It is still hard for me after all the trips here, to comprehend a government that takes no responsibility to build and maintain roads, offer scholarships to needy students, supply schools with books, chairs and tables, and leave thousands of it’s citizens without access to clean water, electric and safe public transport. But since the French, who were the colonial power before independence, still support the government and are active in business and tourism here, I have little hope for any change. Along with the French, we have big oil like Exon paying the heads of state to transport oil through their pipelines from Chad to the Atlantic coast. And recently I was made aware that the U.S. Marines are training the elite military here to fight the war against Al-Qaida. So it appears as if there are many different Mafias working together instead of killing each other.
The other day I was a high school of 500 students that still had four classrooms with mud floors and walls. One of my friends, a Peace Corp volunteer who teaches here, mentioned that chiggers live in the dusty dirt floors and kids who come to school with open shoes are perfect bait for these insects. The jiggers burrow anywhere in your feet, lay eggs and must be removed with a needle or as some do, with a piece of wood. Secondary infections can develop. I told them to wet the floors down with hot water every morning to kill them and then sweep. But there is no hot water at the school so they asked if I could raise money to cement the walls and floors. Why is our government here helping the military when this government doesn’t provide a healthy, clean, environment. Not to forget to mention, there is no electric at the school and the windows have no glass so dust, dirt and rain enter at will.
After spending a lot of time riding on the back of motorcycles driven by mostly young boys,I wondered if they had been to school and for how long. So the other day I took my IPhone and started interviewing bikers. Most of them had finished primary school only, some had left because a parent died and there was no money for fees. Some had failed final exams and gave up but many did not get the support they needed to learn. Classes have up to 100 students and one teacher. I went into a fourth grade class at a private Catholic school here to check on my neighbor’s son. He couldn’t read, write, spell or count. But I found at least 30% of the class had one or more of these issues. I offered to tutor some of the children during school hours but the priest never called me back so I assumed they didn’t like my attitude on abortion or they didn’t want the word to get out that children were not learning to read and write.
Education is one of the most important elements of building a middle class. But when 60% -70% of the population is living on less than one dollar a day, school fees, books and uniforms are a hardship for most. So a large percentage of students drop out after primary school when the school fees go from 2000cfa a year to 25,000cfa a year for secondary school. The possibility of an available job is in teaching which means that there are too many teachers. Since they have been in an inferior education system, they bring with them poor teaching skills and limited knowledge. Another negative when you become a government teacher, if you can find a job, is the first three years of pay is retroactive after you have taught for three years. I think this is a great way to undermine the attitude of the teacher and the quality of education.? Who would have a good attitude working for three years without a pay check.?
The bottom line is when people are educated, they can demand change.
On a more positive note, since my first trip here in 2009, I have rented the same house from the principal of a private high school. My neighbors are his mother, his niece and her three children. The other day when I was talking with Remi, the 14 year old son, he said that their life changed since the time I first came to Cameroon. “ You funded my mother’s business and educated her on profit and loss, you brought me good novels to read, a radio so I could listen to BBC and improve my English and now eye glasses from the States so I can see the blackboard in school. “ With Vivian, the mom, it’s a work in progress but she has finally grasped the concept of cost of sales versus profit. On her own, she decided whether to raise her price or make her donut smaller. She chose to make her donut half the size of the original and now she is making a good profit. Her son Remi is 7th in a class of 72, which alone is a feat. He lives in a mud brick house with two light bulbs. He used the information and the gifts I brought him to grow and learn. He wants to become a doctor and leave. Unfortunately most educated people here understand what is going on and are desperate to leave. So the people who have the ability to initiate change and hope,don’t stay.