Redemption Camp
May 7, 2007 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Redemption Camp : A camp in the middle of the African jungle where people who have nothing left to live for can go and live for a while. Is this a good idea for me to start up?

Through some fortune, I have come into posession of a piece of land about 1 kilometer square. This land is fertile, on one border runs a 5 meter wide river, half of the land slopes up into a hill, giving a great view of the surroundings, and there is a small island in the middle of the river perfect for barbecues.

Problem is, it's in the middle of the jungle near to cameroun, and the next town is about 30 kilometers away. There are no proper roads leading there, just dirt roads. However, there is a small village nearbye.

I've been thinking about what to do with this land, and came up with the idea of a redemption camp. The idea is this : take people who are depressed or otherwise feel that there is no purpose in their life. Put them out here in the middle of nowhere, and let them live for 6 months from the land. No TV, no internet, no cars, just the silent jungle and your farm. They can teach the children in the village nearbye, giving them some purpose in life. I bet it would change a lot of perspectives of the people who go there.

What do you think of this idea?
posted by markovich to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am reminded of the horror that was Jonestown. This sounds like a recipe for misery and suicide.
posted by Carol Anne at 7:21 AM on May 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

The idea is this : take people who are depressed or otherwise feel that there is no purpose in their life. Put them out here in the middle of nowhere, and let them live for 6 months from the land.

It's an interesting idea, but you'll need to have absolutely ironclad liability protection, at least one experienced therapist/psychiatrist on staff, and a plan in place for getting people out of there quick. It's not a given that people in this situation will win through to a new sense of self-worth and their role in the world. Some of them will collapse completely, no matter how much pre-screening you do, and will be a danger to themselves and others while they remain onsite.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:29 AM on May 7, 2007

You could start with something more traditional, like a game farm or game reserve. Those can make great low-key resort/retreats.

Two other questions come to mind:

Have you ever lived in Africa or spent time in the African bush?

Do you have any background in psychology?

I would think that you would want a lot of both of these before trying something as ambitious as you initially laid out.

Whatever you do, good luck with it. This is an amazing opportunity.
posted by alms at 7:30 AM on May 7, 2007

How could the villagers say no to an education by a never-ending turnover of neurotic Americans?

Perhaps you could entertain jaded hunters with the biggest game of all......Man.

An actually good idea would be to put your land to use helping the villagers, rather than exploiting the villagers as background to helping people who have plenty already. Put up some solar panels or a water treatment system or something. Maybe offer the land to a medical or educational group to use.
posted by DU at 7:30 AM on May 7, 2007 [7 favorites]

It really depends if you are doing this as some sort of philanthropy or if you are going to make people pay for the privilege. At some level taking people who are really depressed away from all their support networks seems like a recipe for increased depression and/or some sort of bad brainwashing scheme [see: Guyana]

So, a few things you'd have to keep in mind

- safety of the people you bring there. Just because there's no roads doesn't mean there are no other people. Even with no TV or whatever, your people are likely to be seen as affluent and potential targets. I had a friend with big ideas of a small farm like this in Nicaragua and he had a really hard time with the necessity of armed security guards to keep his bucolic wonderland secure
- health care - if you are dealing with people who are really depressed what do you do if they get worse not better? How easily can you get them out to proper medical attention. What do you do if they get bit by snakes? Also in many cases depression isn't just mitigated by going offline, it's assisted with medicine and/or therapy. What if your people don't get better? What assumptions are you making about mental health? Who will you have to assist these peopel in staying physically and metally healthy?
- isolation - what if the farming life doesn't suit them. how would important news get there (there might be such a thing) what would you do if people got really anti-social and/or dangerous to themselves or others? How would they go home?
- support/sustain -- what if they CAN'T live off the land? The leper colonies in Hawaii were supposed to be self sustaining, but a lot of lepers either lacked the health to farm effectively or they were pissed off at being put in a leper colony and refused to farm. Will you let your people starve if they can't make a go of it?
- legal - what is your liability for this scenario? We've seen many sorts of "tough love for fucked up kids" programs that killed kids through either overwork or neglect/abuse. Even if these people feel they have nothing left to live for, you can't send them off to potentially die. They have families and loved ones and relations and friends. How able are you to be the responsible party in a legal sense?

So, more questions than answers. Unless you have some sort of training/education/knowledg that you are not explaining, or answers to most of these questions, I say terrible strange dystopic idea.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on May 7, 2007

An actually good idea would be to put your land to use helping the villagers, rather than exploiting the villagers as background to helping people who have plenty already.

