Monday, February 23, 2015

Another Kind of Objective Writing

Last week I had the opportunity to teacha two-day seminar on pedagogy at the Institut Luthérien Théologique de Meiganga (ILTM – Lutheran Theological Institute of Meiganga).  Guess what?  We talked about writing objectives!  This time (as opposed to the workshop ten days ago with Central African program leaders) students were writing objectives in preparation for teaching a brief lesson.
Group Work - Elisabeth in the background

At left, Lucien, student from CAR
Meiganga is about one hour northwest of Garoua Boulai on the road to N’gaoundéré.  Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson, the missionary who arrived in the area at the same time I did, is teaching New Testament (and other) courses at ILTM.  Through her and the Director, Rev. Dr. Jean Koulagna, I was invited to teach this seminar to about 40 students.  Their levels ranged from BAC studies (the formal – and difficult – test to demonstrate that one has finished high school), through undergraduate and Master’s levels.  We met in the chapel – the room that is large enough to hold all the students at work.  After the morning meditation, we turned the chairs around to face a black board kept in the back of the room.

I took many of the concepts and activities that I have been using at the Bible School in GB and condensed them into 12 hours (11 hours + a one-hour exam).  It was fun to work with these students. Of the 38 students three are women. 
I noticed immediately that their level of education and understanding is higher than the GB Bible School students (who only need the equivalent of an 8th grade education to be admitted).  They could find the main idea much more easily and learned the material much more quickly as well.  I had written the exam thinking of my usual students which turned out to be much too easy for them.  Still, their doing well is an encouragement to them – and to me. 

Class in Meiganga

Class in Meiganga
During the seminar we talked a lot about planning and what it looks like, including SMART objectives.  Pedagogy, though, can’t be taught without content.  In Meiganga, as in GB, I used my personal, informal translation of excerpts of Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s new book The Book of Forgiving.  (The official French translation comes out late in March.)  Forgiveness is such an important, and often difficult, concept to discuss, but it is also critically important for Theology and Bible School students to understand.  (Well, for all of us, really…)

Class in GB

Class in GB
In both Meiganga and Garoua Boulai, the students worked in small groups to read, understand part of Tutu’s text and then to prepare a 10-minute lesson.  Because we had ten groups in Meiganga, not everyone had a chance to teach, but we did watch and critique seven mini-lessons.  In GB there were only four groups so all taught (and I will include the group evaluation in their quarterly grade). 

Like in many other things, effective, thoughtful planning makes everything go more smoothly.  I hope that there is carry-over from these courses into their sermons, school work, and personal lives.  (I don’t hope for much, do I??)

Here’s hoping that you write (or at least think through) objectives and plan carefully so that you meet success in your work and play.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What's an Objective??

We had an amazing training session last week with leaders of all 21 programs of the EEL-RCA. 
Willie Langdji (ELCA regional representative who lives in Yaoundé) and I lead the workshop. (Look we even had modern equipment like an LCD projector, Power Point presentation, and computers!)  It was fantastic for lots of reasons.  First of all, they had to come to us in Garoua Boulai – and they did.  Next, all programs were represented.  And, they all worked diligently and long to understand and begin to implement concepts related to planning, monitoring, and evaluation. (As I write, I am thinking, in particular of my teacher friends who do this constantly and all others who understand the value and hard work involved in planning!)  As an added bonus, we got time to interact socially in a place where we (especially the Central Africans) didn’t have to worry about security issues.  (Lots of side meetings took place, too, on other church-related topics.)

So, what is an objective?  Can’t we say it’s a goal?  In common parlance, we often use these words interchangeably, but they are not the same when considering planning.  A goal is where we want to be at the end; it is long-term and general.  My goal in writing this blog is to increase your understanding of life in CAR/Cameroon, in general, and of EEL-RCA and my work, in particular. I could never do that in one entry – or even five.  In fact, the goal is better reached when I am not the only one working to achieve it. 

Village School Program + Babaoua accountant
Women for Christ + EEL-RCA intern

Medical Programs working together
Village Savings and Loan 
 An objective, on the other had is specific.  It is the result desired for the participants.  Notice that I write an objective in terms of the “beneficiaries.”  I plan my activities, but need to be thinking of the ways they will impact the participants/students/faithful.  This is really a hard concept to embrace – even when people are SURE they understand.  I am thinking, first, of student teachers I have worked with in Pittsburgh.  Their lesson plans generally have objectives expressed in terms of what they, as the teacher, will do.  Of course, we need to be concerned with our actions, but we are not likely to get to our objective if we don’t think about how our information/actions are received by our “target audience.”

