met at the school by students who sang and handed us a floral bouquet. We all then headed to Doumandzou where we worked last year. The reception by the children there has made the whole trip (this year and last). Nguema’s children came running up to us with the most genuine, heartfelt hugs. Gaston put on a nice meal for us, that included a forest cat that Nguema had killed that morning!
To the work: we started Tuesday in Sam with demolition being the order of the day. In some respects the school this year is in better shape, in others in worse shape, including a leaky, unsalvageable roof. By noon we had ripped out all the windows, by the end of the day the roof was off and we were bringing down the ceiling and rotted out roof framing. The work slowed down a little as we got into the tedious job of removing nails and small nail clasps that the 1960s volunteers seemed to love, too much as we wrestle to rip them out.
We started dismantling the first of the teachers houses, sand and tin roof was delivered, as were loads of wood. (Thanks Bob). If you ask, you can hear the story of the scorpion and the black mamba.
Over in Doumandzou, Doug is working with Nguema and Gabriel on the school latrines, pouring the footings for the cement block pits and finishing digging the second pit.
Those of us who were here last year keep talking of differences and small reminders of the work, but mostly about people who just show up and want to help and pitch in.
We have other stories, of dipping in the small stream after work to cool down, of power tools, of new friends.
This Sunday, we hear there’s going to be a soccer match between the two villages. Who do we root for?
The members of two different committees from the village of Sam organized a fete today to get the project started on the right foot.
At least 50 people filled the community center for the official welcome and send-off. It says a lot about the village that can boast a former minister, a senator, officials from the Ministry of Education, from the airport authority who all participated in the ceremony. There were speeches by Gaston Biyoghe and Giselle Ntoutoume as well as the President of the Resortissants de Sam Association (residents originally from Sam but living in Libreville.). John Dickson, on behalf of all those in Encore, thanked everyone and gave a brief history of our project mentioning how many people in the US and even Holland support this effort in Sam. Bob Weisflog also spoke, providing background on the Peace Corps in Gabon and on Marshall Erdman, the original architect for the school.
We were all thrilled that the US Ambassador Cynthia Akuetteh joined us. She had some wonderful, inspiring words of encouragement as well.
People present had fresh, fond memories of Peace Corps volunteers they remembered from Sam, many of them getting their start in the primary school that Peace Corps built in 1965 and that we will be repairing.
The first six to arrive from the states (and Egypt) landed during the week without problems. Terri Barber came first, followed by Doug Spatz, Claire Thiebault and Drew Howard. John and Mary Dickson arrived Friday, in time to join everyone for last minute shopping and the fete. Jean Pierre Lindeme, a student from Lastourville, and later teacher for many trainings, spent the day with us helping with telephones and purchases.
So this starts as a collective effort. Spirits are high and we’re running on adrenalin. Tomorrow a caravan of four cars takes off for the day’s drive to the village.
Not only did we meet our fundraising goal, but we exceeded it, and more. With the help of over 85 different individuals and organizations, we were able to raise $38,000.
A couple of points. Donations came from friends and family, from people who know each of us traveling back to Gabon to work in Sam and in Doumandzou. They came from former Peace Corps Gabon volunteers, from the 1960s all the way through to the early 2000s. And some came from volunteers who served in other countries. Each contribution, because it is personal, carries for all of us special meaning.
The additional funding will allow us to complete the teachers’ houses in Sam. We had decided to forego repairing these houses, because the entire school roof needed replacing and we didn’t think we would have funding for both. Now, because of your generosity, we can make sure that the teachers have proper houses, incentives to attract and keep teachers in the village. (The photo included shows the condition of one of the houses.) When we fixed up the houses last year in Doumandzou, a second teacher was assigned to the village!
One final point. It’s important to recognize the contributions the Gabonese from the two villages where we will be working. They are collecting contributions to pay for the sand and other local materials needed.
We can’t thank our friends and supporters enough. Through this journal from Gabon, we hope to convey to each of you some of the excitement as we make new the Sam school that Peace Corps built in 1965, and provide sanitary latrines for the school in Doumandzou.
