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UO grads work to bring water to Cameroon town.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

When Brad Schallert and Leah Petit arrived in Africa, there wasn't much to remind the University of Oregon grads of home.

Dispatched from the lush Willamette Valley, the newlyweds took over a Peace Corps post in Tourou, Cameroon, a rural village in an arid mountain region neighboring the Sahara Desert.

Petit, a 24-year-old graduate of South Eugene High School, found herself in a world of non sequiturs: men wearing women's Liz Claiborne clothing; goats riding next to her in minivans; a 2-year-old carrying a 1-year-old.

"My first impression was, `God, it's hot!' ' she said by e-mail of their arrival last September. "Looking at the scenery surprised me how brown a place could be."

But in that dry land, they did recognize that there was work to be done.

They saw 46,000 people in desperate need of water. They encountered a collection of 16 villages that were working to build their own wells.

Tourou, situated on the border of Nigeria, sees rain only three months out of the year, Schallert said. Sun scorches the Earth the rest of the time.

Villagers - almost always women - who are not lucky enough to live next to a well, travel for miles, and sometimes over mountains, to reach water.

Petit asked a group of youngsters ages 5 to 12 to draw pictures of their families, and every one drew their female relatives carrying large water pots.

"One has to understand that the water shortage cripples the economy," Schallert, 25, said.

"Waiting at wells into the night until they recharge, or walking an extra kilometer for every bucket of water, takes time that they could spend elsewhere."

Sometimes, the water that is available is lethal, said the couple, who both graduated from the UO with degrees in international studies.

As Petit - Tourou's first health care volunteer - conducted interviews with women, she found their top three health complaints were all tied to water.

Contamination of the water by goats and other livestock is rampant, causing their human keepers to contract worms, parasites and diarrhea.

But the region has formed a collective, called AVISE, that is working to build new, safer wells.

Petit and Schallert, who will remain in Cameroon until December 2008, will work to train villagers to dig and maintain their own wells.

"The idea with AVISE, the village group, is to basically have them do the work," Schallert said. "They have the control as well. They control their own destinies."

But while the reservation of local well-diggers and engineers is large, the money for materials is dwindling.

And so is time. Villagers are digging more wells, but without concrete for reinforcement, the rainy season in May will send sediment oozing into the newly created holes.

The cost of a new well usually runs about $1,500 - so the couple are turning to their previous place of residence, asking for help for the people of their new home.

"They'd have to save for years to put in one well, and the issue is now," he said. "It's a human rights issue: People just should not have to walk that far, and they shouldn't have to drink dirty water. We can help."


To help: Mail checks to AVISE, Oregon Community Credit Union, P.O. Box 77002, Eugene, OR 97401-0146.

More information: For photos and stories from Brad Schallert and Leah Petit, visit www.bradleah
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Title Annotation:Lifestyle; Two Peace Corps volunteers seek help to build wells on the edge of the Sahara
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 11, 2007
Previous Article:ENTREE NOTES.
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