Thursday, February 26, 2015

Like a Busy Bee

It's that time of year again - where work comes and sits on your vocal cords and crushes your dreams. (Oh wait, that's nodes. #pitchperfect)

The school year winding down faster and faster, continuously interrupted by national days of fête-ing that turn into weeks of no school (Bilingualism Day, Youth Day, Women's Day, National Day...) or by testing weeks. That means all my school-related projects - which are most of them - also have approaching ends. This is kind of exciting - the end of May will mean the end of most of my work, and I can spend the last few months frolicking and sitting at the café sipping sweetened condensed milk with a bit of coffee mixed in. (#wishfulthinking) But it's also kind of stressful, because there are still so many things that I still want to accomplish before the end of the year!

Here's a rundown of what I've been working on lately...

1. Club FORTES : An extracurricular program targeting female high school students (though there are now 3 regularly attending you men as well!) to teach life skills and puberty and sexual reproductive health, issues which are not normally discussed either at school or at home. I'm trying to find a counterpart to replace me when I leave at Lycée Bansoa-Mbri, the school just ten minutes down the road, but without much progress. I am having better luck at Lycée Bakassa, which is more like ten kilometers down the road, but as a new school is more engaged and open to change. 

2. Youth For Change : Another extracurricular program, this one teaching civic engagement and active citizenship. It's in partnership with my host organisation RIDEV and targets 2nd year (16 year old) students at the Lycée Classique in Bafoussam. We teach motivated young adults about issues in their communities, like HIV and the environment, and then teach them skills (leadership, communication) to address those issues in their communities. We hope to take the participants on several excursions to see our theoretical knowledge at work in Bafoussam before the students plan and execute their own volunteer project! 

3. March 8th, International Women's Day : My peer educators and some motivated young women from Club FORTES are putting together and educational skit about early pregnancy to present at Women's Day. They will parade in matching yellow t-shirts in *distant* Penka-Michel (the administrative center of my town) and are very excited!

4. Camp FORTES : Round 2 is planned for mid June, right at the beginning of their long break from school. We're hoping to train 25 more young women as peer educators in Baleng, Bansoa, and Bafoussam - as well as giving the girls a "sleepover summer camp" experience that many Americans take for granted as part of their summer breaks!

5. Art Class : Postmate Danielle and I teach art class to four groups of 50 elementary school students at Kinder's House in Banock every Tuesday. The students range in age form 5 to 11, and as you can imagine, this makes for an exhausting day. But the kids love it, and their delight with using materials they've never been allowed to touch before makes it worth it - most of the time. We're currently playing with watercolors - all over their paper, their tables, their floors, their uniforms, their faces... 
(Special thanks to my grandma Kay Duffy and her artsy friends for donating so many art supplies to the school!)

There's plenty of other little stuff going on as well, but these are the big ones. 

Finally, during the first week of April, I'll be traveling to beautiful beachy Kribi for my Close of Service (COS) conference! I can't believe how fast time is passing; only six months left. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Don't Write Me Off

Meet Jonathan -
Meet him today, and you see a teacher
dressed in an ill-fitting button down and slacks
with more children than he can handle
and his five or six year old students can't even write their own names. 
It would be so easy to judge him.

But meet Jonathan at six years old - 
If it was up to his parents, he would have stayed home not gone to school
But in elementary school he was always first in his class and he wanted to continue.
So he found ways to pay for his own books, notebooks, fees to go on to the next grade
he tried working at the market, in the town center, 
but no one would pay him.
They said: you are weak, I will not pay you, you cannot do this work. 
He learned to weave baskets instead.
They were so cheap, he made so little, and what he made had to feed him and buy all these things
but what choice did he have?
First year, he passed his class but couldn't pay fee to go to next level - by only 2 dollars.
Second year, he passed but couldn't pay the fee - by only 2 dollars.
During summer vacation, he bought two chicks;
during the school year, the chicks grew into roosters;
by the end of the year, he managed to sell one rooster 
for 2 dollars 
so he could go on to the next class.

