Can you change the world by starting to build a school?

In the photo above: the seven of us celebrate the end of the week with students—and the training program as a whole—by making shapes à la InterPlay. (Thank you, Lydie, for the photo via Facebook!) Left to right: Olivier, Patric, Jacqueline, me, Thierry, Durand, and Lydie.

Yesterday was a day for good-byes. Jacqueline, Olivier, and I drove to Bankondji to pick up Lydie and meet with parents about the program. I will post pictures later—maybe when I get home—our flight leaves Yaoundé on Wednesday. It was a joyful time. Then, we returned to Bafang and had our last gathering yesterday as a team of seven (Jacqueline, Olivier, Lydie, Patric, Thierry, Durand, and I)—first a meeting together to discuss details of schedule and contracts, and then a feast in the evening prepared by the incredible cook Jeannette and hosted by le Père Sylvestre. I was thrilled to get to meet Durand’s wife and 2-month daughter. It was a day filled with blessings.

Today we pack up and leave for Yaoundé, and our time in Bafang and Bankondji is over for this trip.

In my reflection today, I offer some thoughts about the founder and CEO of Aumazo, Jacqueline Audigé, with whom I have had the deep privilege of working intensively over the past two weeks, and less intensively over the past three years.

Jacqueline’s comfort in what would seem to be highly disparate worlds is quite striking. She moves from world to world with both great flexibility and great consistency. She is always the same person and says the same kinds of things, wherever she is, yet at the same time she shows that she belongs in every situation.

For example:

She speaks in Fe’fe’, the local language, with the women of Bankondji as they come from the fields, checking in with them about their daughters’ experience in the program so far. She dances with the students during the closing party. She is invited by the Bishop to have a drink at his residence and spends the evening talking and laughing with him (and she includes me in the experience). She walks into the tiny earth house in Bankondji where she was born, sits down on the chair that was there when she was a child, and describes her memories of the different conversations she remembers having with her father. She is close friends with the Rector of the Cathedral of Bafang. She founded a non-profit and is building a school in her native village, and she has persisted and made significant progress over eleven years despite not yet receiving even one grant. She is the mother of five children, ages 13 to 33. She is friends with the Sous-Préfet of Bandja and visits him in his home. She lives in the US, was born in Cameroon, and holds French citizenship. She is Catholic, goes to church each week, but hasn’t taken communion since she married a divorced man 25 years ago. She speaks truth to power. She takes laundry off the line when she sees that the women who do the housework at the mission are busy, and she regularly asks for a broom to sweep the floors. She is the owner of a construction company and talks with clients about what the company can build for them. She listens closely when people speak, and both accepts people where they are and pushes them to be better. She drives a Lexus when she is at home in the US. She dresses up to go to the office of the Procureur to see about a problem with the land she has bought in order to build a model house, but when she sees that others in the office have already been waiting since the night before, she waits for four hours without giving into the temptation to pull out her wallet or try to find a short cut. (After all, she says, if she is here to change the lives of ordinary people, she needs to stand in true solidarity and know what their life is like.)

Jacqueline is concentrating on girls’ education not because she believes the narrative that girls’ education isn’t important to parents here (that is absolutely not the experience she has had), but rather because 1) the bathroom issue is a bigger one for girls and disproportionately affects their education—and she immediately saw this as something highly fixable; and 2) the international community’s attention to the apparent plight of girls’ education means that there is money available to make this happen. Her plan is, however, not to stop there—she is starting with the girls, but then she will include everyone else. Her ultimate goal is to transform the education system in Cameroon.

After the two weeks we have spent together, I believe that she will be able to do this, because she knows how to build a solid foundation—and her very being is part of what gives this foundation. It’s not for nothing that she has spent eleven years on this project already. Everything she has put into this project has been true and honest and full of love. The people who have gathered around to help have themselves been transformed—and I absolutely include myself in that number. She has sensed, as I have as well, that this is a project that belongs not just to her or to us, but to God, and the timing is God’s timing. When I witness the openness and growth of the teachers and the girls with whom we spent these past two weeks, I cannot doubt this for a moment. Our world has already been changed. And this is only the beginning.

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