Sunday, October 6, 2013

Closing Ceremony

The Village School Program's teacher training is complete for 2013!  Two two-week sessions – one in Abba and one in Baboua.  Yesterday was the closing ceremony in Baboua and I had the honor to be present.

Ok.  It is an honor.  And, I was able to go to Baboua for the day. (There and back – even easier than the last time!) This kind of ceremony is important to many people. (But I have never really liked them.)  Here’s what this one was like.

People gathered outside the school room that was used for teacher training and would now be the place for the ceremony.  Teachers from both sessions were invited, but it was mostly the teachers who attended in Baboua who were present.  According to Cameroonian and Central African protocol, people are to arrive in the order of their importance.  (This comes from the French, I think.)  Here was the “Ordre de Jour” (program, translated into English with occasional comments).

        8:00 a.m.     Arrival of Participants
        8:15 a.m.     Arrival of Trainers (I arrived at 8:30.)
        8:30 a.m.     Arrival of the Director of the CPR (state education organization)
        8:45 a.m.     Arrival of the Village School Program Leaders
        8:55 a.m.     Arrival of the mayor (couldn’t attend because of a funeral)
        9:00 a.m.     Arrival of the Sous-Prefet (local governmental official, unable to attend)

2 "thankers" - standing and seated (left)
v  Welcome by the Principal of Péouri School (where we met. We started at 8:45 since all were present.)
v  Reading (This seems to be the greeting of people by name and opening remarks, done by the VSP director since the governmental officials couldn’t be present.)
v  Motions of Thanks for CPR, VSP, ELCA, and IAO Here’s a sample.
Words of Thanks
We, the participants of the teacher training of the Village School Program held from September 9 to October 5, 2013 in Abba and Baboua, thank, with all our hearts, our partners, in particular ELCA, for their material and financial support which made this training possible.
Written in Baboua October 5, 2013
Reading recommendations
v  Recommendations
The participants of the teacher training of the Village School Program, held in Abba and Baboua from September 9 to October 5, 2013, recommend:
1. Follow-up and evaluation of teachers’ use of what we learned during this training.
2. Regular training sessions
3. Improvement of present working conditions, specifically: health, lodging, salaries, and Summer stipends of the Village School Program
4. Collaboration to improve mutual understanding among teachers,  among teachers and parents, and teachers and school officials.
Written in Baboua, October 5, 2013
The Participants (They certainly covered all problem areas!  I would have appreciated specific suggestions, but that’s my American way of seeing things…)
Director, CPR
v  Remarks :
Director, CPR
Education Advisor, ELCA (me!)
Director, VSP
Sous-Prefet (eliminated)
v  Distribution of certificates. 
I prepared some comments that congratulated them on completing the school year last year despite very difficult conditions and for completing the training and preparation for the start of school Monday.  (They will start classes as quickly as possible, but starting school also includes cutting the grass at the school, cleaning benches, repairing the “hangars” (open-walled classrooms), etc.  The state schools are also slated to start
Oct. 7, but we are not sure how many will.  Catholic schools started Oct. 1.) 

I then read the story of the 10 Virgins from Matthew 25:1-13 that talks about the 5 wise women who took extra oil and the 5 foolish women who took no extra oil and eventually got left out of the wedding feast. I told them that, as a teacher, one of my favorite questions is “why?”  So I asked them why they thought I shared this story with them.  They got the point that we need to be the “wise” ones – having what we need and using resources wisely so that the students benefit and we can act out Christ’s love for us through our work.  Interestingly, as in their recommendations, I included relationship among all participants and effective use of financial and material support.  (My talk seemed to be well received and many copied down the biblical reference.)
VSP Director, right, and a participant

As participants came to the front for their certificates as their names were called, different “officials” (presenters, local leaders of the Parent Organization, and me) handed each person his certificate and shook his hand and/or bumped heads. (Unfortunately, there are currently no female teachers.  I’d like to see that change, but it is difficult for many reasons…) 

“Head bumping?” you ask.  Yes, there’s kisses on the cheek(s) 1, 2, or 3 times (French), “air kissing” (other cultures’ imitation of the French?), shaking hands, embracing, and the Central African/Cameroonian version which is to touch heads.  You touch your right forehead to his left forehead once and then your left forehead to his right twice.  It is used among friends/people you know pretty well.  Although I greet people I know this way, I didn’t do it at this ceremony.  (I felt strange and wasn’t sure it was appropriate.  Anyway, no one seemed to have a problem that I didn’t.)

After the ceremony, there were refreshments.  In the US, we would expect cake, cookies, coffee, or something of this nature.  Here some women prepared meat in a sauce (with lots of oil), biscuits, and grilled peanuts.  They also had soda and beer (yes, at 9:30 a.m.!)  The officials ate first and later the participants.  (Hierarchy again…)

I have to say that eating meat (beef, chicken, and antelope or other animal from the bush) here is a challenge.  While the flavor of this meat was very nice, it was tough.  I had to take small pieces which had to be chewed for at least 5 minutes.  I did like it, though.  (I can say, by comparison, that the meat with a sauce with a few leaves that we had after the next meeting was so tough I couldn’t take a small bite and discretely left it uneaten. I liked that sauce better though…) 

So, why do you think that meat here is so tough when what we eat in the US is not?  (There it is again, my favorite question!)

After eating and before the closing was really over, I left to go to the Education Committee meeting of the EEL-RCA (held twice a year).  I was very glad to be part of the discussions which lasted until about 2:20.  We were then fed and I met with several people individually before I left at 3:30 to return to Garoua Boulai.

People to see, places to go, I didn’t even have time to visit my house!  (Although I took a short break during the education meeting to take a sick baby to the hospital.)  Still, it was a full, productive, and enjoyable day.

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