Well, it came as no surprise, then, that the leaders we worked with for 2 ½ days last week began by writing their objectives in terms of what they would do.  For example, one team wrote, “Increase the capacity of trainers to teach classes.” (I’m loosely translating from French here.)  The implied subject is their team/project.  The next step for many was often to “put the learners first,” changing the sentence to, “The capacity of the trainers to teach classes will be increased by the training session.” Do you notice what happened there?  The group put the sentence in the passive sentence so that even though the trainers are now at the beginning of the sentence, the action is still being done by the program personnel!  What is required is a huge shift in the way of looking at the task.  What do the project leaders want the trainers to do at the end of the sessions?  What is the result they expect? 

And, to make the task more challenging, the objective must be SMART!  (Look familiar teachers and planners?)  S=specific and simple; M=measurable; A=acceptable; R=reasonable; T=timely.  (I know that the Pittsburgh Public Schools added e for everyone to make the objectives SMARTe, but we stuck with the original SMART.)  So, then, the objective from the last paragraph could be, “At the end of the training sessions, trainers teach effectively so that more of theirs students achieve the minimum grade on exams.”  That’s SMART. 

During our training sessions last week, it took most of the first two days to get to the point where program leaders had written acceptable goals and objectives.  We worked on other things along the way and provided individual assistance and suggestions, too, but most of them got there!  People also got to the point where they felt they understood the difference between a goal and objective and why these both are important for their work.

We also worked on clearly identifying activities and all the needed resources – especially going beyond identifying how much money is needed to explaining how these amounts were calculated.  And, they reorganized their budgets according to activities to better track spending – and to fit into the new mandatory format.  This idea, too, was new for many – to think about the budget AFTER having thought out activities instead of saying, “We have so much money, now let’s start to think of what we can do.”

Oh, then we went into another “easy” task –identifying what tools are needed to evaluate each objective and activity as well as the indicators that the activity is successful or the objective met!  All of these tasks are, of course, interrelated and part of in-depth planning.

Church leaders have, also of course, planned in the past, but they have had little practice with in-depth planning – despite valiant efforts by partners and missionaries in the past.  But, in a country where people live day-to-day seeking ways to survive, the concept of planning for tomorrow, next week, or program activities for a year is foreign. 

I am proud of those who worked with us during this workshop.  Despite all the hardships that continue to surround them, they worked hard to understand and implement the skills being taught.  Most of them came away with a clear understanding of why they are asked to plan and with models of what it looks like.  One person said, “I have been completing forms for years, but never really understood them.  Now I understand how they are connected and what partners have been asking us to do.  I never could have done it without this workshop with explanations and the model forms provided.” 

We still have a long way to go.  Understanding during a workshop does not easily translate to doing in-depth planning with only the leadership teams of projects (some of whom were not at the workshop).  All projects and institutions are to have their year-long in-depth planning forms completed before the end of February.  We will better know then how close we were to meeting our objective, “All project/institution leadership teams write four clear, complete planning documents for 2015 before the end of February.”

The first team came to GB yesterday to talk about the work they had already completed since the workshop.  They had done good work, but had really only understood about 50% of what was presented – but I still applaud their efforts.  After we worked for three hours, they were closer to full understanding.  (Their next revision will show how much closer…)  I hope to be able to work with other teams in the next couple of weeks.  Certainly all planning documents will be reviewed with an eye to improvement.  Wait!  We are doing what we are asking them to do!  We are monitoring and evaluating their work and reflecting on ways to improve it…  I hope this will be another positive model for these hard-working, beginner long-term planners.
  P.S.  We ate well!  Local women prepared meals for us.  And, on Thursday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Anne Langdji’s work in the region.  No, she couldn’t be there with us as she was with Micah in Yaoundé doing other work, but we toasted her and talked about her work with many of the workshop participants!  Here’s Willie raising a toast to her.  The picture of Anne was taken during a serious discussion at the Protestant Hospital of Garoua Boulai when she was here in November.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Gift

When we go to visit someone, we often take a small gift.  Invited for dinner?  Take a bottle of wine
or some flowers.  Staying overnight?  Take a hostess/host present.  It should be no surprise that people here also take gifts when they visit.  The gifts just aren’t the same.

Several days ago, a Central African friend studying in Cameroon came to visit me.  He has come to visit before, of course, but this time, he brought me a present – a live rooster!  Yep.  Not what I would have gotten in Pittsburgh! 

I know that those of you who live in the country or on/near a farm, will laugh at me, but I am city/suburbs raised.  Sure I’ve seen chickens and roosters – even up close.  Now, especially, I see chickens all the time as they wander around the station where I live looking for food. 

