Monday, March 30, 2015

On the Road Again

Jump in the car!  Let's hit the road. Oh, wait.  Did you pack the suitcase? Get the flashlight/lamp? Pack the water? Grab the umbrella (the rainy season’s started)?  Check fuel and oil in the car? Get the passe-avant? 

Some of those questions are ones you would ask before going on a trip; some not.  You need the water and lamp because you never know if utilities will be working when you get where you are going, even if it is a city like Yaoundé or N’gaoundéré.  Yaoundé is the capital, but its infrastructure is overtaxed by the huge numbers of people who have migrated there.  N’gaoundéré has regular electricity, but the level of power is sometimes low and sometimes lights won’t go on.

Then there’s the car.  I am down to 2 ELCA cars in front of my house in GB (and one from the German CAR mission) – the others are back in service in CAR.  I came to N’gaoundéré yesterday and had planned to bring the Land Cruiser; it had the passe-avant to come this direction.  Think about wanting to take a road trip to Canada or Mexico or to rent a car and drive around Europe.  What would happen at the border?  There are formalities, right?  Passport check, maybe a check inside the car, then on your way.

Here, to take a car registered in CAR into Cameroon, you need a document called a passe-avant (go ahead, literally) that give you permission to drive the vehicle into the country for a limited time.  It will allow you to go just one place (and back).  So, when I went to Yaoundé, I had to get a passe-avant but I couldn’t use the same one when I came to N’gaoundéré.  Fortunately, since Garoua Boulai is a border town and we know the customs officials, I don’t need any special document when I am driving around town.  But leaving GB is different…

In my logic, since there were two vehicles, I’d get a passe-avant for each one to go each direction.  But, no.  A person can have one passe-avant at a time to go one direction.  It makes sense in that one person can only drive one car at a time… Different logic than mine that would have allowed greater freedom of movement.  Still, if the object is to control where foreign vehicles are, their system makes sense…  So, I had a passe-avant for the Land Cruiser for N’gaoundéré.  I got special permission to have a document for two weeks to go to Yaoundé.  So, all set.  At the end of the week, I thought I had what I needed for this trip.

But, wait!  Let’s complicate things some more.  The Land Cruiser was having some trouble starting and needed some work.  Then, it needed a part they don’t have in GB.  No problem.  Someone was coming from N’gaoundéré and could bring it.  He did, but it didn’t fit!  It goes back with the one that doesn’t work so they can get the right one/size.

Sigh.  So, I took the expired Yaoundé passe-avant and the still-good N’gaoundéré one for the Land Cruiser that won’t run back to customs at the border.  (No, you can’t just use one written for one car with another…)  I now have a month-long document for the pick-up.  It is a double cab one that is actually newer and more comfortable than the Land Cruiser so I guess I did well…

Note:  for a while I was driving a Cameroonian vehicle from the church here, but other visitors came and it was needed.  How could I argue when I have two others I can use.  I just have to plan ahead if I want to leave GB!

So why am I in N’gaoundéré?  I met Willie Langdji here so that we can do the Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluating workshop for program leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon.  Two days starting today!  This is the same workshop we did for Central African leaders in February. 

Hope you have a great Palm Sunday.  I did go to church before I left GB and we did wave palms!  The pastor even talked about keeping them at home until next year so they can be used to make the Ash Wednesday ashes in 2016!

(Sorry, no pictures! Limited internet connection and I didn’t take any, anyway.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Trauma Healing and Some Relaxation

Last Sunday, I traveled to Yaoundé – about 8 uneventful hours.  I came to help facilitate a workshop about healing the wounds of trauma.  This is the same seminar I attended in Bamenda (western, Anglophone Cameroon) in August.  It was in English then. 
This is also the same course that I taught at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai.  In both GB and this time it was taught in French.  As one of the facilitators, I got certified for the next level – I can now teach my own “Equipping Seminars.” 

How does all this work?  The purpose of the trauma healing groups is to accompany those who have faced trauma so that they can begin to heal.  A large part of the process is learning to listen to them – without judgment or advice.  Participants in the group find a safe place to share their stories and to help each other begin healing– as they also get more information about the process they are going through. 

Leaders who want to organized healing groups attend an “Equipping Seminar,” which helps them better understand the lessons, the process used, and to get a little practice teaching others.  After this first seminar and the experience of leading at least one group, a person can return to help teach the seminar in order to be able to lead one (independently or with others).  There is an Advanced Seminar which gives further information about various topics covered and spends even more time refining teaching techniques.  I have not yet taken that final step, but may have that opportunity in the summer. 

