Monday we had our first YAN meeting – and only about 4 out of 20 people came and those 4 didn’t expect to stay – they were just there to pick up permission slips.  Needless to say I was disheartened but not dissuaded.  We had 200 people applying – there was no way that out of those we picked there were only 4 who wanted to participate.  When asked, most responded that they didn’t know when the class would be – obviously I was lacking on my outreach.  So, at 4PM an hour after class was supposed to start I papered the school with signs for YAN students to report for class Tuesday and those who want to be part of the class should come sign up for the waiting list.


The next day we had a nearly full class and a good-sized waiting list to cull from.  We need to get these students engaged asap so they don’t miss anything more than they already have.  I’ll be looking at their applications, inputting their data, and Mr. Awkwagna will notify the students so they can just right into the podcast lessons.  I’m going to offer catch up courses for them to set up their email and Facebook accounts.  Nothing ever goes exactly as planned – in Africa or in community organizing – and that bring me to what I really want to speak about in this post. 


We played the penny game – with peanuts.  100 peanuts were spread across the table.  The children gathered around – some with their hands bound – and eagerly gathered as many peanuts as the could.  The only rule was you couldn’t touch another person - peanuts were stolen, they used their bodies as barriers, and they fumbled across the table in frenzy.  In the end the players had their piles – large and small.  I stepped in and took three handfuls from one player and gave it to another.  Then I asked, would anyone like to give some peanuts to someone else?  Only one child answered yes and then game pushed on.   


We talked about how these peanuts could represent all the resources one needs to live and what those resources are:  education, food, water, shelter, healthcare – the basics – but also the less tangible things like money, free time, games, and love.  The group was divide into 3 teams – those with the fewest peanuts, a middle group, and those with the most.  Then each group decided how they felt the peanuts should be split up to eat.  The answers were surprising:  the middle group thought all the peanuts should be pooled together and split evenly.  The group with the least believed that everyone should keep what share they have a split it among themselves (although they did not understand that they had an option to think about the other groups peanuts).  The top group believed they were entitled to keep 40 percent of their peanuts – they would give away 60 percent with the larger share (40 percent) going to those with the least and the rest to the middle group.


After some discussion it became clear that the whole group could not get excited about any of the suggestions.  The group with the least obviously wanted to recant their suggestion and support the group with the most.  The middle group was not interested in this idea since it would mean they would then have the least.  The top group didn’t want to lose their position by evenly splitting up all of the peanuts.  We put it to a vote – but then I threw in a twist.  Those with the least, who represented the majority of the group, would have a half vote per person.  The middle group – the smallest - would have one vote per person and the top group would each get five votes per person.  So, that group decided that their idea would pass.  I asked if the group thought this was fair.  Many said no and that I was playing favorites – but none felt compelled to make their case.


Flash forward – we’ve evenly divided our peanuts and the kids are all happily crunching along preparing their presentations on how access to resources does and does not impact a person’s rights and responsibilities.  The discussions that followed shed some light on the choices the kids made and the acceptance of my ruling. 


Almost universally the kids thought that those with better access to resources have a responsibility to share them – either through charity or investment.  When asked what would compel those with more resources to share them only one child came up with an answer – pity.  I suggested – well, if the rich don’t build hospitals then the people who work in their factories, buy their goods, and drive their taxis would not be able to work.  The rich people couldn’t make money without the poor people.  Blank faces.


Some groups thought that everyone had the same rights – but also believe that “making the rules” was a responsibility of the higher classes while “respecting the rules” was the responsibility of the lower classes.  I asked, what about unjust laws like Apartheid in South Africa?  Some brought up unions this time – that the unions, which were very recently allowed in Cameroon, were allowed to protest when a law was unjust.  But, that they should not protest over every little thing.  Then I asked, well who decides what is protest worthy and what is just a little thing.  More blank faces. 


The class was ending due to time so I brought the main point home – the people with the most resources depend on the people with the least to maintain those resources.  Their power is their wealth and our power is our numbers and what we do together.  I didn’t have time to read the story about a young Canadian activist with an idea to stop child labor.  Instead, I asked them to think about the problems in their community and the people who are affected by that problem.  Their assignment was to do one thing this week to help those people, “one small thing can make a huge difference and I would like you to try and make a difference this week.”


I thought I would hear groans – I should have known that African students are far to well behaved to ever groan at a teacher in class.  Instead, I got smiles and a distinct look of excitement.  I walked about excited too.  These kids may not know it yet but they are ripe for empowerment.  They instinctively know that it’s not fair to hold all the resources for a small group, but right now they don’t know what they can do about it.  I can’t wait to hear what they did over the week and to read them the story about youth activists.  Then, it’s on to set up email and Facebook accounts so we can get started broadcasting our ideas for change.


I’m also looking forward to the first Connecting Classroom video – which should be up by next weekend.  If you’ve got video’s to contribute post the link on our FB group page and we’ll link to it from here!  It may be hard work to organize communities for social justice – but it’s work I am proud to do.