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 CNS Story:

CAMEROON-FACTS May-30-2006 (710 words) With photo. xxxi

In Cameroon, Catholic schools' pilot program to fight corruption

By Evan Weinberger
Catholic News Service

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (CNS) -- Catholic schools in Cameroon, a country known for widespread corruption, are piloting a program to teach students to identify and act against dishonesty in their schools and the rest of society.

"The natural place for the fight against corruption is in the schools," said Sister Josephine Julie Ntsama, principal of the College de la Retraite, a Catholic secondary school in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital.

But the pilot program, Fighting Against Corruption Through Schools, or FACTS, also targets parents. Most civil servants in Cameroon, including teachers, earn low salaries and rely on bribes to feed their families.

The College de la Retraite demonstrated some aspects of the program May 26 for a group that included Cameroon's secretary of state for secondary education, Catherine Abena, and Niels Marquardt, U.S. ambassador to Cameroon.

Part of the May 26 event was a dramatization of the way corruption works in the schools. Four students in blue uniforms sat at two desks on the elevated stage. Another student, playing the role of a teacher, read out marks on an exam.

When he read the fourth result, 15-year-old Regine Aiya Komber jumped from her desk. Her face turned into a wide oval of surprise and her hand went to her forehead as she pleaded her case. She drew laughs from her more than 1,000 schoolmates and dignitaries watching the performance, but the boy playing the teacher drew cheers when he rejected an envelope of cash she offered in exchange for an improved grade.

After the performance, a group of parents and officials watched a model FACTS class led by Marie Amougou, a teacher at the school. The class was entirely interactive, with Amougou asking her students to identify examples of corruption and what they should do about it. Each student stood up and responded in a clear voice.

"They are receptive," Amougou said after the model class. "They teach me very much. When we are done with a class, they ask, 'Madame, please continue.'"

FACTS also includes art projects -- Amougou showed off comic strips and drawings her classes produced. She added that until the FACTS program started in March 2004 she had refused bribes from students on several occasions, but that has since stopped.

As part of the program, each student and teacher signs a code of integrity. Students are expected not to give bribes, and school staffers are expected not to accept bribes.

"The real fight against corruption consists of what you are doing at your level, with things like the code of integrity that you have all signed," Marquardt said while addressing those at the event.

Parents are also given lessons in fighting corruption.

Honorine Biyele, who has two children at the school, said that what the children learn in schools is important, but needs to be reinforced at home. A government employee, Biyele said that she has been teaching her children about the dangers of corruption for a long time.

"It's important for a new Cameroon," she said. "It's not new for me."

The College de la Retraite is one of 88 Catholic schools around Cameroon in the pilot program, which kicked off in early 2004. The rest of the country's 209 Catholic schools will be doing the biweekly, 30-minute course by October. After that, the plan is to take FACTS to the rest of Cameroon's education system.

"We put in place something to fight corruption, and we are confident that we will be able to put it in place in other schools -- the Muslim, Protestant and secular," said Father Jean-Claude Ekobena, national secretary for Catholic teaching at the National Secretariat for Catholic Education. The department developed the pilot program's curriculum with Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

Transparency International, an international nongovernmental organization that specializes in reporting on corruption, consistently ranks Cameroon among the most corrupt nations in the world. It says corruption pervades all sectors of society: Government officials take bribes from business interests; police ask for money from motorists; teachers expect money or even sex from students looking for better grades.

"It's the young today who can stop corruption later," said Julie Tounougbang, a 17-year-old student at the College de la Retraite.


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