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  • Njiowei Brain, Open Dreams Pre - Mentee

I now know what it takes to drive change in my community!

This was the first volunteering service I ever signed up for! You can imagine the excitement to set it rolling. It was a summer like none other at Bamenda City Council as an Open Dreams Pre – Mentee!

I plan to engage into civil engineering once I am done with high school. I got very anxious when the director of urban development informed us that we could choose whatever sector we would love to immerse ourselves in. My love for infrastructure immediately landed me into the town planning sector for the first phase of my internship period. We were oriented on what town planning was all about, including approving building permits and receiving complaints from the general public on issues related to land. It also involves taking disciplinary action against buildings which encroach into the road, houses under construction without a building permit. We got lectures on all the documents required when applying for a building permit. I found all this exposure and information interesting and cool.

The transport sector was to be my next call of duty. Hawkers were crowding the roads around the food market with merchandise and this was causing traffic congestion. We were given council uniforms as a sign of identification and authority and in less than no time we were in the market. I had been to the food market on different occasions, this time around, the mission was very different; immediately we walked into the streets everything changed! We were instructed to forcefully send traders on the streets packing, and to even seize their stuff and take it over to the council office in the market if the need arose. From the combative attitude of the traders, it was more than clear that the traders were not going to give in easily. A majority of the traders were about my age; moving about with trays, wheel barrows containing food items like rice, groundnut, smoked fish, biscuits, drinks, and other items like shoes and second hand clothes.

These traders were not as bad as they were being portrayed! If I had to be happy with what I was doing, I had to understand the perspective from which they were reasoning. Fridays were less stressful because I knew what to expect in the market - the sun was going to be hot, there was going to be rainfall in the afternoon and the hawkers will not welcome me because I was a council worker. I didn’t want to seize anybody’s goods (that is if they will let me), so I calmly made my point telling them to leave the street. Some listened in real time and left the road but immediately any of us turned our backs they would go back into the road. I don’t know how people in the market who kept to the rules world think. One thing I knew was we will need more than words to change their mentality and attitude.

Soon it was my second week in the field! I did not know what to expect but I knew the events would be as unpredictable as those of the first week. We moved in groups ‘preaching’ to the hawkers not to occupy the roads. By this time, I knew a great deal of faces which made it much easier convincing them. I also listened to them and this made me figure out something; they thought we looked low on them and didn’t want them around. I devised a friendlier approach towards the hawkers than the stern authoritative measure the council was proposing. They began understanding with me as a friend and the magic happened; a majority of the hawkers left the road.

Tuesday came with its own surprises. The town planning department took us out to see what they do. Our ride was wild! We sat behind the cabin of a Toyota 4 runner and in no time, we were in town. There was a lot to do; some structures had no building permits, others had been built into the road or were not good for the site where they being constructed and our duty was to help the council workers to fish out these type of buildings, copy building permit numbers found on sites to check if they existed and to help load any material the council workers decided we carry. The council workers wrote “STOP” on buildings with any of the above mentioned problems and gave convocations to owners of the projects to come over to the council for amendments to be made.

In Mankon, after a lengthy observation and deliberation over a certain foundation for a building which had not been permitted by the council, the workers then decided that the builders had to stop work on the site. I was instructed to boldly write stop on one of the pillars in red paint. I used to think the council was simply being wicked for writing stop on building around town; this time around I was representing the council and I didn’t fill bad writing it because I had a tangible reason.

Over the fifteen construction sites we visited, we had different reactions from the people we interacted with. Most people had a bad impression about the council; they believed that the council turns a blind eye on all that goes wrong in the city. They go wild when the council tries to enforce checks and controls over their project and even threatened to beat some of us up, if we dared step into their world. I attributed this to lack of sufficient education on their responsibilities as citizens and those of the councils. That wasn’t a big deal anyway; I used to think the same way some weeks back. Some citizens were cooperative and accepted their fault and took measures towards resolving the problem. The day had been long and nothing had been easy so far, but it was reliving to know the next day was a public holiday – the feast of the Ramadan. I would join my Moslem friends to celebrate!

I learnt that if I wanted to achieve success in the community, I had to interact amicably with people, make my point without hurting and be as calm as possible. It didn’t really matter where I was- in the markets or the construction sites; people will not always agree with me, I just had to walk my way through by making them to understand why it is important to stick to principles and rules.

It’s the third and last week already! I have high expectations. I want to enjoy every bit of it! But it turned out as unpredictable as the weeks before. Monday started with the usual meeting which was more crowded because of the newer interns. The various services read their reports for the week and newer strategies to improve upon the services were discussed. The interns were given a chance to speak. Many of us brought up the issue of dirt being littered in neighborhoods because the people could not properly manage it and the council was not stepping in yet. We got long responses, but none prescribed instant action. The meeting wrapped up by midday and the town planning service took us out for work. Our car first drove to Vicky Street and Commercial. There we tackled issues of unauthorized construction of small shops along the streets. The ride continued to Sonac Street, New Lay Out, BMM at Up Station, Akumbele, Mbumitwi, Ntasha and straight to new road. The message was the same to the workers at all the construction sites we visited; you need a building permit! Your building will be demolished for some reason; you need to come over to the council for amendments to be made so you have to stop work immediately. The roads leading to some of these places were too muddy for the car and we ruled them out. By 3:00 we were back at the council ready to close for the day.

Friday gave me a good dose of paper work to process for the council questionnaire.

Volunteering is something I would like to make part of my life; meeting people and trying out new community stuffs. Though with its own troubles the council intern experience is what everyone should try at one point in their lives. I am so proud to have experienced it. I now know what it takes to drive change in my community!

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