"Before the dawn: Three women who survived the worst" in Sunday Express, 11th May, 2014. Interview by Mariana Matoso. Photograph by Stuart Wood.

Reignite in Bambui

In 2011 Fernando and Teresa (Reignite Co-Founders) embraced the North West Region of the Republic of Cameroon and settled in the Village of Bambui. With a local Charity as partner (BUKDA– Bambui UK Development Association) they started a six months observation and research period focusing on the needs and main problems of the Community and Village.
From November 2011 until May 2012 they had the opportunity to work closely with the community in identifying critical issues that were hindering the village’s development.

Having traveled throughout 36 Quarters in a three seat motorbike, through sunshine, rain, storms and mud, and having worked in conjunction with multiple stakeholders (the Fon, the Village Council, local institutions and organisations) the result came about as a joint drafting of a new Development Strategy for Bambui.Such strategy included the creation of priority areas of action such as: water and infrastructure, skills development and education, micro finance, agriculture and markets, environment and climate change, governance, social-culture and consultancy. Its aim: to revive Bambui and its People using their own resources, tools and human potential.

Following Fernando & Teresa’s return to the UK, their stories and experience soon inspired Mariana to take action. After a couple of months of careful thinking Reignite Action for Development was born. As a response to the problems found in Bambui; but also as an active call to deliver international development in a different, more concerted, sustainable and culturally respectful way.

Our motto became: “Work with the less privileged, for the less privileged and through the less privileged. For 6 months we traveled in a motorbike through Bambui’s 36 quarters: every day we listened to people, everyday they shared their worries with us, everyday we felt we had to do something.

The Story behind Reignite

“I was in my final year at university in Lisbon, Portugal, when a freak accident almost killed me. It was April 2006 and I was working out at the university gym, lying on the floor doing stretches, when another gym user accidentally dropped a 30kg weight on my stomach. I was rushed to hospital where surgeons performed an emergency operation to repair my gallbladder, which had burst, and my intestines, which were lacerated. My mum Teresa and dad Fernando, who were living in the UK, told me later that the doctors had rung them to say they needed to board a flight immediately, as they couldn’t be sure I would survive.

After three weeks in hospital, I was finally discharged. I still intended to finish my degree but now I wanted to do something more with my life. My accident had shown me that time is short and we need to make our mark on the world before it’s too late.

My dad was born in Angola and I used to love listening to his stories about Africa. I also grew up knowing first-hand about the poverty in parts of the continent and I’d always had the romantic notion of helping in some way. Now I felt a new resolve that this was definitely what I wanted to do.

Mum and Dad had volunteered for a development organisation in Cameroon and it was when they told me about a village called Bambui that something sparked in me. Sanitation is a real problem there, as they have no sewage or wastewater treatment systems, so there is a lot of unnecessary disease. Farmers also struggle to water their crops during dry seasons because they have inadequate irrigation systems. I had a vision of helping the community sort out these problems by working with them on some relatively straightforward interventions and equipping them with the tools and education to sustain these changes.

After finishing my degree I moved to the UK to be closer to my parents. I got a job teaching Portuguese and started to look into how I might start a charity. It took a long while but when I received £70,000 compensation for my accident, I knew things could really start moving. My mum and dad agreed to help and, in November 2011, they went to Bambui and spent six months talking to locals to identify issues that needed resolving. They came home with a five-year plan and we launched our charity in August 2012. I called it Reignite Action for Development.

 

 

 

 

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Where we work

We will explore working in one or more of the following countries: Cameroon, Uganda, Sierra Leone or Tanzania. However, we will be flexible and can consider working in other countries where there is a high level of needs. Our model is adaptable to existing context and receives support from the local communities.

Headquarters (London, UK) This is where our chief executive and core fundraising team are based. Through London, we facilitate access to skills and raise funds and awareness for our projects in Cameroon and beyond.

Operations Office (Bambui, Northwest region of Cameroon) This is where our Project Team is based and most of the projects take place. Through Bambui we manage stakeholders [community, government, NGO’s…], ensure objectives of strategic plan are followed and support the implementation of projects.

 

Why Bambui?

This is a small village with approximately 20,000 inhabitants, which has risen to 30,000 in the last two years due to the construction of a University. This has brought lots of opportunities but also lots of challenges as the village becomes a semi-urban area.

Despite enjoying an atmosphere of peace and slight economic growth, this region is still considered to be the 2nd poorest one in the country with 30% of its population living with less than $1 a day.

Some of the problems we have encountered:

  • In Bambui, only 10% of the houses, around the main asphalt road, have electricity. Energy cuts are constant, last up to several days and the voltage is very erratic. For small businesses working with freezers it’s a true nightmare because they never know when the electricity is off and for how many days.
  • In Bambui, 90% of the economic activities depend on agriculture and women & youth are the main workers. Currently, only 0.1% of the farming is processed into value added products and the percentage of food waste is enormous: not only because the harvest happens in a very short period of time, but also because there is no preservation techniques being used.
  • The level of education here is very low. Many children do not have the opportunities to complete even primary education. Boys and girls of teenage age mostly contract early marriages and often they are forced into it. Schools fall short of facilities and do not provide an  environment propitious to learning. In general there is a wide lack of proper infrastructure, sanitary conditions are usually very poor or non-existent, drinking water supply is reduced or absent and there are no textbooks or didactic materials.
  • There is limited access to potable water. Water catchment areas are increasingly polluted and sanitation levels remain low with the majority of the population still defecating in open air.