April 12, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Can Weston spent two years (1988-1990) as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Central African Republic: Peace Corps Central African Republic : The Peace Corps in the Central African Republic: April 12, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Can Weston spent two years (1988-1990) as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic

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Can Weston spent two years (1988-1990) as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic

Can Weston spent two years (1988-1990) as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic

I spent two years (1988-1990) as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic. My official duties were teaching mathematics (in French) to high school students in the town of Kembe, some 600 km by dirt road east of the capital city, Bangui.

There are three goals in the Peace Corps mission:

1. Aid economic development in host countries

2. Share American culture and "values" with host country nationals (HCN)

3. Share what we learn of the culture of HCNs with our fellow Americans

I am skeptical that I accomplished much of lasting value in goal 1. Development is a hard and ill-defined goal, and at times I thought I was more part of the problem than the solution. The Peace Corps was just one of many development organizations working in the CAR, and I didn't think highly of most of them. Professional "development" gurus seemed more interested in traveling around the country in their fancy cars than in actually doing anything for Central Africans (click here for an amusing poem of what the development set actually do!)

As for the CAR educational system, it is an exact copy of the French system, ill-suited to the vastly difference needs of CAR society. Each year, only half of each class passes on to the next grade, the rest (called redoublants) repeat the same grade over. If they fail again, they are expelled. Needless to say, the number of students who make it all the way through high school and pass the baccalauréat is miniscule.

Both my own inexperience as a teacher and the following external factors limited my effectiveness:

1. The official language (French) is at best everybody's third language, encountered first in school, not in the home, and students are desperately learning the language of instruction even as arcane math concepts are pushed down their throats.

2. Convincing parents that there is value in sending their children to school instead of to work in the fields growing food for the family is not easy.

3. Girls get little respect in Central African society and must do significantly more chores at home than the boys. Respect comes from motherhood and several of the few girls in my classes got pregnant at 13 (one of them from the P.E. teacher). The attrition rate of girls in school was depressing and unstoppable.

4. All government officials, including school administration and faculty, are appointed by the president, and political (and tribal) affiliations seemed to count more than honesty and competence. My school principal in particular was shamelessly corrupt. He managed to have his vice-principal reassigned (whose only crime was apparently not stealing the food intended for the school lunches fast enough) and had the third in command (the only honest one) fired outright for refusing to go along. In this climate, students learned quickly that good things are obtained through cheating and corruption, not through hard work. Math is learned incrementally, and the level of cheating was so high that I could barely stem the tide. Students caught cheating were punished by the school administration only for not being clever enough to fool me, and the vice-principal once was caught red-handed selling an English exam to some well-connected students! (After that we kept our exams secret from the administration).

5. Because the principal was selling the students' food in the open-air market for his own profit, many of the students were hungry, listless, and malnourished. Of course, in the fairly constant 35°C (95°F) heat, even I had trouble concentrating.

Goal 2 was easy: I couldn't help but share my culture with Central Africans. I was in a fishbowl, and everyone wanted (and expected to be allowed) to find out about every little part of my life. I represented my culture (the good, the bad, and the ugly) admirably. On the whole, I tried to give a balanced view of Americana, but most PCV's, myself included, are far left-of-center politically. To balance this liberal image, and in stark contrast, there were also numerous American Baptist missionaries, all of them staunch social conservatives.

Goal 3 is the motivation for this web site. Look around, and e-mail me if you have questions. I have a special interest in Central Africa and the Peace Corps, a program I recommend without reservation to any college graduate looking for the unexpected. It really is the hardest job you'll ever love!

I took a few pictures during my stay in Central Africa. View my picture gallery!

Occupying the middle ground between the official language (French) and the seventy-odd mutually unintelligible tribal languages, there is a national language, Sango, spoken and understood throughout the country, a lingua franca used in commerce and for intertribal communication. It's easy to learn, has a (relatively) small vocabulary, a trivially regular grammar, and a musical ring.

Learn more about Sango and be the first on your block to speak it!

Check out the homepage of the Friends of the CAR

For more information about the CAR, check out these links to other sources:

* World Travel

* US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Factbook

* The Washington Post Country Database

* Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Online

* Index on Africa

* Africa Today - The Electronic Journal for Africa

* Africa News Online

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic 1988-1990, where I taught mathematics to junior high school students. If you have any questions or comments on Sango, the CAR, or the U.S. Peace Corps, feel free to contact me (Dan Weston) at ddweston@earthlink.net. I miss Central Africa and love to talk about it!

Last modified on 31 May 1998

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