It’s been awhile since we’ve written a blog, but its Monday morning, Shaun is teaching computer science at the high school, the iPod is playing and a cup of VIA is next to me…now seems just as good of a time as any to jot down an update.
Futlang Bilingual High School (FBHS) is the high school that we have done, now, the majority of our work here with. We can’t say enough how much we love working with the staff and students out there, for they are incredibly motivated, hardworking, and dedicated to seeing the Cameroonian youth change their country for the better. Its refreshing. When we first began discussing with the staff of FBHS how we could work together, it became apparent that after school clubs were an area of need. The school is a boarding school, so students live on campus 24/7 and any extracurricular activities are both welcome and needed.
This year, the school is running a computer club, dance and music club, journalism club, sports club, nutrition club among others. Shaun and Gillian (another PCV who lives in Nkongsamba too) are co-leading the Health Club. They will work with the students in the club to facilitate some health and CPR training to other students in their dorms. It will be a great model to teach the students and have them teach their peers.
I asked to create/lead the Leadership Club. For awhile, I was told this club was called the ‘Special Club’ since they had never done anything like this before. I essentially asked for the 25 difficult and popular students. We all know, even if no one wants to talk about it, that there are students that lead others by the choices the make, and some times, these choices aren’t the best. The Peace Corps has a ‘Life Skills Manual’ available to us in both French and English which walks through multiple lessons on decision making, self confidence, HIV/AIDS prevention, and general leadership principles for youth. My plan is to work through this manual with my 25 stubborn ones.
The clubs met for the first time last week. I’m not going to lie, walking into the school not knowing what to expect, I wondered if I really wanted to commit to leading the club for the next year, but, walking out of the school, I was so excited and am very much looking forward to working with these students. The school staff, who always support our work, has freed up the boarding master’s schedule so that he can co-lead the club with me (which is incredibly helpful since he is also truly bilingual!). We did simple introductions, and I explained Peace Corps and why I was in Cameroon. I opened up the floor for some questions for the students, expecting the first question to be about how they could go to America, but, I laughed as they asked why they were chosen for this club. As it turns out, the boarding master hand-picked the students to join the club, telling them they were going to be in a ‘Special Club’ and no one knew why. Haha! After doing a little maneuvering to politely explain why they were there, we got the questions answered and moved on to activities.
Since it was the first club, we did a lot of team building, trust building, and get to know you activities. Games that I am sure you and I have all played a million times. To these Cameroonian kids, they had never done anything like that before and thought it was great. Similar to when we were in China, the American activity-based education system is unheard of, so if you lead any activity, everyone thinks you are a superstar! I had a great time laughing with the students as they tried to find a way to make the longest line, showing the unruliest of the unrulled how to do push ups for his punishment (in a dress mind you) after he talked over another students introduction, and, explained the value in respecting each other’s opinions and beliefs. It was a great two hours of being able to talk about reality and the importance of coexistence and acceptance, but still being able to laugh and joke with these kids.
We always talk about, and desire, for our work to be sustainable; we hope that our work will continue to go on after we leave in 10 more months. And while there wont be another Madame Willis to lead the Leadership Club or Monsieur Willis to lead the Health Club, these are some of the projects that are bringing me, at least, the most satisfaction. I can hope that working with the students, training on culturally taboo, yet necessary, topics as sex-ed and HIV prevention, and teaching self confidence and decision making strategies, for example, will be sustainable in themselves. That through the knowledge and experiences we can give these kids, they will somehow, maybe, be a tiny bit better off and able to affect those around them. That’s the hope.