Warren & Deanna Bowers
ASSIGNMENT:Teacher (Warren)/School Nurse & Teacher (Deanna)
SITE:St. Rita Vocational School
Warren and Deanna Bowers, retired engineer and nurse, served at St. Rita Vocational School in Nkambe, Diocese of Kumbo, Cameroon. Warren taught woodworking and project management. Deanna served as the school nurse and taught health education.
IN OWN WORDS:
"Lay Mission Helpers provided the way of our first bridge to Nkambe, Cameroon We came to Nkambe armed with the LMH classes in everything from church history to spirituality, from cultural and other religion sensitivity to assorted types of prayer. We were full of professional competence, having recently retired from responsible engineering and nursing careers. We were also full of apprehension — about living and working in this entirely foreign community for three years — in the unknown and unfamiliar, so far from our California home, family and friends.
Upon reflection I am aware of many more bridges. In Nkambe, there is a lovely old stone bridge (probably from the German colonial period) over a year-round stream that brings water to the town and crashes off the bluff at Tchua Tchua, our local waterfall. That bridge supports the main road through Nkambe, and is the center of the Botanical Garden, the work of our friend, Farmer Tantoh and his friends, begun in earnest with beauty and design, now fading for lack of sustainability. It symbolizes so much of our frustration here — there is great natural beauty, youthful imagination and desire, but a paucity of funding, follow-through and long range planning.
In Nkambe, there are also small plank foot bridges over small streams — simple, utilitarian and sturdy (most of the time). Our everyday life has been like those bridges — a way to the other side, a way to another culture. Our days are simple — no TV, intermittent short wave radio, no fast food places, rising with the sun, daily 6 a.m. Mass, teaching and working at St. Rita’s just a quarter of a mile away, and early (8:30-9:00 p.m.) to bed — especially if the power is out.
The roads going to and from Nkambe are full of dust or mud (depending on if it is dry or rainy season) with pot holes the size of VWs, rocky and washboard texture — and the bridges are the worst! Any one could be an axle-breaker if you don’t watch and slow down. Those are sure to be bridges we shall always remember!
There are also hanging rope bridges — one in nearby Misaje, and one at the botanical garden in Limbe, reminding us of the traditional heritage in Cameroon — exciting, natural and functional.
We have seen many bridges built in our 3+ years here at St. Rita’s Catholic Technical High School in Nkambe, Cameroon — two-way bridges sure to remain with us wherever we are.
There has been the spiritual bridge of the Catholic Church which bridges all cultures. The Church encourages local color in the basic liturgy, as we worship one God and Father of us all, Jesus who came that we might all have life and the Holy Spirit, the constant presence in our daily lives. There has been a two-way bridge with our parishes, Christ the King in Nkambe and St. Anthony’s in Upland, California. We have exchanged books and stories and prayers — 'solidarity in action.'
School nursing has bridged a career of 25 years in California to the assignment here as school infirmarian to 200+ boys and girls at this boarding school — ages 10 to 22. It was a big stretch! Organized school nursing also bridged, as school nurses from throughout the Diocese of Kumbo met twice a year to share information and experience — much as California school nurses have been doing for long.
The bridge of technology has brought us computers, a computer projector, woodworking power tools and that new copy machine — and we now have a new internet connection in Nkambe — a bridge to the whole world that we only dreamed of when we arrived. Yes, technology and development are coming to these rural mountains of Cameroon, and our students will be prepared.
The Lay Mission-Helpers have continued to be a bridge of support — with annual visits from the LMH staff, regular contacts by phone and e-mail, and the great LMH volunteers who have been with us here.
The social bridge is filled with so many people. We have made many new friends here, of all ages, from newborn babies to revered 'Pa’s and Ma’s,' from the big (2 ½ million people) city of Douala to the tiny village of Moh, from the local beggar to the local tribal chief, the Fon — all with extended hands of welcome.
Students have been a generation bridge for us — keeping us young in thought and spirit, reminding us of our own children and grandchildren, and challenging us to be better teachers, better Christians, and better communicators. We are enriched with the individual students who have become good friends.
In our term of service, we have grown from relationships with the newly installed Archbishop of Bamenda, Cornelius Esua, the staff of Kumbo Diocese, two school principals and more than 30 school staff members, four parish priests, the community of ICM sisters and assorted lay leaders at Christ the King and officials and neighbors of Nkambe.
We are grateful to God for providing these opportunities, enabling us to cross these bridges and ask that He continue to make them available to us and our Cameroonian friends. We look forward to continuing relationships which have been so mutually beneficial."