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Monday
Jan092006

Up, up, and away!

Well folks, after a long hiatus from life on the road, my bags are packed and I am Cameroon-bound. I am a restless mixture of excitement and nerves right now. I fly out Tuesday, January 10th from Philly and make connections in Cincinnati and Paris before arriving in Douala, Cameroon, at which point I will travel by bus/van for about six hours to reach my destination: Dschang. Hours of total travel (approx) = 26. For those of you who could use the reference, below are some map links. I will be in the West (Ouest) province of Cameroon in a town called Dschang. I will be living with the same host family with whom I stayed during my semester abroad, and will be teaching English as a foreign language in the primary school that is directed by my host-father.

Though Cameroon is officially bilingual (French and English), English is spoken by only a small minority in the southwestern region bordering Nigeria. (Let's not forget to mention the 240+ non-colonial languages spoken throughout the country.) The city of Dschang is french-speaking. Though I'll save the full explanation for those who specifically want it, here's the short explanation for why I think English-language instruction is important in Cameroon: Cameroon at least pretends to be interested in developing a functional democracy. If there is ever going to be hope for the disenfranchised anglophone minority, English-speakers and the English language must become further incorporated into the Cameroonian public sphere and government. By promoting French-English bilingualism, the fissure between the anglophone and francophone populations can gradually be mended (or at least shrunk). Though I can't do this in four+ months of teaching and teacher-training, it's a step in the right direction and I don't plan on brushing the matter under the rug when I return. Anyone else out there want to teach in Dschang? I am looking into the potential of turning this into an enduring program.

I will be in regular contact via email throughout my time in Dschang. I'll be sending out occasional emails to this group so those few of you who actually read them through can keep up the good work. If, however, you're bored bulk emails like these, it's because I don't know what you want to hear! Send me an email with specific questions and it will be more fun for both you and me. Keep in touch and fill me in on what's new (or not new) in your life.

Wish me luck in my 26 hours of travel. Ugh. And stay in touch! (Seriously, stay in touch. An email from any one of you brightens my day.)

Until next time,
Lindsay

Monday
Jan092006

Introduction

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lindsay Clarke and I am currently working as a teacher of English as a foreign language in a small, public primary school in the rural village of Doumbouo, Cameroon. Upon my graduation from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut (USA) last year, I was fortunate to receive a grant to fund a public service project here in Cameroon. This blog follows the progress of my work and, in itself, has been the reason for much of my success here. Though I arrived here in Cameroon on the premise of working for French-English bilingualism as a teacher of English, my work here has expanded as I have gradually come to see the enormous opportunities to enact change.

Just weeks after my arrival in Dschang, I sent a "mass email" home to family and friends explaining the nature of my project and the conditions in the primary school in which I work. Upon first seeing the conditions in the school, I realized that a lack of English teachers was not the only thing holding back these children from succeeding in school. The kids, ages five through sixteen, were crammed into dirt-floor classrooms in groups of forty to seventy students. In addition to lacking basic textbooks and school supplies, the children were fighting a constant battle against the pervasive dust and the chiggers that live in it (small insects that bore into and implant eggs in the bare or sandaled feet of the children). The school grounds lacked a water source, which made not only for thirsty students but also unsanitary conditions. The potential for improvements to the learning environment was, and still is, enormous.

In my email home, I explained my concerns and made a simple plea for people to consider the money they spend at home and whether or not they might be able to contribute a small amount to the development of the primary school in which I work. The $5 that an American might spend on a beer or a movie ticket or some unneeded item of clothing can buy two schoolbooks here. The cost of books, school supplies, cement, and other materials needed to equip the school might seem minimal in the eyes of most Americans, but relative to the economy here in Cameroon, it is enormous. In response to my request, checks started rolling in, slowly at first, but then rapidly and steadily. We have raised over $6000!

The floors and walls of the classrooms have already been cemented and sealed. Cabinets are currently being installed in each classroom to store the textbooks that will be bought with the remaining funds. Fresh, clean water runs from a newly installed water tap right on the school grounds. A staircase has been built to prevent kids from continually slipping and sliding up and down the steep, gravely slope of the school grounds. Plans are in the making to augment the existing school buildings to seal the open spaces between the walls and tin roof in order to keep out the dust of the dry season and the rain of the rainy season. Books and school supplies are already being collected in the United States and France to equip a library across the street at the local public high school. If enough funds are raised, we will erect a completely new, specialized building to house the library.

The work that has already been completed in Doumbouo has been earth shattering. Though I am not personally religious, I cannot help but be touched when I hear that people are calling the transformation of the Doumbouo's primary school an "act of god". To all of you who have contributed, I cannot express enough how much the entire community of Doumbouo appreciates your generosity. No one ever dreamed that changes like the ones taking place could ever be possible in their own village. Your work will never be forgotten.

Please take some time to browse through my blog entries, photo gallery, and documents about Cameroon. If you can afford it, please consider sending a check or making a credit card payment via PayPal. Ever dollar/euro/etc counts. Your money goes DIRECTLY to the cause. Also, if you feel inspired, please forward the link along to friends and family. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog.

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