The Columns

International Endeavors: Njoya and Biegel Amirah Ndam Njoya and Jenna Biegel taught at a summer camp for rural children and researched drinking-water quality in Cameroon.

— by on May 16th, 2016

“By introducing Jenna to Cameroon, I was able to discover my own country and get out of my comfort zone.”

— Amirah Ndam Njoya ’17

Amirah Ndam Njoya ’17 and Jenna Biegel ’17
Yaounde, Cameroon

Ten Washington and Lee University students were chosen in 2015 for the International Student Collaboration, a program funded by a grant from the Endeavor Foundation. The program allowed five international students to each take home an American student for the summer.

During the summer months, the international students introduced their guests to the food and culture of their homeland and, in turn, saw their home country through new eyes. The pairs also worked on community service and research projects together.

The students recently took a little time to talk about their experiences and how they were affected by the opportunity.

What was it like introducing your study partner to your homeland? When you saw it through their eyes, what was different about it for you?

Amirah: I was really excited to introduce Jenna to Cameroon and to share with her all the aspects that I love so much about my country. As her arrival day grew closer, I became a little anxious and nervous. I wondered if she was going to be able to get adjusted to the extremely different life that it is living in Cameroon. Would the language barrier be a problem? (Even though Cameroon is bilingual — the national languages are French and English — we were mostly going to be in places where people were francophone). What about the food? As I went through my worrisome phase, I realized that I was looking at my country with a different set of eyes. And I was truly amazed at how quickly, easily and simply Jenna was able to adapt herself to all the change. I also discovered aspects of my hometown that I had not been previously aware. We walked to neighborhoods that I had never been before, interviewed people, and did things like riding moto-taxis that I would have never done on my own. By introducing Jenna to Cameroon, I was able to discover my own country and get out of my comfort zone.

Please briefly describe your project. Why did you choose this topic?

Amirah: Our project consisted of two phases. The first phase of our project was to design and teach at a one-week summer camp for children in the rural village of Mandekene, in the Noun subdivision of the Western region of Cameroon. We taught the 60-plus elementary children that ranged from 3 to 15 about climate change, gave them mini English lessons, made origami, had reading time, and we were even able to have a cooking session where we made with them banana bread. One of the final achievements at the school was the creation of a mural that the children painted. With the funds of the grant, we were able to rehabilitate some buildings of the school, buy science posters for the classroom, playground toys, bookshelves and fruit trees.

The second phase of our project consisted of researching drinking-water quality in three areas of Cameroon: agricultural Koutaba, urban Foumban and rural Mandekene. We would walk to different neighborhoods in these places and test the drinking water, whether it was from streams, springs, hand-crank pumps, wells, etc., for pH, conductivity, turbidity and presence of e-coli bacteria. Jenna was also able to bring back water samples to test for the presence of minerals in the water. As we tested the water samples, we interviewed the inhabitants and also town officials about the difficulties of attaining drinking water in the areas.

We chose this project because it encompassed both of our concentrations, Jenna’s being in geology and environmental studies, and mine being in global politics and studio art.

What are the most important takeaways from the research to share with the university audience (and beyond), and how do you plan to do that?

Amirah: The most important takeaway is that no matter how different our respective concentrations were, we were able to work together to make a small difference in the communities. We were also able to grow as individuals and learn from our experience. I believe that it shows the strengths and the importance of a liberal arts education. The liberal arts education allows for the symbiosis of knowledge. This truly impacted my way of perceiving the environment in which I lived. This is why we plan to share our experience with students on campus and persuade them to apply for the grant. It was truly a unique and amazing experience.

How do you think this project has enriched your overall educational experience at W&L?

Amirah: This project has allowed me to understand what I am really passionate about— doing everything in my power to make my country a better place for people to live in. The project allowed me to gain an interest in the planning and design of towns and cities. I am really grateful for all the individuals that were able to make this project happen, for my exceptional project partner, for the help of the town hall of Foumban, and for the Center of International Education and the Endeavor Grant.

Read about more Endeavor collaborations:

Meera Kumar ’16 and Oyumaa Daichinkhuu ’16

Alejandro Paniagua ’16 and Kevin Ortiz ’16

Wan Wei ’17 and Olivia Howell ’17

Juan Cruz Mayol ’16 and Sam Sheppard ’16