Yes, because offering to teach children is such horrible exploitation.

All in all it sounds like a dicey proposition without significant experience in the field (you didn't mention what you currently do). Most other things you could do with it (tourism-related?) will probably require easy transportation access though, so I don't have any other great suggestions.
posted by chundo at 7:40 AM on May 7, 2007

You might also want to consult the village. When I was in Africa, staying with Peace Corp friends, I heard story after story of failed projects. Most of these failed due to the benefactor not having consulted the wishes of the recipients of their generousity.

Also, why develop undeveloped land? Keep it as habit for the animals who currently live there and use it as a game preserve...
posted by zia at 7:53 AM on May 7, 2007

Writer's retreats sound easier to pull off. Or you could contact sustainable development advocates and actually do something decent. Or you could just go and Kurtz it up some. And aren't there those creepy kidnapping camps for rebellious teens?

But your plan? Kafka-esque.
posted by klangklangston at 7:55 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The idea is too vague right now. But you do have an idea - Redemption Camp. It is a bit utopian, sure, but I think that's only because you haven't further defined what it would do. Certainly you'd have interested people - spend X amount of dollars, go to Africa for six months, do [something], come back envigored and refreshed. The biggest problem is the [something]. What if it were some sort of boot camp - like a fat camp in the jungle. I think physical exercise would be key. You can't just have a bunch of people lazing around the jungle. Boot camp for losers in the African Jungle. Six months, get in shape, build a house, raise a garden. If you could work out the logistics, hire professionals, and give yourself ten years, then maybe it could work. Who knows. It at least sounds interesting.

And to the people referencing Jonestown - you're joking, right? Because Jim Jones just bought some land in Guyana and asked some strangers if they'd like to come hang out in the jungle...riiiiiiiiiiight.
posted by billysumday at 7:56 AM on May 7, 2007

Have you actually been to this land, and are you sure that you own it? Your description of the land sounds first-handish, but you come off as a bit naive in your question, and I have heard of people perpetrating a form of the selling the Brooklyn bridge scam by telling victims that they are selling them land in exotic locations, when all they actually sell them is a map, a picture and a worthless piece of paper.
posted by ND¢ at 7:59 AM on May 7, 2007

Where are these depressed people theoretically coming from? I'm assuming either North America or Europe...

Disappearing to Africa for 6 months would be a huge undertaking for non-depressed people. Passport and visas to get in order, vaccinations, airfare, arranging financial affairs for the duration of their time in the bush (bills still have to be paid), and probably a slew of other things.

For a seriously depressed person, these things would be an incredibly massive barrier. I can easily envision a lot of potential visitors going "Meh. Forget it." when shown the list of preliminary preparations. Or, if they decide to go through with it, the small bumps in all the required planning could even make their depression worse. It could also be worsened by the stress of such a drastic change in lifestyle.

If you're not going to have expert staff on hand and you're only going to rely on the 'healing power of a simple existence', this is a very bad idea.

Also, "redemption camp" sounds... a bit cult-y.
posted by CKmtl at 8:05 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've been there, and yes, I do own it. My uncle lived in the area, bought the land, then gave it to me when he died. I've been there several times, and know both the land and the people who live around it.
posted by markovich at 8:12 AM on May 7, 2007

I don't think it sounds like a good real idea, but it sounds like a good movie idea. Why don't you hire some college actors, grab a video camera, and head out there to film it? ;)
posted by Eringatang at 8:13 AM on May 7, 2007

I don't think this idea is viable. There are just too many barriers for potential customers, and dangers if they come. I also don't think you will make significant amounts of money from the land by other means. You probably need to decide whether you want to use the land for your own pleasure, or you want to be philanthropic and talk to the local community about what they want. Solar power sounds great to me.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:13 AM on May 7, 2007

Just checking. I am glad that you own it. Good luck with your plans.
posted by ND¢ at 8:14 AM on May 7, 2007

Question: How many people do you foresee having on the land at once? Like, a house where a person goes and lives off the land by him/herself? Or a compound where a bunch of people congregate? If so, how many people?
posted by billysumday at 8:29 AM on May 7, 2007

Rather than set up some sort of social services/psychiatric center yourself, why don't you offer the land (as donation/partnership/whatever) to an existing program to use as part of their ongoing therapy? Something like Outward Bound, maybe.
posted by junkbox at 8:34 AM on May 7, 2007

Man. Don't develop in the middle of the jungle.

