Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kekem Scholarships


It has been a long time since I last updated my blog. I have since finished my Peace Corps service and am now residing in Washington, D.C.

While I was home for Christmas this last year many generous people bought bracelets and donated money for a Scholarship Fund that I helped organize and execute in my 1st village--Kekem.
The students who received the scholarships

The members of the Pleasanton 2nd Ward and various friends and family all generously donated to help 25 Excellent Students in the village of Kekem, Cameroon to go school for the 2009-2010 school year.

After receiving the donations I traveled to Kekem and, with the help of the Principal and Vice Principal, created a committee to handle and distribute the scholarship funds. The Committee met and we came up with an application process that would help us to select the most deserving students based on both merit and need.

(photo: Kekem -Main Road)

Kekem i s a village in the west province of Cameroon that experienced economic growth when the international cocoa and coffee prices were high--but has since see an economic downturn. The village has become increasingly poor over the years. The local high school was especially struggling as it was hard for them to have government teachers placed there and they were being forced to pay for teachers that worked primarily with private schools and institutions. This meant higher tuition costs for the students and a lack of funding for many different programs.

I worked and lived in Kekem for one year and saw how even families that seemed financially stable struggled to put all their children through school. Many families do not have the means. A family with three children in secondary school at once is common and if that family were making one dollar a day (which is also common) that means almost three months of labor to pay JUST the tuition for those three children. Many families have more children, and many families make even less money.

Also I worked with youth in Kekem. I taught a Business Club to youth to teach them goal-making, budgeting, leadership and other various lifeskills. It was hard to see how so many looked bleakly to their futures and told me how they didn't see how their hard work in school would ever really come to much.
Kekem Government High School

So I decided to start up a Scholarship Fund. I knew that the fund would help the school, the families and help give the students who were working hard the needed reassurance that hard work does pay off.
After the application process 25 deserving students were selected. Each student received an invitation to a ceremony. During this ceremony the Principal, Vice Principal, and I, along with various teachers and parents, presented the students with a certificate. The certificate represented the equivalence of one year's tuition (about $20) and was to be kept and used in place of the tuition during registration that coming fall. Each student also received two notebooks and two pens. Because all of the recipients were not able to be there that day (many live in the surrounding villages), we created a list of all the recipients and gave a list to everyone present--to ensure that those students would know from their classmates that they received the scholarship and would receive it the following school year. Me with the Vice Principal and the Principal

The scholarship money only represents the money to pay tuition and does not cover other things such as the books, uniforms or other fees. While teaching at High Schools in Cameroon I noticed that most students' families found the money for the tuition, but then could not afford the books. So the majority of the students are without textbooks.

Some of the students receiving their certificates/scholarships

I encouraged the parents to take into consideration that the tuition was paid for and to really do everything they could to buy the textbooks for the students.

Some of the parents

The principal and I talked to the students about the importance of working hard in school for not only professional, but personal reasons. I reassured them that whether or not it is seen--hard work does pay off and their hard work is not overlooked by their families, teachers or community.

I told them that I read the applications for the scholarships and knew that they all had great goals and aspirations and that they are capable of doing anything. I was impressed by the diversity and extent of their dreams.

The students were very excited about their scholarships, notebooks and pens. Many of them came up to me afterward and wanted to tell me more about their goals. They were excited and grateful.

Even more so were the parents. Parents enthusiastically shook my hands and extended their thanks to all of the donors. Everyone was very impressed with the transparency and efficiency of the scholarship fund project.

The Scholarship Fund of Kekem was very successful and on behalf of those who received the scholarship I want to say THANK YOU to all of the generous donors. It really did make a difference.