Breaking Ground - Cameroon

January 30, 2006

L'Ecole Primaire de Doumbouo

Here are some photos of primary school at which I work, my students, and my co-workers. These pictures were taken on the day that I announced to the other teachers that my plea for financial assistance from friends and family at home had been successful. We will start construction of cement floors and walls in three classrooms next week. I cannot thank enough those of you who have reached out to us here. The response of my friends, my family, and even people whom I have never met has been incredibly moving, both for me and for the community surrounding my school. Thank you for your generosity, and look forward to pictures of the refurbished school!

January 28, 2006

Breaking ground (literally) - and you can help!

Hello all,

This post is a special one. Please read it! It will make you think twice about spending $5 on that pint of beer, $9.99 on that shirt on sale at the Gap, or anything else that isn't vitally necessary.

After another week of teaching, we are breaking ground at the primary school - literally. Early this past week, I sat down and did my expenses. I calculated my costs of living ($120 room and board each month - a generous sum for my family), transportation ($6 per week), and costs of photocopies, school supplies, and other necessities (about $50 a month). After doing so, I reviewed my available funds and calculated that, if I cut out all unnecessary expenses ( i.e. drink treated water instead of bottled, and eat only the food at the house), I have nearly $700 to invest in the school.

With this in mind, we had the first truckload of sand delivered to the primary school on Thursday. On the 6th of February, masons are arriving at the school to begin the installation of cement floors in all the classrooms. In addition, they will be building a cement staircase. As of now, the conditions at l'Ecole Primaire de Doumbouo are dismal. There are seven classrooms, all with dirt floors. Students are constantly plagued by chiggers, insects in the dirt that lay eggs in human skin, causing nasty swollen sores. The classrooms are either constantly full of dust, or otherwise muddy (if the floor have been recently wetted to tame the dust). The walls of the buildings are rudimentary mud-brick. As much as I would like to hang posters and maps in the classrooms, mud-brick is a hard medium to attach anything to. The main row of classrooms is at the bottom of a steep hill of gravel and dust. Students scramble to and from their classrooms, slipping and sliding. Next week I am bringing my camera to school and will upload pictures of the buildings and classes so you can have a better idea of what I'm describing.

So, progress is about to be made. For approximately $400, all the floors will be cemented to prevent chiggers and provide a clean workplace. The staircase will be a tremendous improvement. With the $300 I have left, I plan to buy books for the school. Here are some figures. In the youngest class, SIL (the equivalent of kindergarten), there are 72 students and only 20 have English books. CP (1st grade): 66 students, 20 books. CE1A (2nd grade A): 38 students; 8 books. CE1B (2nd grade B): 42 students, 10 books. CE2 (3rd grade): 61 students, 20 books. CM1 (4th grade): 51 students, 13 books. CM2 (5th grade): 32 students, 15 books.

You get the idea. And these are only English books. This does not even touch on all their other subjects. Students are required to buy their own textbooks. The school CANNOT provide them. As it is, the teachers (who are wonderful, devoted, energetic, and unbelievably perservering) get paid minute salaries. The English textbooks cost anywere from 1300 CFA to 2500 CFA ($2.60 to $5) each. I would like to buy enough books so that there can be at least one book on each row of desks so the students can share. And again, I'm only talking English books. That task would easily consume my remaining $300.

And this is where you come in. I am not in the habit of asking for money from family and friends, but I realize in this case what an enormous amount of good can be done with what is, for us in the US and other more developed parts of the world, a seemingly small amount of money. $2.60 can buy a textbook that will stay with the school for years and help countless kids. $10 buys a bag of cement, with which the walls, in addition to the floors could be sealed, allowing us to put up posters and maps and drawings. For about $60, pipes could be routed to the school so the kids can have water to drink and with which to wash their hands. $20 buys enough malaria medication to treat dozens of kids - a huge motivator for parents to send their kids to school. I am also in the process of talking to the director of the high school across the street from the primary school. The high school is fed by 12 primary schools. Only those students who excell in CM2 are permitted to attend. I am working to build a library with him through the African Library Project (thanks Kathleen!), but we first need to set up the room and build shelves. Hopefully, if things work out, the African Library Project will supply the books.

In the last week, I have received an outpouring of emails asking about ways to help. Yes, we need school supplies. To the school students back home in the U.S. eager to help, YES! Your contributions are welcome (and I will be in touch with your teachers about this). But in many cases, I can buy what we need here - but only if I have funding.

