We woke up early on Monday morning, ready for the chain of crowded taxis and overstuffed vans that would bring us to our first YAN class in Limbe. Upon arriving at the Government High School (GSS) an hour and a half later, we were met by ICT teacher Mr. Wilbur, immaculately outfitted in a pink shirt, pinstriped dress pants, and pointed black leather shoes. (Cameroonians like to look good at all times, especially in school.  And in spite of the extended rainy season which makes drying clothes almost impossible, every single student we’ve met has sported clean pants and a laundered, creased shirt).  Mr. Wilbur immediately took us across campus towards the Form 4 and Form 6 classrooms to inform students that YAN would be meeting for the first time today.  (“It’s good for them to see you,” he informed us. “It will motivate them.”) 

In Cameroonian Secondary Schools, which can number upwards of 3,000 students, it is occasionally hard to determine whether classes are actually taking place— there are inevitably students milling around outside of classrooms at all hours of the day. In Limbe, however, as we walked by classrooms packed with up to 70 students, many sitting two per stool at low wooden desks, every child seemed to be listening attentively to the teacher at the board as he or she taught a lesson.  At each classroom, Mr. Wilbur popped his head in and said “Good Afternoon, students”; the students dutifully stood up and replied in unison, “Good Afternoon, sir.”  We waved in at each class as Mr. Wilbur reminded YAN participants about the afternoon session and were met with excited smiles.

We had about an hour to wait before our first class, and so we went to the computer lab to prepare for class.  At GHS Limbe, there are about 25 computers in a locked (and air-conditioned!) room, most of which seemed to be working well.  Many Secondary Schools in the Buea area are similarly equipped; however, few students have opportunities to use the available technology and few teachers have the training to implement computer lessons into their curricula.  As we were unpacking materials and rearranging the computer lab to accommodate group discussion, we heard a loud commotion in the hallway and went outside to see what was happening.  A taxi was parked in front of the school with 20 shouting kids crowded around it, trying to position the limp body of a classmate into the back seat. One student (apparently extraneous to the scene) received a swift blow from a thick rope a teacher had been carrying for just this purpose.  Several students and a teacher piled in alongside their unconscious peer, and the taxi sped off. “Cerebral malaria,” Mr. Wilbur said to us unconcernedly. Apparently, such “attacks” happen regularly—students faint in class and have to be carted off to the hospital where they receive medication to reverse the “madness” that has overcome them.

At 2:30, seven Form 6 students filed into the computer lab, took their seats, and waited for class to begin.  We broke the ice by passing along an attendance sheet, playing some Kanye West (we just offered the music, Kanye was their choice), and making small talk.  Soon, our circle had grown to 24 students, and we began our first YAN class of the year.   (Best student name: Sexy.  He said that’s what everyone at school calls him, and Josh quickly followed suit.  Upon further prying, Clara got him to admit that his mom calls him Elias…)

After a brief discussion about YAN (what is advocacy, anyway?), we dove into a series of activities introducing students to social justice themes and highlighting the importance of technology and social networking to achieving social justice goals.  First, we watched ‘Did You Know 3.0,’ a montage of tech. related facts with a catchy sound track (did you know that if Facebook was a country, it would be the 3rd most populated country on the planet?), and discussed why understanding the growth of connectivity is important to each of us.  From here, we transitioned into a game simulating the distribution of wealth and power around the globe: we spread beans around the room and gave each student a slip of paper with individual instructions on how they were allowed to gather beans.  Some students had socks on their hands, some were blindfolded, others could only use their left hand, or their feet, or a spoon.  After a frantic few minutes of bean collecting, each student tallied up the wealth and power they had managed to amass.  The richest woman in the world collected a grand total of 143 beans, the poorest man had a mere 8.  “Was it fair?” we asked.  “Was the game realistic?  What are the real-life equivalents of the slips of paper you received?  What can we do to change inequality?”

What followed was an incredibly deep and impressively conceptual discussion about how our communities, our country (Cameroon), and our world, resemble the bean game.  Many students thought that the game should be changed so that each person receives the same slip of paper at the start.  “We should all have the same opportunities,” several explained.  Another student countered that we can’t all do the same things to get our wealth and power because we would lose the diversity of skills and tasks that are required for our world to operate.  “What we should do,” she said “is to pay people more for what they do if their salaries are currently low.”  Immediately, many more hands shot up to respond.  One by one, students stood and expressed their opinions.  It was terrific.

We finished class with a time for independent writing (on computers).  The topic: My Perfect Cameroon.   Responses blossomed on each screen (varying in length based on typing speed) as students worked furiously to image a better future for their country.  No one was ready to stop when 4:30 pm rolled around, but we promised to offer more time for their writing next week.

As students filed out, we were approached by one smiling student who had been fairly quiet for most of class. “Excuse me,” he said, “but in the video we watched, it said that ‘we are living in exponential times.’ What is the meaning of this word, exponential?”

 I think we’ve got ‘em.

 Posted by Josh and Clara

(Pictures of students and class time to come!)