The Central African Region is made up of two countries - Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). That being so, there is one college in each of these countries. This article on education is based on the result of the educational encounters gained with students in educating them to reach remote places.
The coldness that characterises modern man today is a challenge faced by all those who have the responsibility of supervising and educating the children entrusted to them by the Church. Hence, there is often a noticeable gulf between the centre where well-to-do children are the majority, and the periphery, that comprises the underprivileged and the excluded. This reality raises questions of how do we educate our students to go to remote areas, and what educational encounters with our students have been put in place to reach out to remote places. Far from undermining our pedagogical spirit, such questions represent a challenge for us in the way we educate these sensitive souls that the Lord places in our poor hands; the challenge of ensuring their positive and complete transformation so as, in their turn, they will ensure the continual chain of transformation and development of humanity.
With this in mind, we ensure they receive a sound general education through an approach based on Human and Religious Formation (HRF) to be sensitive to all needs (difficulties/concerns) around them.
We wish to distance our students from the culture of indifference so that a spirit of solidarity and generosity be their leitmotif. In other words, we are seeking ways to train young workers for future work in the field of the Lord to give hope to all those who suffer around them, and the hope of accessing the light of the Gospel.
As a point of fact, for several years now, at the CPA (Collège Polyvalent Assomption) in Bafoussam (Cameroon) a yearning for generosity and solidarity has characterised many of our students, a case in point being one student – Martin - from a disadvantaged family who benefited from the spontaneous and voluntary assistance of his classmates and the educational community during his surgery. Today, little Martin is determined to continue his studies in good health in the higher class of the CPA. The same goes for another student in the ESF Terminale class (Final year in Socio-Economics) who, since 3rd grade, has been doing small paid jobs during the holidays at the school to pay for his education. Already this year, the students of the Terminale F8A class (Final year French and English) supported their classmate who, due to lack of financial means, had not been able to compile and send his file for the official exam. At our institutional level, some social cases have been welcomed and helped by the Sisters of the Assumption so that they can benefit free-of-charge without discrimination from lessons like all other pupils. The warm welcome given to some internally displaced students following the war in the North-west and South-west regions of Cameroon is another illustration. Likewise, in the framework of the visits to companies that our students in the technical programme make during their practical training; they set aside some time away from the workshops and laboratories of the CPA to see what is happening elsewhere around them.
Students from the F8 programme (science and technology of health and social work), in addition to hospitals and health centres, also visit centres for the visually and hearing impaired such as the CISPAM (Centre d'Intégration Scolaire Professionnelle pour Aveugles et Malvoyants) (Centre for the Professional Integration of the Blind and the Sight-impaired) so as to get a feel for the reality of this category of students and to better help them by sharing their sufferings.
Here, charity and generosity are also the order of the day, as during these visits each pupil provides a donation in kind (soap, rice, beans, clothes and much more).
In order to improve their skills, students from the F7 programme (biological and medical sciences and techniques) visit the centres where there are laboratories. During the open days, our students carry out experiments at a low cost to allow the poorest have access to them. Other elements are also free of charge.
An exemplary experience from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Lycée Mpiko)
Student encounters in remote location
Since September 2018, several groups called "Friends of the Poor" have been set up in the school which work very well - better than all the others - because the students and the teachers who supervise them are very responsive to the cause of the little ones. During their annual project, they have several actions to carry out: in particular, visiting the sick in a public hospital – St Joseph’s - run by a diocesan congregation that takes in the poor; visiting an orphanage and a reception centre run by the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta which shelters the homeless, mentally-ill children and abandoned old people - in short, all people rejected by society.
How this group works
Every Wednesday after school, they meet to reflect, plan and evaluate their actions. They consider how best to raise the necessary funds to share with the neediest. The students contribute by taking from their pocket money; they go without breakfast or snacks which they normally buy at the school market (the ladies come to sell the students food) and donate the money instead. They also ask the other students in the school to participate in their actions by giving a little. As soon as they collect the amount they need, they buy food to share it in one of the above-mentioned sites. The students come back transformed; the contact with the reality of remote localities shows them that part of their brothers and sisters in humanity suffers more than they do and need them. They discover the need to alleviate the misery of the other in some way. Some sensitive students shed tears when they see the suffering of the people they visit. The review after the visits helps them a great deal to find a balance, to sort things out and to take courage to start all over again. They are all teenagers.
During the school year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we stopped all extracurricular activities which were nevertheless beneficial for our pupils. We will revert to them after the confinement.
In short, our experiences are legion and we have drawn from only a few of them. They show that the sensitisation carried out within the framework of Human and Religious Education is bearing good fruit.
At the end of the day, we have high hopes for the future. For example, within the framework of the "Young Assumption", we could create agricultural farms in which needy but ambitious people could carry out small remunerative tasks, the income from which would allow them to learn, train and study in order to be useful to themselves and to society.
In this way, our learners in both Kinshasa and Bafoussam will become trees that bear better fruit, because they are planted on the fertile ground of faith in God, love of neighbour and well-thought-out solidarity. Nonetheless, one should never lose sight of the fact that in our environment there are people who play the needy with the intention of begging. Hence the importance of listening and going out to the field in order to provide truly objective assistance. To these experiences in Cameroon, let us add those of our brothers and sisters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Mpiko College in Kinshasa, although our realities are in fact not totally identical, we share similar experiences and feelings (learners and educators) in terms of the global vision of the remote localities in our respective environments. Therefore, our objectives and our deep aspirations tend towards one common point. That is "to help man stand on his own two feet" (M.E).
Sr Delphine Grace
Referent for Central Africa