Chageen School Project - 2001

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For 25 years or more there has been an official school in Chageen. Year after year the village in general and Chief Lubba talk big about building a school building for the kids. Occasionally they make some half-hearted efforts at collecting money, but mostly they just wring their hands and hope that some day an aid organization will come riding in on a white stallion and relieve them of the responsibility. For as long as I've been there I've been telling them they can do a lot more than they think if they only put their minds to it. During these years, they have contented themselves with building woven grass shelters year after year (right, behind the termite mound) for the 500 or so students enrolled in the school. (Incidentally, those 500 kids (left) are taught by one official teacher paid by the government and 4 local volunteers paid by the parents' association.)

Finally, it seems that things are moving ahead. A group of Kwong cadres and students in N'Djamena spearheaded a new effort that began in February with the organization of a new building committee in Chageen composed of 10 members of which Mark is the treasurer (and, significantly, 6 others are members of the Protestant church.) They had about $300 remaining from a previous collection they had made, we contributed $500 from the profit Mark had made selling grain from the granary a few years back, and they managed to collect another $700 from the population as well. With $1500 in hand in May, we set about purchasing cement and steel for the construction of a 14.5 x 6 meter (50 x 20 feet), two-room school house. 

It turned out that four guys from our home churches were coming out to help us with the construction of an addition on our house in July, so we arranged for construction of the school to await their arrival. This was important for two reasons. The first purely mechanical reason was that we hoped by their involvement to get the building more or less square, level, and plumb. By starting the building to high quality standards, we're hoping to overcome the tendency of our Chief Lubba to cut corners and build junk. The second more important reason is that the Chadian volunteer spirit being what it is (zilch), it was going to take some pretty powerful motivation to get the village behind the construction project. We hoped, correctly as it turned out, that four guys coming all the way from America to sweat it out in a foundation hole in Chageen might provide that motivation. 

The long and short of it is that Mike, Bob, Fred, and John together with Mark managed to get the steel reinforced concrete footings laid successfully, and set the local masons to work on laying the bricks for the walls. The village Building Committee expressed their appreciation for their labor with the gift of a goat.

 

The way the project is being run has been revealing of African culture and goes a long way towards explaining why it's taken 25 years for them to get their act together. The problems started with the purchase of the cement and steel. As we were purchasing large quantities of both of these, it seemed logical to put all the material on one truck for shipment from N'Djamena to Chageen. But no, the building committee told us that they thought they could get a better price on black-market cement at the provincial capital of Bongor.  Of course it was a few cents cheaper but they ended up getting taken to the cleaners on the cost of transportation, so saved nothing in the end. In another bit of folly, they came back with 19 sacs of cement, though I had told them explicitly they would need a minimum of 26 sacs to complete the essential structural elements of the building, let alone a floor and plaster on the walls. It seems, in what has become something of a pattern, our old, shortsighted Chief Lubba, who has a fixation on a corrugated iron roof for the building and no particular interest in the solidity of what holds it up, told the building committee to economize on the cement so they could purchase his precious corrugated iron. (Even so, they still won't have near enough money for the roof.)  Lubba wasn't finished yet. The committee chose  three masons whom Mark has trained. Lubba insisted on two others of dubious abilities, and then, when all five masons forthwith began whining about being hungry etc,  Lubba tried to make the committee pay them in entirety for the work before it had even begun. (Mark had suggested paying them in 25% installments as the work progressed.) Fortunately (and to the tremendous relief of the committee members, who couldn't culturally say "no" to Lubba or the masons themselves) all the money was in our cash box and we just kept it there. End of problem. Same story when Lubba decided he wanted to borrow money from the fund for his personal use. Yes folks, Africa has a ways to go.

 
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