Five year old Christina’s big black eyes looked up at me. There was a little fear there. She had not seen many people as white as me. Her short, tight braids were sticking straight out from her head, each one decorated with a colorful bead. She was wearing a dirty green uniform with dirty torn sneakers on her dirty feet. My team mate from Haiti, Nissi, had asked in French, “Mademoiselle, what is your name?” A brief flash of white teeth smiled out from behind black lips. She recited a long list of at least four names. Nissi and I were both impressed and thankful to hear Christina’s kindergarten teacher tell the girl her first name.
To our surprise, here in Yaounde, Cameroon, some teachers get to the end of the school year and do not know the names of their students. Learning in Cameroon is often done by group recitation. Some think it unnecessary to learn the names of the individuals sitting four to a row on rough wooden bench/desks resembling something out of Little House On the Prairie. Many class sizes are fifty to seventy-five.
The beautiful teacher mentioned above is learning new education styles. Monique has learned that because God knows each of her fifty student’s names she should learn them, as well. Valuing her students is a new concept but as I watched Monique gently explain to sweet Christina, the difference between her first name and the rest of her names, I knew she was of the upcoming breed of teachers in Cameroon. As I watched this teacher squat to look Christina in the eyes the sting in my heart retreated. I breathed a sigh of thanksgiving because the shouting and abuse that we have witnessed in other classrooms is not going to happen here.
This teacher does not bark commands or call Christina “stupid”. Most importantly she will not use the cane to shame and discipline, a practice still common in Cameroon classrooms. Even though the government recently passed a law prohibiting beatings in schools this is the only method of discipline many teachers understand. Monique has been through one of Chimene Djeumo’s teacher’s trainings.
Chimene is the fearless leader of Team Cameroon. She has been doing this pioneering work here in Yaounde, her hometown, for three years. She uses the YWAM training material, called Education for Life, to show one teacher at a time how to change the course of her nation. We are one of the first YWAM Ships Justice DTS teams do an Educational Outreach. What an honor!
Cameroon finds itself in the midst of a world revolution in education. The tension between the old and new styles of teaching is palpable and sometimes seems insurmountable. But the forward thinking Christian administrators and teachers here are hungry for change.
Yaounde is a big city, 2.5 million souls. We are here at the invitation of ten private Christian schools. To say this has been eye opening is an understatement. We are all DTS students and our team is made up of Lydia, from Sweden; Nissi from Haiti; our four South Koreans are Song, and the Kim family: Dr. Weehang, Dr. Eunyoug and their eight year old son, Joohan. Brianna and I are American. Nissi is the one on our team with the most experience with education in underdeveloped countries but even she has had that sting in her heart for the conditions here. Most of the schools we have seen are dirty, concrete structures. With no artificial light the classroom atmosphere is oppressive and dank. Many students have flat expressions knowing they will be severely punished if they talk out of turn or let their eyes wander.
I wonder if the word “inconceivable” is too strong to describe sanitation in some schools. I don’t think so. With limited or sporadic access to clean, running water how does a nurse or doctor do hand washing education? The way hundreds of children are expected to toilet themselves would be unthinkable in our countries. Older boys are encouraged to urinate into the rain drain. We have seen little boys going in a bucket in the corner of the classroom. The stench of sour urine is just one of the many accepted smells here.
Foul smelling refuse is everywhere. Dumpsters are usually overflowing with rotting trash piled around the dumpster and out into the street. This decomposing, dripping goo is moved with pitchforks by municipal workers. We have seen people from all classes casually litter, inside and out. Having a trash can in classrooms is a novel idea here. Many streets are not paved. Clutter, waste-ridden yards are mostly dirt. Caked red dust is everywhere.
It is difficult to contain our reaction, including condemnation. We try to remember that the people of Yaounde are used to this. It is a great encouragement that so many are ready for change.
We have seen a few oases! We are so thankful for our beautiful, clean home with its veritable treasure trove of clean toilets! It is impressive how many properties there are like this one. And there are exceptional schools. The second one we visited was El Shamah. Inside and outside walls are painted bright colors and decorated with Bible verses in bold script under bright art work. Rain catchment systems provide water for children to keep the toilets clean and wash in. Smiling young people are interacting with fellow students and teachers. The place is full of activity and noise! Change is happening and this is good. Much of the change at El Shamah results from the founder adhering to the principals we are presenting.
We know we are just a drop in a bucket. We know we are only planting seeds. But the work will continue after our outreach is finished. And many in Cameroon have a burning in their hearts to bring about change. Chimene and I are planning to bring another team next year!
“Let the little children come to me. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” – Jesus
By Scothia Orr, Team Cameroon