I am not ready to kill and pluck my own chicken.  I will freely admit that these are skills I don’t want to learn.  I could, I suppose, if I had to, but… 

So, for 24 hours, I left the rooster in the entry way of my house with his feet tied together.  I had arranged for a woman I know to do the killing and plucking.  Then, just for some variety, I had her cook it for me, too, so I could have a more African sauce.  (Really, it was pretty much what we eat with some vegetables, oil, and, of course, the rooster.)  It was nice not to have to cook a meal yesterday as well. 

While he was visiting, the rooster made little noise – certainly not crowing in the morning.  He ate grains of rice, drank and then spilled water, and defecated.  Repeat various times.  He even managed to get on top the microwave to roost by the end of his “visit” with me. 

As do others here, I take presents sometimes when I visit.  I have to say, though, I probably won’t be taking a live chicken.  Yes, they sell them in the market, but how does one pick a healthy chicken among those for sale?  I have seen people care them in various ways – upside down by the feet, sort of nestled in the crook of the arm, and in a bag.  Still not something I want to learn…

It is appropriate that the neighbor’s rooster is crowing outside my door as I write!  Chicken and vegetables anyone?


Friday, January 30, 2015

Getting Started

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Gearing Up for the Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) Humanitarian Aid project in the Bohong area of CAR.  Today, I want to share some news from the other side of the border.  It is true that I have not been in the Central African Republic, but some of those working on the project have been to Garoua Boulai to get supplies for the work.  They have brought news and some pictures.  Here’s a little information about work that is getting started and getting done!

Building Houses

First, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – CAR (EEL-RCA) went to five villages to explain the project to village leaders.  After discussion, they enrolled the teams.  The next week, they returned with tools – in pieces for easier transport.  Now, teams of villagers are working together and sharing tools.

To build houses the teams are making mud bricks, but this is the dry season.  So, they first need to pump water (with motors provided by the project) into large 1,000 liter containers (also provided by the project – and pictured in the blog two weeks ago).  Bricks are then fired in a village-made kiln to make them stronger. 

Walls are built – with even the youngest helping at times!  Later, grasses (cut in the bush) will be tied together and attached to the roof frame.

Building Spring Boxes
Many springs in the area form small ponds where women have gone for water.  The problem is that this water is stagnant, often dirty, and a breeding ground for mosquitos and other germ-borne illnesses.  The first picture shows women getting water from such a spring and transporting it to their homes on their heads.  (Note:  do you know how heavy water is?  It weighs 8 pounds a gallon – so these basins probably weight more than 30 pounds each.)  Once women arrive at home the open containers also present sanitation problems as germs can easily contaminate all the water and provide other places for mosquitos to breed.

The Project for the Development of Springs (PASE) workers already work in the region around Baboua.  They were included in this project to build/repair spring boxes in the same villages where the houses are being built.  The PASE team also built a roof so that women don’t stand in the sun or rain (when that season comes) as they get water.  The other picture is a women getting clean water and putting it in a container with a cover to help keep it clean.  (Note:  it still weighs a lot! And, is still carried on her head.)   
Health Care
In the same villages children are being vaccinated and basic health care is provided.  I don’t have any pictures of this work yet, but here is a photo of the project team being welcomed into the village.  People cut some greens to wave in celebration.  You can imagine how thrilled they are to have support to begin rebuilding their lives. 

Seed Distribution
Last year, emergency humanitarian 
aid proved seed to some villages.  Seed, though, is still hard to get – because of lack of availability and because most people don’t have the money to buy what is available.  Sometimes people put their money together to try to get what was needed, but the situation is still critical.  Of those who got seed last year, some could not save any to plant this year – the hunger situation was too extreme and they needed to eat that they grew. 
This year’s aid will provide seed in March at the beginning of the rainy season.  In the meantime, the Association of Volunteers for the Protection of the Environment (AVPE) team members are planting demonstration gardens to help villagers learn methods that are better for the environment. 


A lot of work is being done by village teams and EEL-RCA project staff in order to implement the LDR Humanitarian Aid Project.  I am sure that what I have reported here is just the tip of the iceberg.  Along with all of the material progress, these people are also rebuilding their communities and their hope for the future.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Working with the Regional Reps

Earlier this month I was feeling frustrated because I didn't have enough work to do.  Some people I work with were getting a slow start after the new year.  Some Central Africans have become involved in the Humanitarian Aid project I wrote about last time and have had little time to come to GB to work with me as they get it off the ground.  The Village School Program has trained some new teachers and personnel have busy daily for a couple of months and couldn’t come to GB.  (More on that when I have some pictures and a more complete report on the work, but it is exciting, right?  8 people finished the training, 2 of them women.)