So, here it is, a plea for help. In less than two weeks, changes are already being made and ground is already being broken. Think what can happen in four and a half months!

A check for $5 will buy at least one school book. A check for $100 could cement the walls, bring water, or buy science books. The smallest contribution can make the biggest difference. Please consider my request. Also, consider forwarding this request to your family and friends who might be interested in helping as well.

Checks can be made out to Lindsay Clarke and mailed to: Lindsay Clarke, c/o Corky Clarke, 218 Lansdowne Avenue, Wayne, PA 19087 USA. My dad, Corky, can deposit the checks in my account at home and I can draw from the account using at ATM here.

Just think, for the cost of a beer or a trip to the movies or that shirt from the Gap, kids here could be seeing unthinkable changes. The teachers at the school literally danced when I told them about the floors. Let's bring more good news.

I hope this request has not offended anyone. If it has, I am deeply sorry.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions for want to know how you can send materials instead of money, please just ask. Also, if you want your money spent on something in particular (books or maps or construction, for example), let me know that, too. If you do decide to send money, let me know via email in addition to sending a check!! (For other news on me, keep reading.)


Life in Dschang

It POURED on Wednesday! This time of year, rain is a blessing. In the hot dry days, the dust on the roads in unbearable. The commute to work (on the back of my host-father's motorcycle) is tough: I ride covered by a cloth in an attempt to block out the clouds of dust kicked up by the occasional passing car. But Wednesday's rain knocked the dust back and the roads are still relatively dust free ( i.e. I walked here from home wearing sandals and my feet are still clean). The storm was crazy - torrential downpour, wind, hail, thunder and lightning. The sky has been bluer since, though the creep of dust is returning.

To my fellow SIT alums: The SIT family is doing great. Thomas, Maurice, Paul, and Boubakari are all the same and wonderful. Paul has a new baby!! Exciting news after the loss of Guillotin. I see Annie (Gustave's wife) often and can hardly peel Benson and Jeff off be to get through the door each time. Boubakari got back to town shortly after my arrival and we've been hanging out regularly. (He's actually sitting in the room now and says hi.) I am getting informal but intensive courses in Fulfuldé once again. Last night, while hanging out at his house (the house of his friend, Adamou, where Boubs stays while he's in Dschang), heated debates about the death penalty and racism moved in and out between French and Fulfuldé. They sometimes forget that I only speak the one language. But all is well here with the program. The new students arrive Monday in Yaoundé and will be wisked off to Fongo Tongo for orientation. I have been talking with the new (interim) director and am going to do some work with the students during their orientation and first week in Dschang.

Other news. I am working hard at building my resistance to the constant barrage of comments about the color of my skin. As I explained to Boubakari and Adamou, it is completely unexceptable in the U.S. (at least in the world that I'm from) to point at a person and shout "black person!" or "hispanic!" or "woman!" or "gay!", but here things are different. I know that when kids and adults alike point and shout "la blanche" or "ndege" that they don't mean offense. If anything, they are excited by my presence and want to say hi, courage to you. But having been raised in a world where I was taught to see past these differences, it is still hard to not cringe when I am called "ndege" (Yemba for "white"). So that is my biggest personal challenge. It is hard to change an involuntary response. I don't want to cringe when called out for being white. I want to respond with a greeting... but right now I just have to work on toughening up this white skin of mine and bearing it.

New pictures! Check them out. I just had to take a picture of my breakfast this morning because really represents the worst of the worse. Starch, through and through. Tasty, yes, but not something I want to stuff in my face. I think I'll go find myself some papaya or an orange or something that isn't potato, root, or bean based.

Thanks to all of you that have been in touch with me. I'm sorry if I can't get a personal response back each time, but I will try my best. I love hearing from you so keep those emails coming.

Wow, this was a long post.

On est ensemble!!

More photos from Dschang

Here are more photos from Dschang. Next week I'll include photos of the schools I'm working in, if I can manage to upload them.

Thanks, and keep in touch.

January 22, 2006


Hello all,

After a few attempts and a couple of hours, I have managed to successfully upload some photos. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to upload half of those that I wanted to because the internet station got too crowded and I was slowing up the entire system, but I managed to get some shots of my house uploaded.

