Thursday, June 11, 2015

Artsy Fartsy Time

Peace Corps: The hardest job you’ll ever love.

That’s what they say. Sometimes it just feels like the hardest job ever.

But in moments when you’re least expecting it, it feels so incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.

Tuesday is art day. Danielle and I teach four art classes to elementary school students at Kinders House de Banock. The classes can be as big as 54 students, and two of them are directly following recess periods - so the kiddos can get a little crazy. It’s exhausting and sometimes I don’t enjoy it very much especially when it feels like they’re ungrateful little brats. Madame, give me this! Madame, I want that!

But other times… Today, working with the oldest class, we just handed out water colors and paint brushes, scissors and construction paper. And we let them go crazy - in the best way. In the ensuing near-silent thirty minutes, they painted flowers and soccer fields and circles and stripes, they cut out lions and birds and footballers, and they created some beautiful things. This might not sound impressive, but considering that they’ve never had an art class or touched watercolors before this school year, it was pretty wonderful.
So many colors! So much fun!
These kids have come so far in terms of behavior and creativity. They used to just stare at blank paper and ask, Madame what should I do? Draw what? Where? How big? Or they just copied their neighbors, who just copied us. Now they fill pages with their own colorful ideas. Every class used to be a fight, a battle of wills. Now Danielle and I are barely necessary - and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Look at that smile.
The art classes have also brought us so much laughter from the antics of children given freedom and safe spaces to express themselves. Since day one, we have said over and over - “There are no mistakes in art. We do not criticize in art class. There is no right or wrong.” That has been the best decision. Late in the school year, we decided to introduce them to poetry. With the younger classes, we hung up poems around the room and told them to copy one and draw a picture about what the poem means to them. One of them copied a poem about a stream and then drew a picture of a lion colored in like the Cameroonian flag. If that poem says to them “Cameroon flag lion,” who am I to say otherwise? With the older classes, we started them off writing their own acrostic poems with their names to say something about themselves Nino wrote my favorite: 

Nigeria                                               Nigeria
Immeuble                                           Apartment building
Nous                                                  We
Oignon                                               Onion (spelled wrong)

Their teacher came up to me after my last class and told me: “Du courage. I want to thank you for what you’re doing. The parents see what their kids are doing. These kids are great artists. You might not have been able to give this school everything it needs, but you are so willing. You give all of yourself. Thank you.”

Between those kids, those laughs, and those words - so worth it. 

Showing off our beautiful watercolor collages at school.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Help me and my community!

Hi friends, family, readers, and strangers who happen to be stalking my blog! I'm writing today not to tell you about how I'm counting down until my COS date (12 weeks) or about my trip home (it was awesome), but to ask a favor.

I'm planning a girl's summer camp with two other PCVs - Danielle and Lara - as well as our host organization RIDEV and an elementary school that D and I work at. This will be its third year in existence, and the last two have been great successes. During the camp, we train 20 to 25 high school girls in sexual reproductive health, general health, and life skills (decision making, goal setting, communication, etc.) and in how to be peer educators. The goal is for them to take what they learn and teach it to their high school and neighborhood friends, helping reduce HIV and STI transmission as well as the early pregnancy rate - which is way too high.

The problem is that this year, we were told that PEPFAR would no longer fund the camp, as it was not intended to be an annual funding source. So we're still struggling to put together the money to make this camp happen.

If you want to read more about last year's camp, check out this blog post that I wrote last July. It was a fantastic experience, definitely my favorite project that I have done in country. Not because its a big undertaking and thus was so satisfying, but because the participants loved it and thought they learned so much from it. Maybe all teachers will identify with this, but I live for the moment a class-clown student tells me that I have totally changed her outlook on learning and her ability to communicate with others. #girlsempowerment #whoruntheworld? #girls

If you've got more than you know what to do with or just more than you need and would like to make a Cameroonian girl's day, we would love it if you helped us out by donating. The camp costs about $1500.00 and every bit helps! If you want to know more about the camp or where the money goes, feel free to leave a comment here to email me. And if, miracle of miracles, we raise more than we need, it will go into RIDEV's account for next year's event. To donate, you can scroll to the bottom of this blog post, where there is a widget into which you can input your information and donate directly from there. Thank you in advance :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Highs and Lows of Travel in Cameroon

Or, To Kribi and Back Again

While in the second of two five-hour buses required to travel from Bansoa, West Cameroon to Kribi, South Cameroon (not counting the taxis to Bafoussam, across Bafoussam, or across Yaoundé), I was pondering the joys of traveling. In my mind, I attempted to grade the delightful qualities of these public transportation mini-buses, commonly called "coasters." But even three hours into the trip I had not decided on a ranking because that implies that some characteristics are better or worse than others, and yet they are all so excellent! Here are a few examples, in no particular order of course.