Let the land sit and use "your" square kilometer as assurance that there's at least one kilometer of jungle. Maybe explore the land, but don't change it.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 8:41 AM on May 7, 2007

I would like to second what jessamyn said and what everyone else has said about setting up a school for the villagers. How do you know they want your school--something often overlooked by people creating big philanthropic projects is whether their project is actually desired by the community over other projects. Do you know enough of the culture to each your depressed crew to not offend everyone there? And what makes you think your depressed people would be capable of acting like tutors in a completely alien culture and environment? It's difficult enough for highly motivated Peace Corps volunteers or whatnot to get something like that going. Someone suffering from major depression? From personal experience, I can say that is a terrible expectation to have for them.
posted by schroedinger at 8:53 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was depressed, I barely had the will and courage to get out of bed in the morning. I never could have mustered the initiative to do anything like that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:01 AM on May 7, 2007

Response by poster: I'm thinking a compound with a number of people. A square kilometer is quite a big patch. Also, it's not jungle. Around the land is jungle, but the land itself is bush, but not jungle.

And the neighbourhood village has a small school near to it. I don't see any reason why they would not want extra teachers.

And the way I see it, this is not really a development project. More like a social experiment.
posted by markovich at 10:09 AM on May 7, 2007

Unless you have a lot of other resources, I think this would be hard to do in a safe and useful way. Maybe you could connect with an organization that has some resources, and talk with them about possible uses for your land that would help people?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 AM on May 7, 2007

Lots of depressed people are broke. That's partly why they're depressed. It costs a LOT of money to GET to Africa, much less stay there for six months. The shots alone can run $800 in the U.S. You are limiting your customer base to rich depressed people.

Plus, what everyone else said. I don't think this will end well, Reverend Jones.
posted by clh at 10:20 AM on May 7, 2007

markovich: And the way I see it, this is not really a development project. More like a social experiment.

Don't experiment on depressed people as a hobby, please. Especially as a layman. There's no ethics board supervising you, no protocol for dealing with emergencies, no follow-up or back-up treatments in your plan so far.
posted by CKmtl at 10:21 AM on May 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

You should make a cameroonian 'Hairy Lemon.' It was one of the favourite 'weekend getaways' for expats living in Kampala, Uganda. Sounds like you have the right kind of space to do something similar.

Like others have said, there are very few people who have six months to camp out in. When you describe your target market, you are describing people who need therapists and structure, not a getaway. If you are going to target mentally unstable people, you will also need to provide some sort of mental support, unless you want things to go badly for your 'guests'.

How about just a nice, relaxed, isolated place for folks to spend a week or a weekend?
posted by Kololo at 10:25 AM on May 7, 2007

I see why you are thinking this, I think, because it sounds really neat to me. My guess is that you're thinking not the oh-so-clinically depressed type people who need heavy medical intervention, but rather the dissatisfied children-of-reformed-hippies in their late-20s who are post-university but not quite ready to settle down and achieve, who want to have their big adventure and truly feel DOING SOMETHING like living in a commune is the fix their lives need. You imagine that many people would be interested in something similar, and you want to do something good for a community in need at the same time. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, I'm just into the spirit of adventure and possibility implicit in your idea.

Nevertheless, I have to say I agree with those who have pointed out almost insurmountable obstacles. I think the comments re: legal liability are apt, because unless you are independtly wealthy you're going to need lots of startup financing which will not be forthcoming if significant legal liability is foreseen. (And if you are independently wealthy, who wants to stand to lose it all in a wrongful death tort battle when one of your dissatisfied 20 year olds gets drunk and wonders off into the land never to be seen again?). A key touchpoint for that concern is medical consequences, whether you include healthy or ill guests (think about local fevers, water purification, malaria risks, the consequences if violence - no matter how unforeseen - were to erupt among your guests or locals).

I admire the spirit of adventure and social interest which has prompted you to think creatively about these ideas, but I caution you with respect to long term consequences. I know its not really exciting, but I think the (rightful) pride you could have for the rest of your life if you were to donate the land for a solar power, water purification or other facility needed by the community would be deeply laudable.
posted by bunnycup at 10:36 AM on May 7, 2007

Corrected link - I meant to point out the Survivor-esque membership island where you pay money to go build the community from the ground up. I'm not very good at this.
posted by bunnycup at 10:39 AM on May 7, 2007

Overall, this doesn't sound very feasible. However, it would make for a great movie plot!
posted by Afroblanco at 11:05 AM on May 7, 2007

One square kilometer ... that's like about two acres or so, right? A little more than that.

