Friday, January 11, 2013

Water is Life_The Genesis_EWB UDel in Bamendjou.

On Monday, January 14th, the Ambassador of the United States of America will be in Bamendjou!!! It will be the official launching of the "Water supply and solar-powered distribution system" project, which has provided access to clean water to about 5,000 people in the village. The project was started in June 2007 by the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter of the University of Delaware (UDel) in collaboration with the community of the village of Bamendjou, Hauts-Plateaux, West, Cameroon.

I remember the beginning of the project like it was yesterday. It was about six years ago, in February 2007, I met with Julie Trick, then the president of the EWB chapter of (UDel), for brunch at the Baltimore Museum of Art to discuss the water-supply project I had emailed to their chapter, and to help them with the logistics of their first trip (in June 2007) to Cameroon.

the project started a little bit earlier than that. In April 2006, while still a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), we had the visit of EWB on campus. Out of curiosity, I went to that information session on EWB, their goals, mission, actions, etc. At the end of the presentation, I asked them "What do you do to have EWB come to your community?" They told me "Write a proposal and submit it to an EWB chapter. The project proposal must come, however, from the community in need of engineering solution." I don't think they knew I had digested their words, and in my mind, I was going to tap into the resources EWB had to offer. 

After their visit, I called my dad in Cameroon, and asked him "dad, is there a community need engineers can help us resolve in Cameroon?" He said, of course, there are so many problems, one in particular was the lack of access to clean drinkable water in the village of Bamendjou, specifically in Bakang. This lack of access to clean drinkable water led people to drink infected water, and contract water-borne diseases such as dysentry, typhoid and cholera. I was shocked that in 2006, we still had cases of preventable, yet life-threatening diseases such as those. So, with half-a-dozen of engineer-students, who decided to establish an EWB chapter in WPI, I proposed the project of clean-water-addition in Bamendjou to them. 

In the summer of  2006 I returned to Cameroon, and participated in a conference : African Solutions to African Problems (ASAP), an International Engineers Conference held in Yaounde, Cameroun organized by the Alumni of the Advanced National School of Engineering (ENSPolytech) . We spoke there mainly about the responsibility engineers have to address and solve local problems. Boosted by my interaction with hundreds of engineers, who came from all over Cameroon, but also 8 other African countries, and the EWB from Colorado University; I was challenged to do something that will solve a local problem. During that summer, my father, Mr Toukam (the technical director of his civil engineering company) and I drafted the project proposal for the Bamendjou Water Addition project. That summer though, I received news from the Johns Hopkins University that I was admitted as a transfer student into the school. This academic change halted my initial actions with the EWB-chapter of WPI. 

When I arrived at Hopkins that fall 2006, I looked for the EWB club on campus. I attended one meeting, after which I tried to meet with its president, Maya, to whom I proposed the project in Cameroon. Unfortunately, the Hopkins EWB chapter already had 4 projects at hand (in South Africa, Equator, Honduras, and another country I can't remember). However, Maya told me (something like) : "I know of a new EWB chapter that opened in University of Delaware, they might be looking for a project, I can connect you with their president, and you try to pitch your project to them." And so she did. I introduced myself to Julie, told her about the serious need for the project, she told me she will propose it to their chapter, and they'll get back to me. This was in November 2006, I think. The EWB of UDel got back to me, and we started exchanging via email, and then phone on the details of the project. So in February when Julie and I met for brunch, the meeting was to plan their trip in Cameroon in June 2007. 

I returned to Cameroon end of May 2007, and in early June, when Mathias and I went to pick them at the Douala International Airport, I could not believe it! Somehow, until that point, the project was still a project in my head, and I did not fully grasp that six Americans will embark on this adventure in "Africa" based on an idea I had submitted to them on a piece of paper.

June 2007 : The EWB of UDel team at the Douala International Airport. 

 For five of the six engineers, it was their first trip to Africa. Really, I was amazed that they trusted the importance and viability of the project, to make such leap into a "no-man's-land." That was the beginning of the 6 years project that brought about 28 EWB of UDel engineers (civil, mechanical, environmental, chemical) to Cameroon to setup the water addition project in Bamendjou. 

In Bamendjou, June 2007, after a day of hardwork the EWB team pose with my dad and myself. 

EWB students working with men in Bamendjou.

