DEVON, United Kingdom — In Cameroon, much progress has been made in sanitation and clean water development in the 21st century. In 2023, 30% of the population does not have access to a safely managed drinking water service. This is a significant improvement from the 44% in 2000. However, UNICEF notes that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) are the areas of development that require the greatest focus and funding in Cameroon. Even where there is access to clean water, collection often requires long journeys to attain it. These trips can frequently be dangerous and time-consuming, and the role is usually carried out by women or children.
A Catalyst for Change
One of the initiatives that has contributed is the student-driven charity Cameroon Catalyst. The charity operates in east Cameroon, focusing on the rural low-development communities. It was founded in 2009 by students from the University of Southampton and a native Cameroonian but has since expanded to include teams from the University of Birmingham and Imperial College London. Between 2009 and 2014, the charity focused on the village of Bambouti.
In collaboration with other charities, Cameroon Catalyst worked to develop sustainable housing, a solar-powered energy hub, new school classrooms and a medical center for the village. Now they have expanded to other communities in the east of the country, stating that their goal is for rural communities to “possess the autonomy and opportunity to achieve their own sustainable development.”
Students Against Poverty
Despite having a governing Board of Trustees, the charity is “driven by teams of dedicated students.” The Borgen Project spoke to Katie Murfitt, a graduate of the University of Southampton who worked with the charity whilst a student and was part of a trip to Cameroon in June 2023.
“I wanted to join more societies at uni, but I wanted to do something worthwhile,” says Katie. While there are opportunities to get involved with charity work via university societies, Katie says many are fundraising only. “Cam Cat stood out because you were actually doing the work […] you’re not just raising money.”
As a university society, any student can join. Even if they can’t travel to Cameroon directly, they can still be involved in designing and planning projects. For those who do travel to the country, the experience is unique. I thought I would learn more about engineering and maybe improve my French a bit, but it was more about resilience.” The stark difference between Cameroon and home was emphasized, she said. “It makes you see how much more things are limited when there’s less infrastructure.”
Including the Community
One of the ways the group has contributed has been through their hand-dug wells.
These wells extract water from the ground using an aquifer operated by a hand pump. As of 2023, the charity has provided seven of these wells, granting clean water to over 5000 people.
The 2023 visit focused on development. Katie explains, “An existing well was edited to have solar panels and a water tank.” As a result, access to water continues to improve. “It made it a lot easier for them because they didn’t have to do hand-pumping.”
Given that the charity aims to empower the community to achieve their own prosperity, their work considers the importance of a close engagement with the locals.
“[The water tank] was built by people in the village,” says Katie. She adds that by building the well, locals would have “more control over it and care more about it, so maintain it better in the future.”
One for the CV?
Cameroon Catalyst provides not only an essential service to rural communities in Cameroon but also offers students valuable experience. The charity states that its student members have the potential to become future civil leaders and develop a strong ability to think sustainably. Although not the conventional university society, Katie encourages students to get involved with similar projects whilst at university. She says, “It’s a bit different to parties, but it’s definitely worth it.”
– Luke Gouldson