I talked to Anne and Willie Langdji by email and on the phone, but Anne said, “Come to Yaoundé where we can talk face to face.”  I came last Wednesday and head back to GB today.  It was a wonderful idea to come.  We have fleshed out next steps (for many projects).  We have worked on planning a training session related to the new (again) forms the ELCA is using for Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation (PME).  We spent a long time working together in ways we could not have easily done on the phone or online.  I've got lots to do again and feel productive again!

While in the capital, I did some shopping, got some printing done, visited with people, etc.  Several Central Africans studying or working in Yaoundé came for lunch yesterday.  The former director of the Bible School in GB who is now a parish priest in Yaoundé stopped by this morning for some coffee.  A couple of people from the USA came Sat. night and left this morning for N’gaoundéré.  And, of course, I visited with the Langdjis.  Micah is of the age that he loves to chase and be chased.  He also has a great new toy helicopter that he can fly. 

I didn't take many pictures because the stuff I did wasn’t new and I didn’t always have my camera with me.  I must be at home here now!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Gearing Up to Build Houses

So, if you want to build 600 houses, where would you start??  This is one piece of the humanitarian aid project developed by EEL-RCA, and funded by ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response International (LDR).  In addition to the mud brick houses, the project will repair/improve sources of water, re-open two health posts, vaccinate children in villages, and provide seed (to be planted as the rainy season starts in March).  The work will be done in the area around Bohong which was particularly hard hit by fighting.  It is also an area where EEL-RCA has been working for years; it is natural to build on existing relationship and structures.

In addition to improving many aspects of the people’s lives, this project is designed to promote reconciliation and peace.  Villagers will work in teams as they improve their communities.  (Yes, where possible, teams will include Christians and Muslims and/or others who have been alienated by the crisis over the last few years.)  AVPE (French initials for the Food Security and Environmental Protection project of EEL-RCA) has been working in villages around Bohong for years.  They have been training villagers to work in teams to develop projects that provide income while also better protecting the environment.  What better place to work and extend the teamwork idea?

As a result of this project, a large handful EEL-RCA personnel, in addition to their regular project work, have agreed to help start and then supervise this humanitarian aid project.  Catherine Naabeau, Director of EEL-RCA’s Health Projects, will supervise the vaccination of children and other basic health services.  Victor Ndolade, engineer and coordinator of PASE, will lead the repair and development of clean water sources.  Paul Daina, Director of the AVPE project, will help organize and train village work teams.  Mathias Votoko, Community Developer for the Village School Program, will help organize and supervise the teams building houses.  Meanwhile, EEL-RCA central administrators (President Andre Goliké, Administrator Patrick Kelembho, Assistant Adminstrator Antoine Mbarbet, and Anicet, church chauffer) will also be key as this project moves forward.  Here in Garoua Boulai, Station Manager David Gbabiri is also helping as am I.  In Yaoundé, Willie Landgji, ELCA Regional Representative, has taken point in drafting the plan, communicating with LDR and coordinating the project overall.  Even more important will be the large number of villagers who will work together to restart their lives.

This week, the “nuts and bolts” part of the house construction has begun.  Remember these will be traditional Central African houses.  Participants will make their own fired mud bricks.  (I borrowed these pictures of bricks being made.  Mathias took them as a part of the VSP school construction program.)  They will collect grasses in the bush to make roofs.  What assistance do they need?  Yes, they need people to help them create work groups and to guide their steps (including training on more effectively working together).  But, they also need supplies.  How can they make bricks without shovels to dig the dirt, wheelbarrows to transport it, containers to store water needed in the process, etc.?

And, on a practical level, where does one go to buy 80 shovels??  Where would you go?  Do you think the Lowes’ of Home Depot in your town would have enough?  Would they have to be ordered?  How would you physically get the supplies from the store to the villages where they will be used?  Logistic.  Planning.  Teamwork of another kind.


Although we checked with stores in Garoua Boulai, no one could provide everything needed.  Instead of asking merchants here to order in supplies, it was decided that David would drive to Yaoundé (8 hours away) where he and Willie would buy these basic supplies.  The hardest to bring back were the 11 containers.  (The 10 are for 1,000 liters are chest-high.  They aren’t heavy, but they take up a lot of space.  The other is 2,500 liters – taller than I am!)  It is interesting to me that shovels and other tools come in pieces – the shovel heads and handles are assembled once supplies arrive at their destination.  It does make transport of materials a bit easier…

Yesterday, Antoine, Mathias, and Anicet came from CAR to get supplies.  They left with two full pick-up trucks and will be back later to get more of the containers.  After they deliver these supplies, of course, and get 43 groups in 5 villages between Bouar and Bohong started on the construction of their homes.