I am very impressed with this Trauma Healing Course, written originally in Africa by SIL leaders and now run internationally by the Bible Society (including the American Bible Society).  It is biblically based and also grounded in solid counselling/psychology practices.  I have, in my limited time with the program, seen healing begin.  And, of course, the need is intense in this part of the world.  If all goes as planned, I will one of two facilitators for leaders of the Central African Evangelical Lutheran Church at the beginning of April.  Obviously, their need is also great.

The workshop this week was sponsored by Open Doors International, an organization that supports Christians who are persecuted.  The 27 participants were all part of a Christian denomination, CMCI (the French initials for the Christian Missionary Community International).  These people are all based in Yaoundé and are anxious to start healing groups here in town. 

One lesson we taught explored ways leaders can take care of themselves, especially when surrounded by trauma and when working with people whose lives are full of wounds caused by trauma.  As you might imagine, one way is to relax, take some time off to get distance, and to interact with others socially.  So, I did some of that, too, this week!

First, every day I went for a walk.  The calmest and prettiest were around the compound of CTC/SIL where I was staying and where the workshop was held.  I also walked along the main road sometimes (but no pictures of the exhaust fumes and scads of taxis, cars, and trucks).

Next, the Rain Forest International School (RFIS) staged their high school play this weekend and I had the chance to go Friday.  This is the school where Christa Troester (daughter of my former next-door neighbors in Baboua, CAR) is currently a senior.  In fact, she was the assistant director of “Barbequing Hamlet.”  It turned out that another facilitator of the workshop, Ann, has sons who were part of the stage crew.  When Ann mentioned the play during a coffee break, I jump at the chance to go – and basically invited myself along with her family.   (She graciously accepted.)  It has been a long time
since I was in high school (sigh), but I have been to many school plays over the years and love going.  This one was well worth the effort!  The tenth graders prepared dinner which was served in classrooms – ample food that was delicious.  Then we watched the comedy about a community theatre that stages Hamlet – with advertisements added including a western setting with barbeque.  The actors were great and the play totally enjoyable.  Congratulations to the actors, directors, stage crew, set designers, cooks and everyone else who was involved.  It is so good to laugh!

This morning I went to church (mostly in Gbaya) led by Pastor Ngimbe Nestor.  I worked with him last year in GB when he was the director of the Bible School.  He is now the parish pastor.  Another pastor who teaches at the Bible School was staying at his house.  I also got to see Pastor Ndende Ange, pastor from Baboua who is currently studying in Yaounde.  And, I am now staying for a couple of days with the Langdjis.  More time to visit and relax. 

Tomorrow I have errands to run and then I head back to GB Tuesday.  It has been a full schedule but productive and helpful.  I am, however, looking forward to going back to less humidity – still hot, and the rains have restarted, but GB seems to be less humid and has more cooling breezes.  (I won’t miss Yaoundé traffic either.)

May you find someone who listens, really listens, when you need healing of a heart wound.  And, may you also provide the listening ear when someone around you has need. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

When is Helping Not Helping?

How do we help in constructive ways that will build a better world for the next generations?

As I was talking with some Central Africans who are working with a humanitarian aid project recently and one commented that it is not good to just give people things because then they expect to get more later and aren’t willing to help.  Wow!  What an insightful comment!  This man is working in an area that was devastated by fighting 18 months ago.  People fled, spent weeks in the bush, and came back to burned out houses and destroyed crops.  A humanitarian crisis of major proportions. 

My friend reported that a couple of the villages received monetary and food aid.  (I don’t know the details and didn’t ask.)  Now, he is working with Lutheran Disaster Response and the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Central African Republic in an accompaniment model project.  That means that the beneficiaries are actively involved in all aspects of the project – from planning, to implementing, to evaluating.  Further, villagers are organized into teams who share tools and work together to make mud bricks and build houses.  Later, as the rains come, they will work together to plant and harvest. 
Most people are thrilled to have the support and anxious to be involved.  These are their villages, their lives.  They like having some control and being active participants.  We hope that in working together, they can rebuild peace and various groups be reconciled to a life that includes respect for those who are different than they are.  We hope, too, that they will all be less willing to destroy houses in the future since they helped build them! 

