Anna Maria Johanna Margaretha Kok or “Ans,” is a beautiful and amazing Dutch woman (and career physical therapist until the mid 1990’s) who, at 53, when her husband (my husband’s uncle) was taking early retirement and she could easily have settled into a life of leisure, instead took on a major, at times overwhelming new project that consumed her for the next 7 years and made a profound difference for a village in Cameroon, Africa.
Here is her amazing story, which shows how much individual people, working together with other individual people, can do!
Bitoutouck, Cameroon is a small village in the jungle of Cameroon, with about 800 inhabitants. It is located around 60 miles from the capital of Yaounde. To get there, you can take the train, when it’s running, but then you still have to walk an hour into the jungle. The total trip takes 3 hours from Yaounde, and, no matter which way you travel to get there, you have to cross the River Nyong, a river infested with crocodiles and therefore not easily crossed in a canoe!
When Ans Heykoop and her friend Marthe went to Bitoutouck in 1999, to visit Marthe’s home village and her family, Ans was distressed to see that there was no bridge across the river—and not because it made the journey difficult for her. What she saw was that the lack of a bridge meant there was no easy way for the villagers to get their goods to market in the city or find jobs for themselves. The effect on the people of the village was obvious. Most people in the village had no income and had difficulty providing their children with even one meal a day. The village had no clean drinking water, so children had to walk hundreds of yards to get water out of a stream before going to school in the morning, and, since the water was used for everything, many people had intestinal illnesses. A trip to the doctor in Libamba, however, a village on the other side of the river, meant walking 16 miles! The school building had 3 classrooms, with 140 students spread over 4 classes, one of which was held in a small building meant to house a teacher. There were large holes in the schoolroom walls; the floor was stamped earth, and the children were plagued with sand fleas between their toes. Continue reading Beautiful Women Over 50: Ans!