Changing lives in Cameroon

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6 v8

Challenging injustice, having awareness of the wider world and respecting diversity have always been central themes of Methodism. John Wesley’s first Methodist School at Kingswood, Bath, established in 1748, modelled a well-rounded education, offering spiritual, practical and academic generosity of Methodist churches, schools support. Continuing this today, World AIMS (World Action in Methodist Schools) is helping Methodist Schools to express their faith and values in action as part of their everyday school life.

World AIMS supports all schools connected to the Methodist Church in England and Wales, (currently 75 across state and independent sectors), in the area of global citizenship. It explores the central question ‘What does it mean to be a global citizen in today’s world?’ The programme is a partnership between Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) and Methodist Education, and schools are supported by 2 staff members who provide ongoing visits, advice, training and resources as well as a central web space at www.methodisteducation.co.uk

World AIMS is able to highlight and develop the impressive range of global activities going on across Methodist schools. For example, did you know that Aspull Church Primary School, Wigan is following the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools Award, Kent College Pembury has been recognised as a Fairtrade School, Banks Methodist School, Southport has an ongoing school partnership with Jinja Methodist School in Uganda and Kingswood School, Bath has Eco School status?

At secondary school level, World AIMS provides an opportunity for students to learn about, fundraise for and visit MRDF partner organisations overseas. MRDF has partnerships with over 60 locally run community development organisations across Latin America, Africa and Asia, empowering their own communities in areas such as health, agriculture, education and sustainable livelihoods. Jesus’ own ministry was particularly drawn not to those of rank or wealth but to the poor, the downtrodden and marginalised so that all may be able to live with dignity, opportunity and hope. As a Christian-based charity, MRDF has the challenge and privilege of sharing this practical gospel with communities across the global south. This is only possible thanks to the generosity of Methodist churches, schools and individuals across the Connexion.

One school that took up this challenge was Kent College Canterbury. Kent College is a long-standing supporter of MRDF and has previously visited partner organisations in Sri Lanka and Guatemala. Last October, a group of 12 sixth formers, accompanied by 2 staff and World AIMS Officer Chris Rolls travelled to Cameroon to share firsthand in the work of 3 MRDF partners.

The first week was spent with Youth Development Centre (YDC), based in Limbe, which sets up and resources school farms in a network of primary and secondary schools, teaching practical agriculture as an essential life skill. Each day the students worked on the school farms and joined the local students for cultural exchange in the classroom. One of the schools was the Presbyterian Church Secondary School (PCSS) in Buea, which Kent College now hopes to develop a global school partnership with, applying for British Council funding for PCSS to visit the UK also. At the end of the week, Student Victoria Claydon commented:

“In the schools with YDC, I loved the joy in children’s faces and how proud they were of what they had done in their farms and classrooms. Although we didn’t know each other we had spontaneous football matches and we made so many friends here, which is something I’m never going to forget and don’t want to forget.”

In the second week, the team travelled north to Bamenda to see 2 more life changing projects in action. Presbyterian Rural Training Centre (PRTC) supports sustainable agriculture by offering a 1-year block course to local farmers. This is so popular it is always oversubscribed. During the year men and women are equipped with a range of skills including sustainable agriculture, financial management and health education. Farmers are then encouraged to share their training as lead farmers in their communities so the impact can grow.

One of these lead farmers is Victor Chembom, who following his training and a low interest loan from PRTC has been able to rent, then buy land; now he is able to pay fees for his 2 children and his wife to return to school. I asked Victor what feedback he had for supporters:

“I would like to thank PRTC and UK supporters for continuing their efforts to encourage farmers here, so we shall not only depend on our Government for job opportunities but we can also come and learn and put into practice, so in the future others can develop as I am doing.”

PRTC is part of MRDF’s ‘Partner a Project’ scheme, enabling churches to learn about their work in greater depth. More details about this scheme are available on the MRDF website www.mrdf.org.uk

The Kent College group had a memorable time with Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance (CDVTA), one of the only organisations in Cameroon to specifically work with the elderly. Living in remote villages, cut off from local services and often caring for extended family members due to the effects of urban migration and HIV/AIDS, the elderly are particularly vulnerable. Across these villages, CDVTA has set up a network of clubs, providing a social outlet, agricultural support, medicinal plant propagation and small business training. The elderly members now feel so empowered that they are supporting themselves and their wider communities.

After his day with CDVTA, Head Boy at Kent College, Matt Townsend, reflected:

“Seeing the projects and the amazing work everyone is doing, and the amount these people are putting in without expecting anything in return, is incredible to see firsthand and that’s something we’ll take with us for the rest of our lives.”

The group returned full of admiration for the community work they had witnessed, with increased understanding of the underlying development issues and with a commitment to continue their links and friendships with Cameroon back at school. One hopes this is an example of experiential learning and action with which John Wesley would have clearly identified.

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