Thank you and MERCI.
Preparations proceed. Seen here is M. Eyene Ntoutoume Benoit handing over a new window block mold that he made in his welding shop in Libreville. Accepting the mold is M. Nguema Essone Jacques, who serves as the Vice-President of “Comitee Sam d’Abord,” which is partnering with Encore de la Paix in the school renovation project. He will send the mold out to start making the new window blocks, so they are on hand when the first of the U.S. volunteers arrives.
The mold will make up to 400 new window blocks to replace the wooden windows on the school that have broken and rotted. Last year in Doumandzou, half way through making the window blocks, one of the seams on the outside wall of the mold broke. We wrapped the mold with wire and were able to get by making the rest of the window blocks, each of which has an opening to allow in light, but is deep enough to prevent even the hardest rain from entering the classrooms. This was a design that Peace Corps volunteers were using on the schools they built as far back as the 1970s.
Not included in the photo was a donation of 200L of diesel fuel. Bob Weisflog, January 9, 2016
This trip report comes from Bob Weisflog who traveled to the villages where we will be working in March.
Had an excellent trip to Sam and Doumandzou.
Left Libreville on Sunday at 7am with Gaston & Marie Therese and twelve hours later we finally arrived at Doumandzou. I was fined 20,000 cfa for passing an off duty gendarme on the Kango bridge, ate porc-epic in Biboulou, drank beers in Mitzic, had a wonderful meal in a village 20 km outside Mitzic with one of Gaston’s “nieces”, stopped in Sam, arrived in Doumandzou to watch soccer match with Papa Ekabane. Typical 14 hour day!
The next morning, we met with 20+ Sam villagers at 08:30 for an hour. Gaston did the introduction, Marie Therese gave her spiel representing the Libreville committee, I gave the “Encore” presentation. I reiterated the need for debroussing (weed-whacking), making blocks, providing sand, vehicle and lodging.
We visited 9 lodging possibilities. There is a decent small stream bathing that’s going to be a big part of living arrangements. The distance from the school site will be 1 -2 kilometers. Silent filarial flies that sting like crap are a problem. Volunteers will need to bring socks, closed shoes and long light weight pants & shirts. The food situation will be like Doumandzou – partly provided, partly bring/cook your own.
Christian, our foreman, came from Mitzic, and we worked at the Sam school for a couple hours. We went line item by line item from the budget sheet. The key is going to be flexibility and improvising when faced with reality – “it is what it is”.
Christian and I discussed his assistance with Sam school, 3 teachers houses and Doumandzou latrine. We agreed it is an ambitious 5-week project and that:
1) pre-arrival work will absolutely have to be completed
2) all materials and supplies need to be on site by first week
3) communication and coordination between himself, you guys and me needs to be better
4) his full-time presence would be required (except for real material runs to Mitzic)
5) additional skilled or manual labor would only be used as needed
The Sam village participation is to debrousse, supply 500 cement blocks and 400 window blocks (to be purchased from the village but I will provide window block mold), provide 6 pick-ups of sand, housing and pick-up truck (we supply gasoil). I think we should buy some chevrons and lattes locally from a wood cutter in the neighboring village of Hollande (considered part of Sam) to support the local economy.
At Doumandzou, we met with Gaston and 30+ men and women from the village. I presented the latrine project, emphasizing the Michelle Obama Let Girls Learn Fund much to everyone’s delight. The village contribution will be dig the pits and supply 1100 bricks – either we supply cement and sand and they make the bricks or we purchase the blocks from the village block maker.
For the Peace Corps World Map mural, the walls are still pretty clean and will need some light rinsing at most. There is one vacant block wall inside each classroom plus the gable end wall facing the road. Only 2 classrooms are being used so freeing-up a room is no problem. Gaston suggests to write/paint in large font “Ecole Publique de Doumandzou” on roadside gable end exterior wall.
Hope this helps.