This photo was taken on May 20, 2009 at the independence day celebrations in Lagdo, Cameroon. I had been working with this small parent's school located in an Mbororo village near where I was living. The Mbororo are traditionally nomadic pastoralists that move across northern Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, and other West African countries with their large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. However, this community had decided to settle in Cameroon and had been in their village for about 10 years. When I began working with them, they had a small mosque built and the Volunteer that I had replaced had helped the parents form their own elementary school because they were so far from the nearest one. There were about 30 kindergarten (SIL) students when we first started. There were over 150 when I left in December 2010, and kids in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade.
This photo was the first time that Mbororos had marched in the school parade in Lagdo, so people were surprised. Because the Mbororos typically move so much, they are alienated from the education system, but this community had realized the importance of educating their children in the same system that other kids were in. None of the parents in this village had ever been to school, and while they do possess a wealth of knowledge about their animals and the environment in which they live, they don't speak French and they haven't learned about the larger world. But they want this knowledge for their kids.
Ultimately while I was there, we took the students to march in this parade once more and also went to the Feb. 11 youth day parade the next year. All of the kids had never been out of their very small village, and even though Lagdo could only be considered a medium sized town, they were still amazed at all they saw and were overjoyed to find mangoes and sweets to buy with the small coins their parents had sent them with.
The man in the center of the photo is Elhadji Babayo, who is the President of the APE (Association des Parents d'Eleves), which is just the school's PTA. The man with the whistle is a teacher at the school, and the parents pay his salary themselves. At the time, he was the only teacher. There are now three, and one of them is sent by the government, so she has had all of the formal training. Along with CELDIE, an NGO in northern Cameroon, I helped the school become formally recognized by the state in 2009, and thus they were able to receive the same school supplies and benches that other schools receive too from the government. As a result of the formal recognition, the state sent the teacher as well. The other men in the photograph are the traditional bodyguards of the Mbororo, and if you look close enough you can even see one of their bows. As this was the first time they had ever done this, they were worried about the protection of the kids. Everything went smoothly.
In my second year, we started a large project to replace the small wood and thatch school building they had been using since the beginning (and had had to replace several times) with a two classroom cement school building. We finished in November, only a few weeks before I left, and the kids have been using the new building ever since. I was replaced by another Volunteer and he continues to work with the school as well, but they are largely self-sufficient at this point and await another teacher from the government.
Traditionally, Mbororo girls tend to marry very early and focus on duties of the home. However, we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of girls' education with this community, and I really feel that it made a difference. You can see several girls in the photograph.