Cameroon / Life / Love / Peace Corps / Volunteering

Great Beginnings

“Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes.”
–Dr. James Dobson

I wrote this on the last line of my letter to Franck, signed it “Maman Tara Lynn Smith” in pink ink, and sealed in an envelope the most personal letter I’ve ever written in my history with the French language. I attached a piece of paper in which I printed in large, bold font: “Discipline is remembering what you want.” I had meant for Franck to be surprised with this letter of encouragement and motivation as he was unpacking alone in his dorm room, but the second guard of inspection at Fultang found it first. Whipping it out, he looked at me and asked “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” Franck smirked at me the way he does when he is pleasantly surprised, and I responded that it was a letter. The guard shrugged and put the letter back into his bag full of all of the Fultang mandated items. A few seconds later, he took out a packet of clothespins, opened it, removed five, and gave the rest back to me. That was all he needed, the guard told me. Ernest leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Ils sont serieux”: They are serious. Like the military, the school expects that every student has the same everything, to break down social classes between the poorest orphan children (although my guess is there’s probably only one…) and the child who’s father is the richest journalist writer in the country, the students whose parents dropped them off in their personal sports cars, and the children whose parents don’t even live within the country. My vision had so far unfolded the way I hoped it would, and they had even let Franck take his Rocket’s back pack with him (Thanks Dad, he LOVES that backpack; and for that matter, he loves everything that’s the color red now!), but when I tried following Franck into the dormitory, I was stopped by one of the discipline masters. Parents are not allowed on the first day entering, because of past instances when mothers would demand their child get the best bunk, throw fits, etc. etc. So I sat down next to this discipline master and tried to act as unemotional and understanding as possible. I was able to send my camera with Franck so that I could at least see what the room he’s sleeping in looked like. To my surprise, he returned to show me photos he had taken of friends he had already made in the dorm. It was just like Franck to have already made buddies after only twenty minutes of being on campus. Two of the boys walked out with him and told me that they worried about his armoire, that the lock was not a very good one. I thought it was really nice of these boys to care so much to tell us, so after paying the intendent to fix the lock, we offered Franck’s new friends the muffins that were refused to be brought on campus. The kids quickly emptied the Ziploc bag in the guarded entrance way, I was told by his friends that I needed to spend encore more money to send tapioca for him to eat- and then in a flash, I was hugging Franck, probably embarrassing him in saying “Je t’aime”, and then he disappeared back to the dormitory. Ernest and I returned to the other side of the brick barrier.

Is this what parenting is like?! Loving a child, getting used to them around, and just when you think it’s the best thing for everyone for them to spread their wings to another land, you suddenly find it incredibly painful?! I’m sincerely excited for Franck and his beginnings at his best chance for educational success, but my first night is perhaps more frightful than his. Samy, Franck, Tim… have all vanished from my every day life. I’ve kept everyone else at a distance. Even my overly-integrated post mate has chosen to move further away into the village, to live among the people she works in the fields with. It’s mostly my fear of being alone that scares me about these next eight months now. I will have to greatly begin again, in my own way.

Tara Smith’s Peace Corps Education Projects: 2008-2009

Scholarships for students at the Lycee de Bare
About 16 full scholarships (based on need, merit, and essay) will be given along with packets of pens, pencils and notebooks.
A ceremony will be held at the end-October/beginning November 2008 to recognize those students and in which we will take photos and scholarship winners should write thank you letters to American donors.

Club Success: 7 Habits of Effective People
I will meet with motivated students at the Lycee de Bare to give them lessons on how to be more successful, following closely the text “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” every Wednesday.
Potential Club Success at the Centre des Filles de Bare-Bakem

Pit latrine project at the Lycee de Bare
I will make this happen with the help of the Peace Corps Partnership program or potentially with another club that would be willing to help fund the project.

Weekly Bare Radio show with Serge
Research and discuss one topic every week in French and English on the radio.

“Piggy Bank” Project
An attempt to encourage among youth to Cameroonian students in the Littoral province, going to seven different schools in collaboration with other volunteers (Project is currently posted and will be put into place as soon as the contribution mark is hit on the PC Partnership Website).

NorthWest Province Cultural Festival, November 22nd
Promote intercultural education through vocal performance and through presenting on the subject of Diversity in America.

Adult English Classes
Using the Peace Corps Model School syllabus, I will offer English classes to adults in the community, potentially including the Girls’ Centre de Bare-Bakem.

Peace Corps Education Volunteer at the orphanage in Bakou
I will help assess the town as a potential post for an Education Volunteer and aide the village in the necessary proceeding steps.

Potential work with the Manengouba Foundation- Cultural Exchange between Nkongsamba high school and USA high school
I will work with a high school in their cultural exchange which will eventually become a physical exchange of students.

WLP Women Empowerment Workshop
Using the WLP manual, provide a 10 week workshop to empower women, help them gain confidence in themselves, and to take more control of their lives.

Barrier for the orphanage of Nkongsamba
I will work with Michel, the Pasteur and founder, to see that a barrier is built to shield the orphanage from the major road that it’s build next to, with the aide of whomever possible.

About Tara

Tara received her degree in French and Communications before jetting off to serve Cameroon for 2 years with the Peace Corps. She has forever since been inspired to serve in humanitarian projects around the world. She's a writer, tour guide, business owner, property manager, wifey, dog mom, and traveler. Tara lives in Dallas, Texas, where she's happily married to the tech genius who keeps her website pretty.

  • stay motivated tara. You’re doing an awesome thing with Franck, I’ve seen the results myself, and people can be certain that they are giving to a worthwhile cause with your help.

    ps. your word verification thing sucks.