Sunday, February 21, 2016

Making a Living

In the USA we complain about low teacher and pastoral salaries.  We have reason to do so.  The vast majority of both groups work many hours beyond a “normal” 40-hour week and they have a huge impact on our lives: now (for ourselves) and in the future (as they form our youth).

As you might imagine teacher and pastoral salaries are even lower in the CAR and Cameroon. (While Cameroonians have it a little better than Central Africans, both struggle with similar problems.)  Those who work for state schools are paid higher salaries (in theory).  The problem is that they are not always paid regularly.  This is especially true in CAR – it was a problem before the current crisis and worse now.  So, it is better to work for a Lutheran or other Christian school because teachers are paid regularly (if less).

Lutheran pastors working in congregations are paid low salaries.  The national church and congregational leaders argues that congregations can’t afford to pay them more. (That sounds like the USA, no? Even if US salaries are much higher than here, they are low by US standards.)  Those who work for programs and institutions and projects funded in large part by partners are paid more.  No wonder many pastors want to “move up” to work for a project and many congregations are still without pastors. 

Brain drain is another problem.  Pastors, and to a lesser extent, teachers, welcome changes to be trained and to further their knowledge, often with scholarship support from international partners. Great!  The need is extensive.  But once some have degrees, they chose to leave the church to work else where so that they can earn more money.  Can we fault them for wanting to improve their standard of living?  To better care for families? To make their lives more comfortable?

At the same time, there are too many case where positions and needs that people are trained to fill go empty when someone goes to an NGO or even moves up into the central administration of the church.  Although, of course, their skills are needed there, too.

So, what do Lutheran pastors (and catechists and evangelists) and teachers do to survive when their salary does provide a living wage? 

Marc Sourma, a teacher at the Protestant (Lutheran) Elementary School in Garoua Boulai was a participant in the trauma healing class I taught in the fall.  We see each other from time to time; this week he invited me to come see his pig project so I interviewed him yesterday about his projects to make ends meet (and, hopefully) get ahead.

First off, almost he, as most every family, has a plot of land.  We in the US would call them “kitchen” gardens since they grow foods most of which the family will eat.  But, these gardens are MUCH larger than any households in the US maintain.  People grow manioc (cassava) as a staple crop.  They also grow sweet potatoes, yams, beans, and other edibles.  (Mostly starches as far as I can tell, with few vegetables.)  What they can’t eat, they sell in the market.  Think farmers’ market, but one in which some people have permanent shops/spaces and others come as they have things to sell.  Here’s a picture of some manioc plants next to Marc’s house and the ground between his house and the school that has been prepared for the  sweet potatoes that he will plant soon (in anticipation of the rains returning in March).

Marc’s newest project is raising pigs.  He has built a place for them.  As they grow and multiply, they will also be outside.  Next to the pig house, is an enclosed area where he raises ducks - and one chicken.  (In the picture, you can see a duck with the outdoor kitchen and house in the background.) To the side of his house are piles of mud bricks that he and the family make to sell.  (You can see a few in the picture with the manioc and newly prepared rows for sweet potatoes.) 

Remember, Marc is maintaining all the projects and also teach full time.  In addition, he is helping to lead a Healing Group as a result of the Trauma Healing Seminar he attended.  He does have help from his family – he has 8 children, but some of them are still very young.  Imagine.  (Here’s Marc with the five kids who were home yesterday.)

I saw Marc after church today.  (He went to the Gbaya service while I had attended the earlier French one held in the same church building.) He told me that during the announcements he learned about an evangelism project to be held for three days in March – and that he had been named to organize and direct it!  No one had talked to him ahead of time so this was the first he had heard of it.  It seemed willing to help, none the less. 

I guess it is true that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person!  Marc is certainly juggling lots of ball, but with evident success.  Still, I would love to see the say when he, and others like him, were paid a living wage so that they didn’t have to work so hard just to survive. 


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