Later, EEL-RCA team members will extend the work to Bohong and other villages nearby.  Teams that work well together and who can lead/encourage others, will be given shirts like the one I am wearing here.  I guess that means I am already being cooperative since I got mine already!

Watch this blog in the future for pictures and more details of the work.  (You could also consider supporting Lutheran Disaster Response and/or the ELCA’s Global Missions!)  Those who were here yesterday have promised to bring pictures of the workin progress next time they come. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Computer Training Project


Since I started work here in CAR/Cameroon the most common question I get is, “Will you help me learn to use the computer?”  (OK, to be honest, this question might be second behind the comment, “Teach me English,” which is an indirect question…)

People want to be part of the digital age – despite the fact that they don’t have a computer – or even electricity!  They understand the advantages computers can bring.  And, they want to communicate on the Internet. 

Partners of EEL-RCA (French initials for the Evangelical Lutheran Church-Central African Republic) have provided money for programs and institutions to have computers.  Some programs/institutions have also put money in their budgets to buy them.  Some training was provided when the first wave of computers arrived, but computer use is still low.  Some programs have gotten new leaders who missed the initial training.  Also, do you remember when you started using a computer?  Was one training session enough to enable you to do all you wanted to do?  Did you even have a clear idea of what was possible (let alone how to do what you wanted)?  Here you can’t buy an Apple/Macintosh and then run town to the Apple store for lessons!  (You can buy an Apple product, I think, in Yaoundé, but PCs are much more prevalent.)

EEL-RCA has started a capacity building program sponsored by Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) and East Liberty Lutheran Church (Pittsburgh, PA) that is teaching basic computer skills.  A leadership committee was formed that found Sani, a qualified trainer in Baboua, CAR and response has been strong. 

What initial capacities are we trying to build?  Principally, communication and planning.  Programs and institutions formally communicate with the EEL-RCA administration and partners through narrative and financial reports.  (Yes, they also meet in person and talk on the phone, but written summaries and explanations are critical.)  Now that humanitarian aid has been arriving in CAR through EEL-RCA, reports and management of data is even more important.  Some leaders have the needed skills (the church administrator, accountants located in each center, etc.), but now more leaders are becoming comfortable with Word (for narrative reports that includes charts) and Excel (for financial reports).  As leaders become more comfortable with software, the hope is that their planning and reporting will be more thorough and clear to those outside of the program for which reports are written. 

Another goal of the program is less tangible.  We want to help reestablish positive contact and interactions among all groups in Baboua: Christian, Muslim, and animists.  So, this short-term project is not just for Lutherans.  In fact, the trainer is a Muslim.  Anyone with a computer is welcome.  (This last requirement has received some push-back; even those without computers want to come!  The problem is two-fold.  Without a computer, a participant would be less able to put what he learns into practice.  Also, we don’t have “spare” computers.)  I have been told that at least two people have asked about buying their own computer so that they could learn and then use the new skills.  So far, everyone involved in the project has worked well together.  On their own, classes agreed to put in some extra money so they could have a coffee break on class days!  As you can also see in the pictures, participants work together in class. Cooperation abounds!

We initially planned to offer two-hour classes a couple of times a week.  Participants were so excited and interested the classes have turned into 6-7 hour seminars twice a week!  In addition, there are now two classes – beginners and those who are a little more advanced.  The initial class was offered to EEL-RCA program/institutions leaders using the computers programs already had.  The second class is open to government workers and other leaders in Baboua. 

In the future the project hopes to teach participants the basics of internet use and courtesy which would greatly promote communication among participants and with others outside of Baboua.  We have run into a major snag, though.  How do people in Baboua get internet access?  This is a town that doesn’t have electricity (except for rare cases, like the Lutheran station that has a generator). Charging computers is already an issue.  We had heard about USB internet keys that work in CAR, but further exploration (so far) has shown that these keys are not really very effective, especially not for operating more than one computer at a time.  We are not, however, giving up on this part of the training; we just need to explore other options to see what we can work out. 

So, skills I have come to take for granted: writing in Word, creating reports in Excel, surfing the net, communicating with others (such as you!) through email, a blog, and Facebook, are slowing coming to CAR.  I am pleased to be advising the Leadership team of this project so that we can develop skills Central Africans can take into the future.