There are, however, the one or two villages that received “free” aid some time ago.  My friend says they now sit back with their arms crossed and ask for more.  Why aren’t you feeding us as we work?  Why can’t we have houses with tin roofs instead of thatch?  Why can’t you just give us the money? 

They got once (or often, who knows?) so now they sit with their hands (figuratively) out wanting more.  Those who want to do “drive-by” giving often throw money at a problem or give what they think is needed because it can be done quickly and the giver can feel good about having done something.  This is (often intentionally) condescending and paternalistic.  In the long run, I believe it is also harmful to both the giver and the receiver.  The receiver will, sooner or later, become resentful and/or dependent.

I am pleased to say that the people expecting handouts are the minority.  (And, they don’t get what they ask for!  They, too, have to participate to benefit.)  But I think their attitude shows the huge advantage of accompaniment projects as opposed to those which bring materials or food or money and just leave it. 

This situation makes me think of a great poem by Shel Silverstein, “Helping.”  The first examples are
accompaniment (not that he would have called them that).  The teams work together to complete the task and then benefit together.  And then there is Zachary Zugg.

Accompaniment is needed in many situations, not just CAR or strife-torn regions.  How can those of us who have more work with those in need in ways that are respectful, inclusive, and based on the true needs of the “beneficiaries”?  We can also learn and grow, but it demands some time and effort on our parts.  And, initially, we may be viewed as hard-hearted or mean that we won’t just give what we have.  It is worth insisting on accompaniment.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

International Women’s Day – March 8, 2015

International Women's Day is a MUCH bigger deal in Cameroon than in the USA.  We have much to learn!

Festivities actually begin March 1 with various activities.  One big one was a food festival from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. outside town hall here in Garoua Boulai.  Many women prepared foods from around the country – they were labeled by region.  I tasted several, including some Ndolé and plantains made by Merilee – pictured here.  (I know her from other food preparation she has done for meeting for us.)  Many of the women used regular plates and metal silverware.  I was glad to see so little plastic (even though my food was on one such plate.)  There was also (loud) music – and the men sold beer… 

Saturday, there was a dance at the Sous-Préfet’s building.  Lots of music and people.  There was also a lot of music and dancing into the evening at local bars.  Celebrations galore.

Cameroon makes a commemorative material each year (with a choice of two color variations).  You can buy the material in six yard pieces to make something or ready-made dresses.  I got a ready-made one.  Here’s a picture of me in my living room – by a painting I bought recently – I almost match, no? (But not quite…)

So if you had such a dress, when would you start to wear it?  I debated, but decided to put it on when I went to the food festival Friday, March 6.  By my house, I saw one friend who complemented me on the dress.  Then, two minutes later, two strangers told me I had to go home and change.  They told me that no one wears the dresses before March 8.  In fact, they said, if I were in Yaoundé, women would throw stones at me for the breach!  It is permissible to wear dresses from previous years and many do wear them often in early March.  So, I went home and changed.  Live and learn.  Note:  I took the photo today, so I am “legally” wearing the dress.

Today there was a parade that officially started at 10 a.m.  Church was shorter than usual with French and Gbaya in one service.  It was over by 10.  I walked into town in the direction of the parade, but ended up chatting with some friends.  Then I decided that parades never start on time – 2-3 hours late is the norm, and it was hot and sunny.  The next decision was that I would not go to the parade grounds.  I am told that many women’s groups march/dance together wearing dresses of the official material.  I am sure they had a good time.

I was invited to lunch with friends (Solofo, Joely, and Brian).  We had a great visit and had our own private celebration.

It feels very humid today although my little indicator only says 52%.  It is hot and I feel sticky.  Ah, well, it is equatorial Africa at the end of the dry season.  We actually had about 10 drops of rain 45 minutes ago, but except for the cloudy sky nothing else seems to have changed. 

Marthe, Me, Gertrude, Pastor Abel
I have spent three intensive days working with two women and a man on four planning documents for each of four Central African church programs.  They worked diligently and long.  The documents that needed the least revision were the ones for Pastor Rachel’s Lutheran Center!  A fitting way to end a blog for International Women’s Day.

What change do you think women need and want that will advance all humanity?  I can’t narrow my opinion to one, so I say an end to abuse and human trafficking.  Peace would be good, too, but that is for everyone. 

Celebrate the women in your life.  Happy International Women’s Day – March 8.

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?