Having spent the last 12 months discussing a potential project with the Cameroon Cricket Federation (CCF), I was excited to find out more about the country and to launch CWB's project there. I was joining the first part of CWB's inaugural project in Cameroon to assist our project leader, Rich Thurston, and country manager, Jo North-Clarke. Going into a country for the first time is a big step and takes a lot of work. Inevitably, what has been meticulously planned from afar changes once on the ground but we have been through the transition from planning to reality in every country in which CWB works and memories of setting up the charity in 2005 came flooding back throughout my time in Cameroon.
First impressions of Yaoundé, the capital, were a little different to the impression left on me from my reading. The bustling city was nowhere near as developed as books had made out and was more like Kigali (Rwanda) than, say, Nairobi (Kenya). The similarities with Kigali and even Kampala (Uganda) were certainly plentiful: the colours, the smells, the welcoming people as well as the lush green vegetation on the many hills which make up the city transforming itself seemlessly into rowdy markets selling everything from ferocious red chillies to spare tires and bridal wear. The people of Yaoundé are clearly hard working and industrious, making use of every available opportunity.
Comparisons with Rwanda and Uganda did not stop there. Victor Agbor Nso, President of the CCF, invited us to join his team for a planning meeting in their offices, a small building behind the Athletics Federation. The meeting itself was very productive, setting up the plan for the initial week of the project, and it reminded me of similar meetings - in an equally modest office - in November 2005 with the Uganda Cricket Authority. The pitch on which Cameroon team training takes place is reminiscent of that initially used by Rwanda - it is borrowed from football teams and certainly does not encourage diving to save runs or take a catch due to the complete lack of grass.
However, like Rwanda, Cameroon is a young cricketing nation with big ambitions. Having introduced the game less than 10 years ago, they already have a number of teams playing regularly, including women's cricket. Victor and his team are passionate about cricket and its development in their country but, importantly, they also recognise the value of using the sport in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It was reassuring to see the CCF embrace this key part of CWB's work and it will be a be one of the foundations of any future partnership.
In Yaoundé, the team was training new coaches within hours of arrival. Mentoring the new coaches by coaching children together with them in schools over the next few days saw a typical scene: 240 over-enthusiastic children arrived on the scene, beaming from ear to ear as they tried out this new sport. Rich Davies, our senior CWB tutor, made what can only be described as a schoolboy error in trying to outrun 150 children and found himself consumed by the cheering, laughing mass of smiles. A little dishevelled, he emerged from the throng himself smiling in a manner which I recognised as that of someone who has experienced what it can mean to put a smile on the face of children who have so very little.
Typical of CWB projects, we often find ourselves in situations different to our lives back in the UK. Taking part in a live TV chat show on Cameroon state TV (their equivalent of the One Show) is certainly an experience which will stay with me. Safe in the knowledge that we had a great team on the ground and plans for the rest of the project agreed with the CCF, I left them to it and returned to a cold, blustery England with mixed emotions - I was excited to see that CWB's first project in our 5th country was going well but I was more than a little sad to leave.
You can read more about CWB's first Cameroon project on the team's blog: http://www.cwbblogs.com/cameroon12/