Key Word: Epiphany

cross-posted on the GYPA blog here.

I've been creating and executing youth travel programs to Africa with Global Youth Partnership for Africa since 2004, and every so often there are moments that vindicate the difficult months of planning, recruitment and logistics necessary to create a student trip to Africa. One of those moments happened tonight.

After a long bus ride from the coastal town of Limbe back to Yaoundé, our American participants sat together to discuss some of the things we have seen and how we want to contribute to the vibrant community we have all become a part of. After a few had shared their thoughts, one of our participants pointed out that the key word in our conversation had been ‘epiphany.’

What was immediately apparent to all of us is that we have been deeply impacted by what we have seen and the conversations we have had. The epiphanies came in all shapes and sizes; they were subtle observations about what we could learn about human nature by being welcomed into a Cameroonian family home, and they were entrepreneurial breakthroughs about how to use emerging technologies to improve the lives of Cameroonians who had entrepreneurial ambitions of their own. Listening to one epiphany after another, I remembered why I enjoy these programs so much: they change lives.

With only a few days left in our adventure, we are spending a few days volunteering at spots around Yaoundé, meeting a few more NGO’s in town, watching a Cameroonian movie and climbing a mountain, all while continuing to think about how these global partnerships can be sustained after our short time together is over.


Limbe, Cameroon

Apologies to friends who have been hankering for more personal posts. Adventures have been had; words will be written. For now, whet your pallate here...

Our group traversed a country yesterday, heading south from Bamenda to Buea and Limbe on the Atlantic coast. Before we left, our partners in CAMYOSFOP made a moving presentation on ending the small arms proliferation that has caused conflicts in various parts of Africa for decades. This presentation was so powerful that it deserves its own blog post: stand by.

After a weaving drive through the Buea Mountain Range, we landed at the town of Buea, at the foot of Mount Cameroon.



The Lush Valleys of Bamenda

My update on the Global Youth Partnership for Africa blog.

Hello from the Northwest Province of Cameroon and the town of Bamenda! We've had such a busy and exciting few days that we haven't been able to pull ourselves away to post. Luckily, now we have much to report. We spent our second day in Yaounde learning from experts from the Ministry of Youth Affairs, as well as those working on issues of monetary policy and Central African coordination. The American and Cameroonian participants then spent a relaxing afternoon exploring markets for crafts and art.

On Thursday morning, we left the busy capitol and headed north to the lush valleys of Bamenda.


A Week in Cameroon

The palace of the Sultan of Bamun in Fumban is the imposing mansion of an enduring traditional people. The dynasty started in the 14th century, and in the 18th century, the Bamun devised their own alphabet in the century before any Europeans arrived. The museum holds elaborate masks worn by the Bamun warriors who were members of a undivulged secret society. The museum also holds a two faced carved Janus emblem, a tradition which some how made its way from Europe before the first Germans arrived here.

My week in Cameroon has been full of such rich discoveries as I have traversed the country by motorbike, taxi, and minibus, from Yaounde to Bamenda to Limbe and now Doulua. We have traveled in fast forward in preparation for the Global Youth Partnership for Africa Cameroon Immersion which begins this afternoon when 10 American students land in Doulua to spend two weeks traveling and engaging with their Cameroonian counterparts on issues related to youth and the Millenium Development Goals. Keep track of our adventures on the trip blog here.

I've enjoyed romping around the country with Augustine Alang, my counterpart from our Cameroonian partner organization CAMYOSFOP. He is a energetic fellow and has led the charge through long bus rides and repeated 13 hour work days.

However, amid the rampant planning I was able to steal a moment one evening in the beach town of Limbe to gaze, over the palm trees and bright oil flares in the distance, out at the western coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and contemplate my first week on this side of the continent.


1/5 Of The World's Laptop Production

Before catching a flight to Cameroon, I saw Nicholas Negroponte, director of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), speak at Harvard's Berkman Center Internet and Society Conference.

To briefly summarize the talk: Nicholas described OLPC as an educational program that happens to use new technology as a means. The strategy is to give out these laptops en masse to entire countries of primary school students, allowing them to learn to read, write and count in new and exciting ways bypassing other unexciting and unsuccesful learning systems. OLPC already has contracts with several countries on a massive scale. In fact, scale is central to OLPC, and Nicholas does not see this as a gradual program, but one that will be producing 1/5 of the worlds laptops by 2010.

I came away from Nicholas' energetic talk both freightened and hopeful. After spending a year in Uganda, one thing I learned about community development in Africa is that the only thing more important than providing a means for staying alive for those in 'extreme' poverty is to work towards a system that promotes entreprenuership and self-reliance in the rest of the population.

The best long term solution for this is a revitilization of basic education. OLPC is probably a better and more exciting solution than any other that I have seen. However, there is a variable whose effect is impossible to predict. No development on such a large scale has every involved giving expensive devices to millions of children, most of whom have never had anything. This could either cause massive disruption to a struggling school system, or as Nicholas predicts, massive enthusiasm for showing up at school.

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