As for news: the rest of my work week finished up well. I was nervous about teaching at the technical school because the kids are older and therefore have developed teenage attitudes. The classes went well, though. I teach all four class years in four separate classes. The fourth year is great: only 30 students, very mature, intelligent, and motivated. Third year is similar, though it's bigger (50 students) and has a few kids in the class who work really hard at distracting the others. Second year has 90 kids, and the first year has 130. Surprisingly, I didn't have much trouble with a class this big. It means leaving class with a slightly strained voice and not knowing if half the class understood the material, but it was definitely not as bad as I would have imagined teaching a class of 130 sixteen year olds could be. I am excited to get back to the primary school tomorrow. I'll be there from Monday to Thursday now, and I'm excited for the extra day I'll have there. Once the novelty of my being there wears off and the kids have calmed down a little, I will bring my camera into school so I can get some pictures to you.

In other news, I'm looking somewhat hilarious right now because I agreed to let my friend braid my hair. So, I've got long "tresses" which everyone else seems to think look awesome because they were well done, but I'm pretty convinced I just look like an idiot. Thankfully, my hair will go frizzy in a day or two because slippery blond hair is not meant for tressing, and then I'll have a legitimate excuse to remove the braids. I spent the day yesterday playing frisbee with my friend Annie and her kids and having the entire gaggle of neighborhood kids gather around as I had my hair braided.

Other than that, not much else is new. I could definitely go for a fresh garden salad about now: the large quantities of potatoes, plantains, rice, and spaghetti are already getting old. A special note for a particular cousin of mine who hates green vegetables: what I wouldn't give for green beans, broccoli, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, anything! Take advantage of the fact that you have them!

I've got a good amount of work ahead of me to prepare for next week - mostly packets for the teachers, since they are much more ambitious learners and we cover a lot of material in each class. Given that there are only seven of them, I can afford to create handouts and am going to use the remainder of my "school supplies" budget in buying them all French-English dictionaries, stocking the schools with good books, and other necessities like that.

It's great hearing from all of you. Keep in touch!


January 19, 2006

Red dust, chalk dust, and the ABCs

Salut mes soeurs, frères, mamans, et papas,

Thanks to the general state of disorganization at the private technical high school where I will be teaching at the end of each week, I have been granted a half day off. I am pretty exhausted after my first three days at l'école primaire de Doumbouo. I started school on Monday morning. The primary school is a half hour motorcycle ride away up a steep and dusty red road. Doumbouo turns out to be much more rural than I realized. The school consists of one long row of six classrooms, one additional classroom building, a building for the motos, and a staff building. The buildings are mud/brick with dirt floors. Much to my relief, every classroom is equipped with a chalk board. Though there are "textbooks", only about 1/3rd of the students own them (they must buy them). I start each morning with the youngest kids (about 6 years old) and work my way up to the oldest class. Six classes, 30 minutes for the first four and one hour for the last two. The kids are amazing. Smart and enthusiastic, though lacking any practical knowledge of English (even those who have studied if for five years). Probably one of the most rewarding parts of the day is the hour of teacher training after school is over. I am working with the seven teachers and teaching them English and they have an endless thirst for the language. I was supposed to start working at the private tech school today, but it turns out they don't have space/time for me on Thursdays, so I start tomorrow and will teach there every Friday from here on out (and Monday thru Thursday at the primary school).

In general, things are going very well. I will try to upload some photos soon to email out. My family is great and I have settled in easily with them and their routine. It's actually been kind of cold here in the morning. I don't know if I'm already just turning week to the cold from the warm afternoons, but it's at least cold enough to see your breath. It makes that early morning (pre-sunrise) bucket bath a cold challenge.

Anyway, only one minute left on this internet card, so I have to go. Write back (and thanks to all of you that do!).

on est ensemble,
Lindsay (Miss Lindsay)

January 10, 2006

Up, up, and away!

Well folks, after a long hiatus from life on the road, my bags are packed and I am Cameroon-bound. I am a restless mixture of excitement and nerves right now. I fly out Tuesday, January 10th from Philly and make connections in Cincinnati and Paris before arriving in Douala, Cameroon, at which point I will travel by bus/van for about six hours to reach my destination: Dschang. Hours of total travel (approx) = 26. For those of you who could use the reference, below are some map links. I will be in the West (Ouest) province of Cameroon in a town called Dschang. I will be living with the same host family with whom I stayed during my semester abroad, and will be teaching English as a foreign language in the primary school that is directed by my host-father.

