After graduation, Zach Dreyer, ’09, passed up a job offer to volunteer in Africa. Nothing short of incredible is how he describes his experience since.
Dreyer hiked through jungles to distant bush villages where some people had never seen a white man. He received enthusiastic hospitality from strangers eager to feed and care for him as an international development volunteer. He also faced challenges, such as chasing down a pickpocket to get back his wallet in one of the country’s larger cities.
Along the way, Cameroon’s diverse landscape — from its arid deserts to lush jungles — provided the backdrop to his adventures.
Dreyer, who studied economics and geography at Richmond, has been in Cameroon for nearly two years as an agribusiness extension agent. He travels around the country to meet with farmers and train them on modern agriculture practices and how to use computers and technology effectively.
He primarily works for Key Farmers Cameroon, a nonprofit organization based in the Kumba community that promotes sustainable agriculture and rural development. Some of its main initiatives involved education on crops and animal husbandry, gender, HIV and AIDS education, agroforestry, and agro-tourism.
But Dreyer didn’t just arrive and tell the farmers how to improve their efficiency. He says his first few months working with Key Farmers started by helping local farmers to assess their needs. Much of his work required exploring the city and the types of work available for volunteers.
“The idea is to generate project ideas from the local communities that address their specific needs,” Dreyer says. “I am not supposed to come in and impose American ideas about development or what is best for my community.”
Dreyer says that after they identified some of the needs of local farmers groups, they created an action plan to offer training on intercropping, compost, integrated pest management, improved fertilizer application, crop rotation, cassava and cocoa best practices, and NGO development and business classes.
Though he was put into the agroforestry program as an agribusiness volunteer, Dreyer originally thought he would have fit best into a community economic development program. Nevertheless, he says that the experience has opened the door to many types of development work.
“I was not limited to agroforestry or agribusiness,” he says. “I went on to work on an HIV project, women's rights issues, and microfinance projects.”
Dreyer also is working to launch a pilot class to get primary school children ages 10-12 interested in agriculture and will be working extensively on agribusiness with a large union of cocoa cooperatives.
He says that he is lucky to live in a beautiful — yet raw — part of the world and learn so much. Dreyer says his undergraduate classes helped with the decision to join the Peace Corps, as well as the guidance of Keith Bosak, former visiting instructor of geography, and Mary Finley-Brook, associate professor of geography and the environment.
“Both of them taught very open and interesting discussion-based classes,” he says. “The books we read and the things we learned about opened my mind to the world abroad and development work. I was introduced to concepts relating to the development of nations and how countries use resources while bringing themselves into the modern world.”