Monday, July 27, 2009

'c'est comme ça chez nous'

Two weeks ago, I taught a week-long business seminar in Yaoundé, in collaboration with RELUFA, a network aim to reduce poverty in Cameroon. The NGO organized a group of young students who are currently in either high school or university. The seminar is a part of the summer program organized for youth. I had a lot of fun teaching; being the same age as most of these students really help me connect with them.

For this seminar, I condensed the usual 12-session business class into 5 days. Since the students are still in school-mode, I didn't have too much difficulty covering the materials. The kids really got a kick out of the fact I live in a village. I used a lot of examples to illustrate that the mamas selling food on the side of the street also constitutes as an "enterprise". I find it very important to help people realize that businesses start from those small and seemingly insignificant activities.

The interaction in the classroom grew everyday. On day one, everyone was sort of timid, but by the end of the week, I had to interrupt the discussions because people were getting too wild. The reoccurring theme of the week is when I point out the inefficiencies that exist here in Cameroon and the students respond, "mais c'est comme ça chez nous" (that's how it is here). For example, I talk about the going to a restaurant and there is a big menu, but only 3 things on the menu are actually available. Compare to in the US where restaurants have menus thick like a book and 90% of the time, everything on that huge menu is available.

Students in Class

I attempted to help them think differently and change the apathetic attitude of "well, this is Africa." I really believe it's this sort of attitude that prevents countries in Africa from developing. It's a self-fulfilling prophecies of inferiority that must be changed. There are moments during the lecture where the room becomes very quiet, and you can tell the wheels are turning in the heads of these young minds and that I am imparting knowledge that may be changing their lives. Those are very rewarding and powerful moments.

On the last day, one of the students told the coordinator that he would like to make a presentation on a project for me and the class on the last day. So, the coordinator asked me to leave some time for this. But the time came, and there was no presentation at all! The students had organized themselves and bought me a small statue as a token of appreciation. The gesture was really heartwarming and later during feedback, the students said really positive things about the week but most wish the seminar lasted longer than a week.

Group Picture on the Last Day

Each time I teach these classes, I am amazed at what is common sense to most of us is such eye opening knowledge for people here. A large part of these students are in universities studying economics and whatnot, but they told me my classes were so much more practical and they learned more in a week than their entire time in university thus far. I suppose what's the point of learning economic theories if you didn't know keeping good accounting and inventory is important for the survival of a business?

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