Everything was like this, a struggle.

He had a lamp so that at night he could see to do his homework and study,
but no petrol for the lamp 
so it was useless.
First thing after school, he studied - 
he studied fast so he could learn everything before darkness fell.
Later, they put in some electric lamps in the center of town
and he and his friend would go study in the street, under these new electric lights
(mosquitos and all)
until they got tired of being bitten.

His mom died when he was sixteen
and his dad died soon after
and though they weren't very helpful in his education
it only made his life harder.

But he kept working.
He managed,
and he became an elementary school teacher.

Meet Christophe -
He'll introduce himself as "Christopher, like Columbus
The one who discovered America!"
Meet him today and look at a map with him
And he will ask,
"So these things you call 'islands'
They are surrounded by water?
And these things you call volcanos,
They spit fire?"
It would be so easy to judge him.

But meet Christophe-
Six years old, the student of Monsieur Jonathan.
If it was up to his parents, he would have stayed home not gone to school
but in elementary school he was always first in his class and he wanted to continue
he was discouraged
but M. Jonathan saw his struggle and told his own story
he said: if you work in the market, in the center of town, small jobs
you can pay for what you need
you can do it. 

So Christophe worked, even in the third grade,
so that he could go to school
satisfy his curiosity
answer the questions he always had.

Eventually, his mom died
his dad died
his grandfather died
his grandmother died.
He could not continue the schooling he fought so hard for.

But he still had those questions. 

So he worked - and he saved.
When he had a little bit saved, he said:
"I've heard of our capital, Yaounde.
I want to go.
I don't know anyone there
I don't know where it is
But I want to go."
And he did. 
He met new people and had them show him around the city
He paid their transport and he bought them drinks and he said thank you
And he learned.

But he still had those questions. 

So he worked - and he saved.
When he had a little bit saved, he said:
"I've heard of pygmies, small people who live in the East.
I want to meet them.
I don't know anywhere there,
I don't know where the 'east' is.
But I want to go." 
And he did. 
He met new people and he lived with the pygmies for a year.
He learned their language so he could ask his questions
And he learned. 

But he still has those questions. 

He went to Douala, and Kribi, and Ideo. 
He would go to other countries too
Except he can't afford a passport. 

He still has those questions. 

It's too easy to say:
Africans are lazy.
They don't know how to work or how to save.
Africans are only waiting for handouts, 
from their governments or from USAID.

Meet Jonathan, meet Christophe -
Men who have fought their whole lives

For the things that are handed to us. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Living In Transition

I have been thinking about this a lot recently because the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) of Cameroon put out another newsletter, this one titled "Transitions." Now I'm probably one of about 10 people who reads it (not counting the proud parents) because I am a weird nerd. (I have embraced this about myself.) But anyway, I did read it and it's been on my mind since...

Transitions: the time in-between, neither the "then" nor the "now," the movement sandwiched by the beginning point and the end point, where you are temporarily while  trying to get somewhere else.

Peace Corps was a rough transition from school. No assignments, no one grading me or checking for completion, no set objectives to tell me if I'm on the right path or rubrics to tell me if I'm doing an A+ job. And Cameroon was a transition from America, where I needed to adjust to being the permanent minority and the gift-demanding culture and the slow pace and the descriptive Cam-fran-glais style of communication and a million other things. It wasn't an easy transition. I missed the comfort of home, the support of being surrounded by friends and family, the ease of moving through a culture you know inside and out because you grew up in it. I spent a lot of time feeling dazed, lost, and confused. I also wondered if I had made the right decision.

I shifted to Bafia, where I had a strict daily routine and lived with homestay family who I loved. Then I left that and all my new friends and moved on to Bansoa, where I knew almost no one and had no structure at all. Both places, everything felt so foreign.

During that time, everything felt so different and exotic. Then, almost everything...

"Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories." - Ray Bradbury