Though Cameroon is officially bilingual (French and English), English is spoken by only a small minority in the southwestern region bordering Nigeria. (Let's not forget to mention the 240+ non-colonial languages spoken throughout the country.) The city of Dschang is french-speaking. Though I'll save the full explanation for those who specifically want it, here's the short explanation for why I think English-language instruction is important in Cameroon: Cameroon at least pretends to be interested in developing a functional democracy. If there is ever going to be hope for the disenfranchised anglophone minority, English-speakers and the English language must become further incorporated into the Cameroonian public sphere and government. By promoting French-English bilingualism, the fissure between the anglophone and francophone populations can gradually be mended (or at least shrunk). Though I can't do this in four+ months of teaching and teacher-training, it's a step in the right direction and I don't plan on brushing the matter under the rug when I return. Anyone else out there want to teach in Dschang? I am looking into the potential of turning this into an enduring program.

I will be in regular contact via email throughout my time in Dschang. I'll be sending out occasional emails to this group so those few of you who actually read them through can keep up the good work. If, however, you're bored bulk emails like these, it's because I don't know what you want to hear! Send me an email with specific questions and it will be more fun for both you and me. Keep in touch and fill me in on what's new (or not new) in your life.

Wish me luck in my 26 hours of travel. Ugh. And stay in touch! (Seriously, stay in touch. An email from any one of you brightens my day.)

Until next time,

January 09, 2006


For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lindsay Clarke and I am currently working as a teacher of English as a foreign language in a small, public primary school in the rural village of Doumbouo, Cameroon. Upon my graduation from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut (USA) last year, I was fortunate to receive a grant to fund a public service project here in Cameroon. This blog follows the progress of my work and, in itself, has been the reason for much of my success here. Though I arrived here in Cameroon on the premise of working for French-English bilingualism as a teacher of English, my work here has expanded as I have gradually come to see the enormous opportunities to enact change.

Just weeks after my arrival in Dschang, I sent a "mass email" home to family and friends explaining the nature of my project and the conditions in the primary school in which I work. Upon first seeing the conditions in the school, I realized that a lack of English teachers was not the only thing holding back these children from succeeding in school. The kids, ages five through sixteen, were crammed into dirt-floor classrooms in groups of forty to seventy students. In addition to lacking basic textbooks and school supplies, the children were fighting a constant battle against the pervasive dust and the chiggers that live in it (small insects that bore into and implant eggs in the bare or sandaled feet of the children). The school grounds lacked a water source, which made not only for thirsty students but also unsanitary conditions. The potential for improvements to the learning environment was, and still is, enormous.

In my email home, I explained my concerns and made a simple plea for people to consider the money they spend at home and whether or not they might be able to contribute a small amount to the development of the primary school in which I work. The $5 that an American might spend on a beer or a movie ticket or some unneeded item of clothing can buy two schoolbooks here. The cost of books, school supplies, cement, and other materials needed to equip the school might seem minimal in the eyes of most Americans, but relative to the economy here in Cameroon, it is enormous. In response to my request, checks started rolling in, slowly at first, but then rapidly and steadily. We have raised over $6000!

The floors and walls of the classrooms have already been cemented and sealed. Cabinets are currently being installed in each classroom to store the textbooks that will be bought with the remaining funds. Fresh, clean water runs from a newly installed water tap right on the school grounds. A staircase has been built to prevent kids from continually slipping and sliding up and down the steep, gravely slope of the school grounds. Plans are in the making to augment the existing school buildings to seal the open spaces between the walls and tin roof in order to keep out the dust of the dry season and the rain of the rainy season. Books and school supplies are already being collected in the United States and France to equip a library across the street at the local public high school. If enough funds are raised, we will erect a completely new, specialized building to house the library.

The work that has already been completed in Doumbouo has been earth shattering. Though I am not personally religious, I cannot help but be touched when I hear that people are calling the transformation of the Doumbouo's primary school an "act of god". To all of you who have contributed, I cannot express enough how much the entire community of Doumbouo appreciates your generosity. No one ever dreamed that changes like the ones taking place could ever be possible in their own village. Your work will never be forgotten.

Please take some time to browse through my blog entries, photo gallery, and documents about Cameroon. If you can afford it, please consider sending a check or making a credit card payment via PayPal. Ever dollar/euro/etc counts. Your money goes DIRECTLY to the cause. Also, if you feel inspired, please forward the link along to friends and family. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog.