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Uncharted Territory

Sister Jane, Elizabeth and Brenda

Sister Jane, Brenda Ruello and Elizabeth Geitz looking at land in Bafut, Cameroon

It was a hot, sticky summer day in Cameroon in October of 2012. The rainy season was in full swing and the flies were out. Brenda Ruello and I had arrived at Good Shepherd Home for Children in Bamenda, Cameroon to visit with Sister Jane Mankaa and her grass roots team of Cameroonians who were determined to fulfill a seemingly impossible dream – to build a residential secondary school compound for 400 students in Cameroon, complete with chicken, fish, and vegetable farms to both teach and feed the students.

Never mind the cost of such an undertaking. Never mind that there was no suitable land yet found. Never mind that there is only one bulldozer in all of Bamenda. This was one determined group of people.

Like many Americans before me who have traveled to developing nations, I arrived filled with ideas for how to get things done. How to find just the right piece of property. How to involve local government officials and community organizations like the Rotary Club International. And yes, even how to work in a culture very different from my own.

I soon learned how much I didn’t know. I learned that my Western ways could be not only off-putting but counter-productive in an African environment. I learned that cross-cultural relationships are precious and take time and love and care and most of all, listening to develop.

bulldozerAcquiring land in Cameroon is radically different than doing so in America. A realtor to show available properties? Not a chance. Multiple owners of one piece of property tied up in a land dispute? Everywhere. As Brenda and I sat in our first ‘official’ meeting with the Cameroonian Team, we heard these unforgettable words. “We are Africans. We know how to do this. Let us buy the land!”

And of course, they were right. I told them all clearly that Brenda and I were there to learn from them. That we needed them; depended on them to navigate the many rules and customs of which we knew so little. That my respect and love for Sister Jane Mankaa, based on an eight-year relationship, only grew with each encounter, each day of struggling together through uncharted territory for us both.

And that yes, thank God for partnerships. “Yes! The land is in your very capable hands!” I told our Cameroonian partners.

“Keep us posted!” Brenda and I said, as the meeting ended. “Keep us posted!” And I will keep you posted here with regular updates from “Behind the Scenes.”

Elizabeth Geitz


Elizabeth Geitz
Chair, GSSLF