Anyway ... that's not very big. If it's surrounded by wilderness then it might seem a lot bigger, but I think you're going to be hard-pressed to cram more than a few people onto a parcel like that while still retaining the "solitude" that you seem to be aiming for. And without getting a fairly large number of people, I can't see it working out financially.

I think the comments about partnering with an established group is really the way to go. I'd approach Outward Bound and similar organizations, let them know you're serious and interested, and see if you can work something out.

But doing it by yourself? I just think that there are too many practical problems. Unless you're hugely wealthy and don't mind blowing a few hundred grand on it, or have friends with a lot of money to spend with very little hope of seeing a return, I don't think any bank is going to give you a loan to do it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:09 AM on May 7, 2007

As someone who just got back from significant time in the rural Amazon, it's definitely an interesting idea.

Many people are reeling from the idea that you posed of 'depressed people.' If, however, this was nothing more then a way for people to slide of the grid for a bit to learn to work on the land...I could understand (although, again from experience, readjusting to American industrial lifestyle may be the most difficult and depressing part).
posted by iamck at 11:22 AM on May 7, 2007

The Peace Corps has a 30-40 percent drop out rate for volunteers sent abroad to do relief work. And that's for well-trained, mentally stable people with a significant support system working within an established program. You're talking about mentally unstable people with no training or support system to speak of. This is a noble goal, but it is not a good idea.
posted by decathecting at 11:26 AM on May 7, 2007

Echoing alms : Have you ever lived in Africa or spent time in the African bush?

Seriously, a lot can go wrong in the bush. A lot.
posted by Umhlangan at 11:27 AM on May 7, 2007

I think you need to offer more activities - so far I see (1) finding food/water, and (2) teaching. I get cranky when I don't have decent food, and really cranky when I don't have fresh water. If I were that deep into the jungle, with no quick way out, I would really want to be there with people that I could get along with - a bunch of cranky people who don't really know each other, stuck in the middle of the jungle... What else could you do to keep the guests occupied?
posted by KAS at 11:30 AM on May 7, 2007

One square kilometer ... that's like about two acres or so, right? A little more than that.

Actually about 100 times that (247 acres).
posted by tr45vbyt at 11:33 AM on May 7, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, you guys are right, it's going to go wrong with depressed people there.

This land cannot be donated away, because there is nobody to donate it to. Africa is HUGE, and aid agencies are not many. They have particular spots they work in, and this is not one of them.

And besides, I don't even want to donate it. If someone gave you land in the U.S, would you donate it away? It's the same with any other country. It's my land, I want to do something innovative with it.

I'm thinking now of making a wilderness hotel + wild garden. Sort of like a small oasis with flowers and trees and gardens in the middle of nowhere. Bali-style huts everywhere, perhaps cover the island with sand to make a fake beach.

Perhaps gets some animals to live there or so. Then offer it as a secluded spot for writing or programming, as someone suggested earlier. With a satellite internet connection and backup batteries and the lack of distraction, I'm sure one could be productive.

Extreme programming, one could say....
posted by markovich at 11:46 AM on May 7, 2007

Or, maybe you could bring together scientists and free thinkers from around the globe to your large-scale communal research compound to conduct research in various disciplines, including meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology, electromagnetism, and maybe even more.
posted by bunnycup at 12:08 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking now of making a wilderness hotel + wild garden. Sort of like a small oasis

This is pretty much what the Hairy Lemon in Uganda (that i linked to in my first comment) is like. It's small, the accomodations are comfortable but basic, the owner makes big, family style meals three times a day for all the guests, the goal is to veg and walk and kayak and enjoy the serene-ness. It made me want to open something just like it. If you go to africa often, it could be worth an internal flight to check it out!
posted by Kololo at 1:48 PM on May 7, 2007

I think you should try to work out some kind of exchange program--for every disenchanted American you bring to Africa, send one of your neighboring villagers to the US for an equal amount of time
posted by agent99 at 2:13 PM on May 7, 2007

This reminds me of the plot to T. C. Boyle's Drop City. (Swapping Alaska for Cameroon.)

I like the idea though.
posted by painquale at 2:29 PM on May 7, 2007

You build that camp for "losers" and one of them will see he can become a "winner" just by suing you, methinks.
posted by londongeezer at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2007

First idea: Bad

Second Idea: Let me know when it opens. Seriously, that sounds lovely.
posted by dejah420 at 9:11 PM on May 7, 2007

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