This post was originally written by EWB DC team member Victor Nwaneri.
Despite all the meetings, countless email threads, training and planning preceding Assessment trip II, it was till the team of 7 professionals touched down in Douala Airport quickly introduced to the sweltering heat as we disembarked from our terminal that reality began to set in. Then came the van ride the next morning that consisted of 7 hours of constant road bumps testing every bit of the van’s mechanical strength. It reminded me of a roller coaster ride as we sat shoulder to shoulder swaying from side to side hoping that not just us but our bags and equipment strapped on top of the van make it to our destination in one piece.
We stopped in the city of Bamenda midway into the trip to pick up volunteers from our in-country partner and a remarkable Cameroonian by the name of Farmer Tantoh. My team didn’t know what to expect of the guy prior to meeting him and questioned his expertise in well drilling, water catchment protection and sustainability. He was a man of a smooth dark chocolate complexion who spoke in a soft toned West African accent. He stood about 5’10” tall wearing a Green Bay Packers head warmer, a faded brown leather jacket, light jeans and tennis shoes carrying his baby on one arm. I happened to sit next to him and engage him in conversation as we set off again for the second leg of our trip. What I came to learn about him from his words and expressions were beyond my wildest expectation. Farmer Tantoh was born into poverty in the marginalized region of NW Cameroon call Nord-Ouest. At a young age he shared his vision in sustainability and development with his father telling him that someday his work will take him to California. He wrote on his bedroom wall, “California, USA”.
In 1996, he started self educating himself on farming by harvesting vegetable gardens, experimenting with garlic, raising animals for fertilizer and income, and exploring local means of irrigation. In 2001 through 2005, he founded and registered his 1st organization Save Your Future Association (SYFA) focusing on environmental and community development. Ever since then, his work on agriculture has taken him far and wide from Scotland to the United Kingdom, Siberia, Russia, Moscow, Mongolia, and other countries.
And in 2007, 11 years later, he found himself in California living his dream. He has hosted over 50 international volunteers in Cameroon, and has contributed substantially to the development of botanical gardens, drilled walls, agriculture and water systems as a whole in NW Cameroon. In May 2011, Farmer Tantoh graduated from Northwest Wisconsin Technical College with a certificate on sustainable organic farming receiving a 1 year scholarship sponsored by US department of state. I had noticed that he had mentioned several times during the ride that he was a PhD. And so I proceeded to ask him, “How are you a PhD with only a certificate?” His response was simple, “Because of the principles in my life: Persistence, Hope & Dedication.”
In 2011, his organization SYFA became global with a USA branch. In the same year he received the African International Achievers Award presented in Bradford-UK. Last year he was elected an Ashoka fellow here in Washington, DC. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is now a parent partner of SYFA and farmer Tantoh still lives in his childhood region.
I will leave you with 1 note from him to me:
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, you are never too small or insignificant to contribute to the long term sustainability of our planet. By doing simple things to the best of your ability, you are improving our world.”