Aiken native in Africa for two years

March 6th, 2014 by bobebill

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Submitted Photo Spencer Snyder with the brothers of his host family during training. Snyder, a recently enrolled Peace Corps member, is on a two-year assignment in Cameroon.

Spencer Snyder of Aiken is spending his first Peace Corps assignment in Africa, tending to the health of the residents.

Snyder, a South Aiken High School graduate, joined the Peace Corps last September. After two months of training, he was assigned to the village of Badjouma, located in northern Cameroon, Africa.

Cameroon is a country about the size of California and is located in the central western region of Africa. It is a microcosm of Africa geographically and culturally with a topography ranging from coastal beaches to mountains and rain forests to deserts.

There are approximately 200 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Cameroon, involved in the education, environmental and health programs.

Snyder was one of 55 volunteers in the new wave assigned to Cameroon. He personally is working with a local UNICEF team, dealing with malnutrition and HIV/AIDS education.

Snyder will be on assignment to the village for the next couple years.

Getting there

When he first wanted to join, his parents, Larry and Judy Snyder of Aiken, were apprehensive. However, the extensive training and infrastructure that the Peace Corps provide helped them accept the risks that would come with Spencer’s adventure.

During the two months of training, volunteers like Spencer live in remote villages with a local host family. During this time, they are totally immersed into the culture, language and primitive living conditions in order to prepare them for similar experiences in their future assignments.

During his training period, Spencer lived with a local Cameroonian family of eight. He had six “brothers” ranging in age from three to 20.

While the home provided basic shelter, there was no running water and only an outdoor latrine. “Bucket baths” were the norm, with water hauled daily from the local town’s well.

Since French is the primary language of the country, Spencer’s training also included daily French lessons.

Settling down

Spencer’s assigned home in Badjouma is typical of those provided to Peace Corps volunteers – a small, two-room concrete block dwelling with a tin roof located within a walled compound.

There is no running water, and the bathroom is a simple latrine in the back yard. Water for bathing and cooking is carried daily in buckets from a neighbor’s well.

The Peace Corps provides water filters and mosquito nets to all the volunteers.

Electricity is only on about half the time so Spencer uses a solar panel purchased from the previous Peace Corps volunteer in his village. The solar panel keeps his cell phone and other electronics charged.

Volunteers are assigned local community coordinators. This person helps the volunteer transition into the village and assists the volunteer in the project work that he or she will perform during their two-year assignment.

Spencer’s coordinator is Moussa, a local farmer who is dedicated to his role and has proven to be an invaluable asset to Spencer’s transition into his village.

The Peace Corps maintains a medical staff at each of its four regional offices and provides the volunteers with health care on the local economy. If a volunteer becomes ill, they are quickly transported to the regional offices for treatment by the in-house medical staff and, if necessary, at the local hospitals.

All volunteers are medically cleared before they are allowed to leave the country.

Getting around

All volunteers are provided bicycles and helmets for getting around their assigned villages and nearby areas.

In addition, they are provided a motorcycle helmet for riding the “moto” taxis that take them to the more distant villages and larger towns. The moto taxi is simply a small motorcycle for hire that is the primary form of local transportation throughout the country. Many motos can be seen carrying as many as five passengers at once.

For longer trips between the larger towns, there are commercial cars and buses available that are often overloaded with passengers and with all kinds of baggage and other personal belongings strapped on the roof.

The Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to operate any motor vehicles while they are in service and can be terminated immediately for breaking this rule.

Daily life

Recently, Spencer attended a Catholic church service where one of Moussa’s sons was baptized. During the rather long service, many of the parishioners tended to doze off. One of the elders of the church would walk around continuously with a long stick and tap people on the head when he caught them nodding off.

Spencer said he managed to stay awake throughout the service.

In spite of the hardships of the primitive living conditions, Spencer says he is enjoying the challenges of his work and the once in a lifetime opportunity that it is giving him to experience African cultures and to see firsthand the beauty of the varied landscapes of Cameroon.

While electricity is sporadic, the cell phone service in Cameroon is very good. Most volunteers purchase a local cell phone as soon as they arrive in the country, and are able to communicate among themselves, the Peace Corps offices and friends and family back home with fairly reliable service.

His parents are comforted by Spencer’s weekly phone calls, when he tells them of his latest experiences.

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