In Bafang, Cameroon

I arrived at the Douala airport yesterday morning, August 14, at 5 am. It’s now almost 7 pm the next day, August 15, and I write this from the mission in Bafang where we are staying. Today was supposed to be the official first day of our teacher training program, but since it was actually a holiday here, we changed the plan from a morning training (since everyone was actually at church this morning for the Assumption of Mary) to an afternoon get-together. Since I’d planned for today’s first meeting to be a time to get to know each other, it worked out quite beautifully to spend time together in the afternoon. It is a small group–just three teachers, one French teacher, one English (as a foreign language) teacher, and one math teacher, plus the coordinator, who is a teacher herself, and Jacqueline, Olivier (her son and the main presence of Aumazo here in Cameroon), and myself. I wasn’t sure if I’d be using my original plan, which included a good bit of InterPlay as a way to create the Circle of Community I had intended for day 1, or whether we’d just spend the time casually talking, but I found that the InterPlay forms just made sense as a way to get beyond the formality of meeting each other while sitting stiffly in a circle. So, after our original introductions and sharing, I had everyone stand up, stretch, and we jumped into InterPlay–first, we shared our names again, with a gesture, and then we did three rounds of Babbling, and finally I had people use the “I could tell you about” form, where each person had a partner and said back and forth to each other things that they could tell about. For example: Person 1: I could tell you about… my trip here to Bafang. Person 2: I could tell you about… the trees in my village. Person 1: I could tell you about my daughter who is leaving for college. Person 2: I could tell you about the students I teach. (etc.)  It was beautiful to watch the group connect and get more comfortable, and by the end of our time together they were saying things like – “This felt like being a kid in elementary school again” – “I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying, and it was really interesting to hear what I was going to say” – “I love to have fun, and this was an opportunity to have fun.” I connected what we had done to what we would be doing with the students next week, and they were very open and enthusiastic.

 

On my way to Cameroon

I’m going to experiment with blogging during my time in Cameroon this month working with Aumazo, Inc. Although blogging has not appealed to me in the past, Jacqueline Audigé’s work through the Aumazo project is so powerful and important that I would be remiss not to do my best to share in some way what I am seeing and learning and doing while I am working with her for these two and a half weeks in August, 2016.

Right now I am at the Casablanca airport awaiting my final connecting flight, which will take me to Douala.

For those who don’t already know me, or who don’t know the history of my relationship with this project, here is a quick overview.

I first heard Jacqueline speak in the spring of 2013 at an assembly at Barrie School (where I taught French from 2009-2016). Jacqueline was (and still is) a Barrie parent, and she spoke passionately about the work she had done to begin building a school for girls in her native village of Bankondji, Cameroon–work that had taken her in unexpected directions, including creating a construction business as a for-profit arm of the business. Her patience, flexibility, intelligence, humor, and heart-centered dedication took my breath away, and I immediately knew I wanted my AP French class to work with her and get involved in her project. We were only able to speak briefly that day, but we connected at greater length at the school’s spring carnival a month or so later, and we decided that she would come to speak with my class in the fall. The rest is history–that first class got very involved, creating an official partnership between Aumazo and Barrie, running the first Gala fundraiser at Barrie for Aumazo, and doing a really beautiful service/project-based learning project over the course of the year. (You can read about the work we did that first year in this piece written for Carney Sandoe’s publication The Puzzle – Service Spotlight: Barrie’s Aumazo Partnership.)

Because I ran my AP French class as a two-year cycle, we had some of the same students in class during year two of the project, and we were able to dive more deeply into the project. We hosted a fundraising and awareness-raising movie night in the winter and the second annual Gala Fundraiser in the spring, for which then-senior Aidan Creamer created two wonderful videos (one in English and one in French), which have been featured on the Aumazo website and on the Global Giving page for Aumazo. You can see his videos here. That video, together with our on-campus gala fundraiser, helped to raise the money for the road that was completed this past year, granting year-round access to the school site.

Year three of the partnership saw an elective class about Aumazo as well as involvement by the AP French class. You can read about the impact our work together had on several of the students here on the Aumazo Impact page. I was particularly fortunate to have one very talented and dedicated student who worked on the project for all three of the years–Eva Rocke; you can see her testimonial on the Impact page. Another student who showed long-term dedication was Edmun Pope, whose photo and short testimonial can also be seen on the Impact page. He was involved for the two years he was in my class, and he is hoping to stay involved in Aumazo as a senior this coming year. Finally, Ebrahim El-Taguri and Michael Abate surprised and delighted me by choosing to focus their senior “Global Advocacy Project” on Aumazo, running a highly successful book drive. I have some of those books in my suitcase right now! Again, read about what they have to say on the Impact page.