Friday, July 07, 2006

Reunification celebrations

So, for those of you who don’t know (and my own father didn’t despite the fact that his daughter has been out in Cameroon for nearly a year!), Cameroon is historically a divided country. Occupied in part by the British and the French (hence the bilingual tie) the country was reunified on the 20th May 1961. This date couldn’t be bypassed without celebrations therefore, especially considering there are celebrations at every possible opportunity here!

The fact that the 20th May celebrations were billed as the biggest of all the yearly celebrations frightened me somewhat, considering how big the other ‘fetes’ had been! In true Cameroonian celebratory style, marching was involved (including the marching practice and three days off school!), along with dancing and general merriment as well as that evil alcohol substance we call beer.

At school, things are still going well. Club activities have now stopped, as has teaching! Although exams weren’t starting for another two weeks, students no longer really came to school unless a lesson was programmed by the teacher…..and many teachers had already returned to their villages! On the plus side, the marking has all finished as these are national exams which are marked elsewhere, yet this relief was substituted by the mind numbing task of invigilating! FOUR hours of staring at a ceiling (or open air if it was one of the classrooms lacking a roof!) and not even being allowed to sit down. No chance of sneaking a sit down either, as there is even a teacher invigilating the invigilators!!

Other news and I have had the privilege of being invited to formally join one of the women’s group in Moutourwa; ‘Les Femmes Dynamiques.’ There are around 30 women in the group that meets once a month at a different woman’s home. There, we discuss money issues, eat a meal of fufu and sauce, drink a drink, dance around the village and then head home. The group itself provides immense support to the local women who are members. Each member has to pay the equivalent of £3 to join, and this money is saved and distributed when one of the women is in need. For example, one of our members children was ill last week, therefore we provided her with enough money to pay for his hospital visit, as her family could not afford to do so. The group also gives the local women the opportunity to have some autonomy over any money they have. Most of them work selling produce that they have made in the markets, and the group gives them a chance to save it. Each month, the women can deposit as much or as little money as they like which they can access at the end of the year thus providing them with a Bank-esque service! I have only attended one reunion so far, but I am looking forward to becoming a regular attendee…I have even bought the outfit that we all wear! The only thing left now is to brush up on my Fulfulde language skills as the majority of the women only speak limited, if any, French. At least I’ll get lots of opportunity to practise!

Sharing skills...

‘Sharing skills, Changing Lives.’ This is the VSO international motto and it is with this in mind that each year in Cameroon, the VSO education volunteers organise what is known as a ‘Skillshare Workshop.’ A selection of English teachers in the Extreme North Province are invited for a workshop run by the VSO volunteers, with the help of the Bilingual Inspector for the Extreme North as well as the British Council. Each year the theme is decided upon by the volunteers and this year we chose to focus on the theme of ‘Innovation in the ELT classroom.’

My experience of having worked on a UNA Exchange training team suddenly became invaluable as we spent a limited amount of time putting together a training style day for English Language teachers. The day itself involved sessions on lesson planning, how to encourage speaking in the EL classroom, as well as a session run by myself and another volunteer focussed on developing HIV/AIDS awareness in the EL classroom. This last session was of particular interest as it was a topic that had never been broached in previous workshops. What was surprising, and slightly disheartening at the same time, was the reception of this topic from the English teachers present. Responding to the question of the approach to take if a student tells a teacher he is HIV positive, one headteacher said, and I quote; “He should be shot.” Although the feedback from the session in general was good, it is clear that this is an area that we must focus on more and we are already planning that next years workshop should be based entirely on the topics of HIV/AIDS and gender.

At school, the computer room renovations are fully under way and the computers have finally arrived! The only delay is the problem in finding the materials needed for the renovation. For over a month now we have been searching for the tin roofing with no luck. There is a lack of stock everywhere, therefore until this is rectified the project is at a bit of a standstill. In the meantime however, we have set up four of the 10 computers in the staff area and I’ve been running mini computer literacy courses for the teachers. Hopefully, this way, when the computer room is ready for use, a team of teachers can train a group of students who will, in turn, take it in turn to train their fellow students.

The slower than anticipated progress with the computer room isn’t too concerning especially as I have accepted my school’s request to extend my contract for another year! I’d never have believed I’d be doing this back last September, but it is something that I am very pleased about and so looking forward to. Not only would I be incredibly sad to leave everyone here (even though it’d be great to see everyone at home) but this way, I feel that I will not be leaving things unfinished. By next year the computer room will hopefully be fully functional and well established and there are many other projects that we would love to realise, for example building a water pump at the school, as well as constructing disability ramps to make the school more accessible. In addition, we would love to further develop the HIV/AIDS club, which I hope to source some more funding for as well as establish a girls club in the school to better empower the female students. Fortunately though, I will be coming home for the summer so I’ll have the best of both worlds; I’ll get to catch up with friends and family during the summer, whilst come September, I’ll be able to prolong the fantastic experience that I’m living.