Back on the Continent Again

by | Jan 14, 2019

BATOURI, CAMEROON — There is something uniquely special about sub-Saharan Africa. While acknowledging that the African continent is unbelievably diverse with thousands of languages, tribes, and cultures that vary from region to region, country to country, and city to city, there are some things that remain constant no matter where you are. When stepping off of the airplane in Yaoundé, Cameroon and the familiar wall of heat, humidity, and the faint smell of sweat mixed with musty wood, dusty concrete, and peeling paint hit me, I breathed in deeply, a smile formed on my travel-weary face, and I thought to myself, “It’s nice to be home.” Growing up the for the first 6 years of my life in sub-Saharan Africa – the child of international development workers – these smells and feelings are some of the first I ever experienced and are what constantly pull me back to this continent.

While this is my first trip with iACT, and my first time back to Cameroon since childhood, I have traveled, studied, and worked in Africa on-and-off over the last 10 years. After being a classroom teacher for three years, I focused my work on ensuring communities affected by complex humanitarian crises had access to education. Throughout my career, I have enjoyed learning about the different cultures, languages, beliefs, and practices of the communities I have supported and the colleagues I have worked with. However, no matter what country I have worked in or the population I have served, again, there are some things that remain constant:

1. we are all human;

2. we all have the same rights, including the right to education;

3. and most parents and communities prioritize the education of their children and simply want them to be healthy, happy, and have opportunities for a bright future.

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been troubled by civil unrest for decades. In 2013, thousands of people were forced to flee due to an outbreak of clashes between armed groups, and ongoing surges of violence force many people to remain in neighboring countries. Currently, there are over 250,000 refugees from CAR living in eastern Cameroon. Basic needs such as food, health, shelter, and water are all primary concerns for the refugee communities. Further, access to other social, protective, and education services remain severely limited. Although local Cameroonian communities hosting CAR refugees also lack many of these basic necessities and services, there has been peaceful co-existence between the communities with many humanitarian activities in the region benefiting both groups and encouraging peace-building and integration.

By working with our partner, JRS, to launch the Little Ripples early childhood program for both local Cameroonian and CAR refugee communities, iACT will be contributing to these peace-building initiatives and helping to strengthen and expand a critical service for young refugee and Cameroonian children. I am extremely excited to kick off teacher training tomorrow and exchange knowledge with all of the participants. I am looking forward to picking up some local words and phrases, hearing about life at home, learning some new dance moves, and picking their brains about teaching techniques and classroom activities that I can add to my own toolkit. But most of all, I’m looking forward to connecting with them as humans and knowing that through this teacher training and through the Little Ripples program they will be empowered to ensure that the children in their communities are able to exercise their right to education and build a strong foundation for a bright future.

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