Having recently returned from a three-week trip to Cameroon, the student team have had time to reflect and record all they have learnt during their visit.

The team from University of Southampton worked alongside intern Ant, local volunteer Virginie and a team of Cameroonian Volunteers, focusing on identifying suitable sites for future water pumps across the East region and strengthening relationships with these village communities, as well as undertaking monitoring and evaluation of the charity’s previous projects.

They began by visiting Bambouti to see previous Cameroon Catalyst projects and further understand how they have been utilised since delivery and what improvements may need to be made to maximise their performance. The team saw for themselves how these projects have benefited the local population and heard first hand – through interviews and group discussions – of the positive impact on their quality of life. For example, the students witnessed the local doctor administering vaccinations to new born babies at the January Hope Medical Centre.

The student team also made great progress in developing Cameroon Catalyst’s 5 year campaign for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH); they visited several villages in the Eastern Region of Cameroon in order to identify suitable locations for future water pumps. As part of their research, the team consulted with local villagers to identify existing water sources, suitable walking distances and local preferences for design solutions. Three sites have been identified for future water pump projects in 2017 and further sites are under review for 2018.

This year’s University of Southampton Student President, Laura McFadzean Griffiths, was inspired by her trip and the insight it gave her; ‘The hardest thing to see in each village was the walk that the locals had to take in order to collect their water for drinking and washing. The walk was in most cases long or difficult; it made me realise just how easy my life is in the UK and how lucky I am.’ Laura graduated this year with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and is starting her PHD at the University of Southampton.

This year’s Design Manager, Richard Saunders, was moved by the poverty in the area and now feels even more motivated; ‘Time and time again I was taken aback by the poverty facing the locals and it was discouraging to see so many villages needing so much, but everywhere we went I could see the opportunity to make a lasting change and in the coming year that’s going to drive my work with the charity.’ Richard has been part of the charity since his first year, helping to develop a combined well and pump design tool and is now going into his fourth and final year.

Tom Edwards is this year’s Treasurer and has just finished his first year studying Civil Engineering. Tom reflects on how important the trip was; ‘The trip provided us with a good understanding of the engineering challenges faced when designing in a less developed country and also the cultural considerations. I am confident that the experience we have gained will be incredibly useful when designing and implementing future projects.’ As the youngest member of the team, Tom will be able to share his findings and experiences with future Cameroon Catalyst students for several years to come.

The experience that the students have gained in Cameroon will equip them with the cultural and social understanding required to guide the student design team to deliver WaSH projects that truly meet the needs of the local communities in East Cameroon.