Sao, North Cameroon


A project like an oil spill

In spring 2018 a group of students – all of them members of an optional subjectclass at Hottingen high school in Zurich – set themselves a target to guarantee food security in Sao and to give people the chance to earn their own living. In the end the big project exceeded all the expectations.


It's great that 22 students had put down their names for an optional subject course which was timed from 4.15 PM until 5.45 PM. The diverse group of pupils, consisting of both male and female students, belonging to two different types of schools, of varying levels and ages shared two aims: to help other people and to do practical work.

The youngsters were particularly shocked by the situation in Sao. 90% of the people lived below the poverty line, 40% of the children were severely malnourished and 20% of them had to be nursed back to health in medical facilities. 50 families had been tricked by loan sharks and had run into debt. To pay the money back they had to hand over almost their entire modest harvest. In order to end this dreadful situation, the class planned a project: the cultivation of rice and vegetables and the building of a warehouse to prevent postharvest losses. Their optimism was enormous, and so was the budget of CHF 97,000.

A surprise during the routine health check


Thanks to the support of the Leopold Bachmann Foundation and other institutional donors, a successful fundraising action by letter, and a charity run, the students wereable to finance all the sub-projects. Our local IPA partner, Aboukar Mahamat, spoke of a shining example for other projects right from the beginning. The villagers had clearly understood that if they agreed to cooperate, they would have a chance to escape their poverty. And so, they began to work. They helped to build the warehouse, planted rice on an area of 43 hectares and vegetables on 7 hectares, produced compost as well as natural means to kill pests and planted a big number of moringa trees. They worked for nine months, supervised by two specialists who had temporarily moved to Sao.

A year after the start of the project a delegation of the nearest medical centre came to the village to examine the malnourished children. However, they were in for a big surprise, they could not find any! 242 tons of rice and many tons of vegetables had been produced. The surpluses had been sold so that the families had been able to free themselves from their debts. The farmers were so enthusiastic that they also built two fish breeding ponds. In July, they hope to catch a ton of cat fish. The community is now planning to grow maize and millet as well and to build a second warehouse. All this is financed by the sale of the first harvests. The local administration department and the World Food Programme sent experts to Sao to find out why this project is so successful. Even the government in Yaoundé wanted tobe informed. Aboukar Mahamat thanked IPA and wrote: "The project has made me famous in the region." On Facebook a user commented: "A project like an oil spill – it constantly spreads out by itself."

Aware of the chance and gone beyond themselves