Two weeks ago, I delivered two letters to Principal Ayompe Haddassah in Limbe— the first was handwritten by one of our students, Nelson, and requested an appointment to interview her about education for his final video; the second was from Josh and me, reiterating Nelson’s request in type with the YAN logo stamped prominently in the upper right-hand corner.    We’ve finally figured out the power of an official looking letter...

Last week, Nelson and I walked into the principal’s air-conditioned office.  We stood by the door while she gave instructions to her assistant and finished conversing with a woman from the secretariat.   When these two left, I approached the desk hesitantly—Principal Ayompe always appears to be busy—and asked if she still had time to talk with Nelson.  “It will just be 5 minutes?”  she half asked, half stated.  I explained that Nelson had a lot of great questions, but we could stop whenever she needed to go.  She nodded.  At that, Nelson sat down across from her and I took my position with the video camera.

“Good afternoon, Madame.   My name is Nelson and I am a student here at Government High School Limbe…” Nelson went on to give a succinct and eloquent overview of YAN and of his project about improving education in Cameroon. He then asked the principal to define education.   Simple enough.  However, after a few warm-up questions, Nelson began digging deep.  “I have read that the dropout rate in Cameroon for girls is higher than it is for boys.  Why is this?”  “Some of my peers say that they do not pass their examinations because the teachers are not preparing them adequately.  What would you respond to these complaints?”   

Nelson and Principal Ayompe talked for 20 minutes straight.  It was clear this was not a common scene in the principal’s office—and Nelson looked almost (but not quite) as happy with it as Principal Ayompe did.  When they were finished, Nelson politely thanked her for her time, and she in turn thanked him for being such an excellent student and then matter-of-factly told him: “We will put your video on the school website.”   It was awesome.   

Nelson and I debriefed quickly after his interview, talking about the tone of the discussion and the information covered.  When I asked him if there was anything else he wished the principal had mentioned, he said he had hoped she would encourage students to take advantage of the resources at school such as the computer lab.   We agreed he could put an encouraging statement of this manner in his video conclusion.  Before class was over, Principal Ayompe stopped in for a visit (a relatively rare occurrence).   “You know you are blessed,” she said to the students.

Similar scenes have been playing out all around Buea and Limbe as we bring groups to interview experts around the community.  On Monday, we took our entire Limbe class to the Limbe Wildlife Center (LWC), a wildlife sanctuary designed to take in primates (and a few reptiles) that have been confiscated from hunters or those trying to keep wild animal pets.   The main purpose of this visit was to talk about snakes—one of our student groups is studying snakes and is interested in improving snake-human interactions so that fewer humans are bitten by snakes, and fewer snakes are killed by humans (one idea Adams had was to put all snakes in zoos…we had an interesting discussion about that!)—and it just so happens that one of the environmental educators at the LWC , Glenn, is a snake enthusiast who collects any dead snake he finds and has an impressive collection of snake-related literature. After talking snakes, we all enjoyed an incredible tour of the primate residences—Glenn knows the names, behaviors, and intricate social structures of all the mandrills, drills, chimps, and gorillas in the facility.   After an hour and a half, I felt like I had met several large families and been given the inside scoop on their feuds, insecurities, and quirky habits…incredible.  Although no one student group was working on a primate conservation project, students took photos and videos, and asked engaging questions throughout the tour. 

On Wednesday, I took four students to the 7th Day Adventist hospital/health clinic in town.   One group was studying malaria and wanted to ask about transmission, treatment, and prevention, while the other group was studying prostitution and wanted to ask about sexually transmitted diseases.   Vivian, one of the nurses there, generously agreed to answer their questions in the second-floor conference room.   Both interviewers and interviewee appeared to be slightly nervous as they proceeded through formal introductions—I kept mouthing ‘LOUDER’ to my students from behind the camera.  After the first few timid questions (what percentage of patients in the hospital have malaria?  Where does the malaria parasite live in the body?  How hard is it to cure sexually transmitted diseases?), everyone relaxed a bit.  When students reached the end of their question lists, the camera was turned off, but the discussion continued.  Ekema wanted to know if prostitutes can get married.  Besskennie wanted to know if it is true that ‘you lose your womb’ if you have an abortion (abortions are illegal in Cameroon, so it is possible that there is a high percentage of botched abortions that lead to infertility).  Shemilove was curious about the hospital capacity: “what would happen if a very sick person came in but the hospital was full?  Would you make a very sick person pay before treating them?”

We’ve had students talk with a farmer about her agricultural practices and a water project manager about water scarcity and conservation in Buea.   Students have interviewed one Peace Corps volunteer about agroforestry and another about government corruption surrounding the distribution of donated mosquito nets.   And the list goes on.  As you can imagine, finding interviewees and organizing meetings for over 60 students with three video cameras has been slightly chaotic…but so worthwhile.  And now, we have three weeks left to finish-up interviews, shoot conclusions, and edit videos!  Wish us luck!