Friday, January 18, 2013

Our First Graduation

This weekend we celebrated with one of RUDECs orphans as he graduated after a 3 year welding apprenticeship. Marcel has been sponsored by RUDEC since 2008. He is 17 years old and lives with his maternal aunt and uncle, who have been taking care of him since his parents’ deaths. At first he was attending school but then he found that academic work wasn’t for him so he requested to be allowed to learn a trade. Joshua agreed and in July 2009 Marcel began training at Simple Boys welding and metal workshop in Belo. Here in Cameroon the families of young people who want to learn a trade are required to pay the owner of the business, the Patron, a fee to teach their child. RUDEC undertook to pay these fees for Marcel. He worked hard and along with 2 other apprentices, he was ready to graduate at the beginning of 2013.

Joshua, myself and Phil were invited to the ceremony which was held at the Patron’s house in an area high above Belo. We arrived on time but in true Cameroonian style most people didn’t! There were more than 200 people in their best clothes there to witness the boys’ big day. There was music, speeches and prayers and it was interesting to be the only “visitors” once again. Many other trades people attend graduations and those graduating distribute small amounts of money amongst them. They are demonstrating that they are men now and that they are ready for work.
The boys were given certificates and sprinkled with water by their Patron. This symbolises that they have learnt from him and passed through his care, the patron is cleaning their eyes so they can see the correct path to take and to encourage that they should follow his example.
As part of the graduation ‘fee’ the families of the boys have to provide drinks and food which are then given to the “important” guests. We were invited by Marcel’s family to eat with them in a nearby house and the traditional Cameroonian meal was delicious, although we did have to eat with a rather large audience and they had reserved enough food for 6 people especially for us and expected us to eat it all! The hospitality of people here is fantastic and it was a great experience to be welcomed so warmly. The ride back down the mountain was fun, 4 on a motorbike that really belonged on the scrapheap, on a potholed, steep, stone strewn, dirt track..all part of the adventure!

One big problem here is when young people graduate, whether as welders, tailors or carpenters, they often can’t afford the basic tools they need to start a business and jobs are scarce and hard to come by. Most patrons like having apprentices because they don’t have to pay any wages. There were several young men at Marcel’s graduation that completed their apprenticeship last year but are still unable to work because of these reasons. It is a real struggle for young people to get on to the work ladder.

So we decided, with some of the money kindly donated by my friends and family, to buy Marcel the tools he needs to begin his own workshop. We hope that one day he will be able to pass on his skills to another child sponsored by RUDEC, so that the cycle of help can continue.

This morning he came with his aunts, uncle and cousin to receive the tools. They were extremely happy. The uncle made a moving speech about the value of RUDEC in Marcel’s life so far and how these tools represent more than just tools. They will provide for him as long as he continues to work hard and they are what will enable Marcel to have a home, family and wife in the future.

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