From then on, I have had more of a facilitator role in the project - helping the engineers with letters of invitation to Cameroon, transportation from the airport, boarding in Yaounde, car-rental for 2 weeks, ensuring room and board for two weeks in the village, and connecting them to the right people in Cameroon. The engineers and the community people have done all the thinking, labor, ground-work, to make this project a reality for 5,000 people in the village.

In addition, Bamendjou and the city of Newarck, Delaware have signed Sister-city agreements to collaborate together in other initiatives and projects.

On Monday, January 14th, 2013, we will officially inaugurate the project, with the Cameroonian government and the American government representative, to illustrate, among other things, the impact that can be made when communities from 2 countries come together to solve human challenges. 

I'm deeply happy by the way this idea on a piece of paper has developed a life of itself, and has been transformed into a life-long, sustainable, scalable and blueprint project for other rural communities in Cameroon and other African countries. 

Academic paper written by Dr Steve Dentel, 4 years after the project (in 2011)

More pictures here :


January 14th, 2013 :
We organized the launching ceremony of the water project in Bamendjou. U.S. Ambassador Jackson and his wife made the trip to Bamendjou; as well as the GiZ, the chief of Bahouan, and notable Cameroonian businessmen and CEOs. 

The ceremony was buoyant! The energy was so positive! The populations prepared gifts they gave to the American Ambassador, then to the Engineers Without Borders; and to my utmost suprise, the M.C called my name on the mic', he said I should get ready to receive my "gift." I got up and stood infront of all the people gathered for the event. My Harambe collegue, Olivier Ekounda (who took 4 days off, to come to the village (and also discover the West region of Cameroon) with me) came up with me. 

 We were wondering what the gift was... and one of the chiefs of Bakang (a village of Bamendjou) opened a large-feather crown. He said, for all I had done to  bring clean water to Bamendjou, Him and the chief of Batoungouong, are giving me the honorary title of "Mah'Fo" (Queen), more specifically "Mah'fo Si" (The Queen God Sent). They explained, because the community cannot reward me materially for this project that has provided access to clean water to about 5,000 people, they give me the title of "Mah'Fo."  To be honest, I don't fully know what being a Mah'fo entails. But, amongst other thing, they told me : now, I can dance with the other queens of the village; and wherever I go (ceremonies in the village or outside) the will always give me a honorary place/seat. They blessed me with a big descendance, so that, as the chief said: "my grand children's children may  harvest the fruits of my good actions." They praised, blessed, and thank me. It was truly humbling!

I had to do a Mah'fo dance, so I just went with the rythm. lol 

Then I posed for a picture with the 2 chiefs and Mayor Mukam :) 

And then with the warm and cheerful Mrs Jackson, wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon.

And finally with my support system, my dearest people who made it to Bamendjou for the ceremony, and who were witnesses to my entitlement as Mah'Fo.  

Charlie Wandji , Mommy, Mrs Jackson, Myself, and Yannick Ngondiep
What more can I say? add? express? I thank God. I thank Him for His amazing Grace and His divine Favor in my life. I thank Him for using me as His instrument of love, joy and warmth. There is still sooo much to be done though, and I am, as usual, on multiple projects (check out my new baby : Solutionneurs). I pray God may keep inspiring me, enlightening me, and using me to initiate and implement more development/impact projects; and more importantly, I hope He uses me to keep motivating my brothers and sisters around the world to do more, to meaningfully impact our societies. 


  1. Je suis tout juste impressionné par tout ce que tu accomplis. Que ce soit avec Harambe Cameroon, tes interventions lors du PMEXCHANGE, ou lors de la Convention des Diplômés de l'UCAC!
    Cette visite de SE Robert P. Jackson à Bamendjou sera réellement une reconnaissance des actions positives que tu mènes depuis longtemps déjà.
    Je te tire bien bas mon chapeau, tu es un modèle pour la jeunesse camerounaise! Je t'encourage et t'exhorte à aller de l'avant!

  2. What more can I say? Forever impressed! Keep up!

  3. Kind of initiative building that must to be fully supported !

  4. I can't even find the words to express my admiration for you and the work that you achieve. Great job and congratulations for the realization of this project. Do you think this can be applied in other rural areas of Cameroon? Thank you.

  5. wow! reading this didnt just make me proud of your efforts and engagement but also made me feel so small and selfish... the things we can do, but fail to do, because we think it too BIG or impossible to do! Thanks for the eye opener! If 1/3 of africans were like u, then what a continent that would be! Am proud of u my dear! U have done well, we sure will follow in your footsteps.

  6. Bravo ma chérie. Tu es impressionnante et va de l'avant.


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