WHO: Beth Huston, 26, of Cambridge
WHEN: May to August
WHY: To volunteer on a farm through the networking organization World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms . "I wanted to learn more about farming and agriculture, and I've wanted to go to Africa for a long time. "
FARMING FAMILY: For two months, Huston stayed with Tantoh Nforba and his family . For a month after that, she traveled in Cameroon with American friends and family. "A couple years ago, Tantoh established a small NGO [non governmental organization] called Save Your Future Association ," Huston said. "His focus was helping local farmers use sustainable techniques. We did things like planting lawns, working on flower gardens in town, and farm work."
NEW NET GAINS: The family lived just outside Nkambe, the main town in northwest Cameroon. "There are a lot of little villages around it on a ring road, a 200-mile dirt road that connects them all , and each village is culturally and linguistically diverse," Huston said. Two Internet cafes had opened there in the past six months. "I don't think people really knew what it did yet."
WOMEN'S WORK: "The women did almost everything in the town," Huston said. "The closest farms were about an hour walk from home , and all the work is done by hand. I was living in the mountains and the farm was in the valley; it was a steep walk. They grew all kinds of vegetables. You had to carry everything, like potatoes and corn. Most of the woman carry huge packages on their heads, which I couldn't do. They also have baskets with shoulder straps, and I used those."
FAMILY TIES: For the most part, Huston relished the slower pace of life. "Family was the core of everything," she said. "When I told them I lived 1,000 miles from my parents, they couldn't believe it." She attended a "family meeting," really more a community meeting, which occurs in villages every Sunday. She also attended a "born house," the ceremony that welcomes a new baby into the house.
TEACHING TECHNOLOGY: She worked "on a lot of computer stuff with Tantoh," she said. "I was able to bring over a donated laptop. I showed him how to use Word, Excel, how to open a window, how to save things. I had a typing program so the family could learn." She also helped him set up and is maintaining a website, geocities.com/farmertantohsyfa/.