Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cosendai Adventist University

I've been meaning to do a post about the University where I teach for a while. If y'all ain't the readin' kind, y'all can just look at all the purdy pictures.

The Main Entrance

Cosendai Adventist University (Université Adventiste Cosendai in French) is a Seventh Day Adventist (link to wikipedia on 7th day adv) school. It started out as a seminary founded here in the 1920s. Many years later, a primary school was established here, then eventually a college (private high school) which shares the campus. Finally, they upgraded again and converted the seminary into a full-fledged University in 1996.

The University is one of only two private universities in Cameroon who's degrees are recognized by the government. (The other is Catholic university in Yaoundé.) Four majors are offered: Theology, Business and Computer Science (almost two separate programs with the same Dean), Education, and Nursing. Nursing degrees take two years to finish and the others take three.

Because the school is too small to support a large permanent faculty, the majority of courses are taught by visiting professors. Since they can usually only stay for a week or two at a time and since we have to take them when we can get them, the school schedule changes every week. On Fridays I find out what classes I'm teaching and when for the following week. Or maybe I find out I'm not teaching at all, which was a big problem last year. As you can imagine, this makes lesson planning and scheduling exams and homework a nightmare.

It also makes life hard on the students, since they frequently have to cram a 60 hour class into one or two weeks. Some weeks they have classes from 7 AM to 10 PM straight, every day, with only an hour break each for lunch and dinner. Giving homework is a problem both because they often have no time to do it with a course load like that and because the power is often out at night.

The school has about 370 students, mostly from Cameroon. The majority are from the country's two biggest cities, Yaoundé and Douala, but there are students from each of Cameroon's ten provinces. There is a large contingent of students from the Extreme North province, which is rare since that region of Cameroon is poorer than the south and tends to send fewer students to college. Most are here on church scholarships. Since it's hard to find pastors to serve in northern Cameroon, they finance the degrees of promising students who will later return north and serve the church there. As a result, after French and English the third most common language spoken on campus is Fulfuldé - the dominant language of the northern provinces.

The school also has an international contingent. We have students from all over west Africa. I have students from Chad, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Burkina Faso (my Dean's native country), Togo, the Central African Republic, and Cape Verde. The Dean of our Theology department and his wife are from Kenya (although they've lived in the US for over a decade before coming here and have applied for US citizenship). Most of the faculty and staff have traveled or studied in other countries in the region. We also get a fair number of foreign visitors associated with the church (missionaries, church administration, and professors from UAC's sister universities in Ghana and Nigeria).

As a result of this international character I have been learning a lot about life in other parts of Africa. Most Americans tend to lump all of these nations together as "Africa" - one big undifferentiated mass of people. (Who are either starving or dying of Ebola or getting hacked to death with machetes.) While there are cultural characteristics that are common to these countries, lumping together Cameroon and say, Niger is like assuming that there is no difference between France and Germany because they are both European. So being posted here has been a good opportunity to learn more about the complexities of Africa.

The facilities here are not very good. There aren't enough classrooms and those we do have are run down and often crowded, as in most Cameroonian schools.

Power and water go out often. We have a generator that can power the campus during blackouts, but it broke down back in March and still hasn't been repaired, despite repeated efforts.

The library is small and many of the books are outdated American textbooks donated years ago. The Peace Corps volunteer I replaced did a lot of work in the library. Now there's some organization and he got them on the Dewey decimal system. Before books were just laying around in piles.

We have a lab with 18 computers. That's both for classes and for the extracurricular use of 370 students who are all itching to get in there to write papers and use the internet. Fortunately they are almost done building a second small lab, which will help considerably.

Since land lines are impractical, we have a satellite internet connection.

The University is a religious school, but it is open to students from other denominations. About half the student body are Adventists. The rest are a mix of Catholics and members of other protestant denominations, with a scattering of atheists and now and then a few Muslims as well. Students are not expected to become Adventists, but they do have to live by the rules of the church.

This means that all classes start with prayers and often singing, and that students are obliged to go to chapel twice a week and mass on Fridays and Saturdays. Too many absences can result in disciplinary action.

All students do manual labor on Thursday and Sunday mornings. They are organized into groups and spend two hours cleaning floors, cutting grass with machetes, picking up trash, digging ditches, whatever. Basically they're free labor for the school to use in maintaining the campus.

The school has strict moral codes. Drinking alcohol, smoking, or using drugs are grounds for dismissal, on or off campus. As a result of all these rules, there's not much night life around the campus aside from choir practice. Makes it easier to sleep I suppose. Fortunately I'm not bound by these rules. :)

Of course, lots of students drink and smoke, but they do it in town in the backs of bars or in their homes, hidden from the eyes of the administration. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to report them, but on the odd occasion when I go out for a beer and run into them, I don't say anything. Their lives are hard enough without me acting as the morals police. Besides, since I'm usually having a beer when I see them it's not like I can say "don't drink that" with a straight face.

The school also regularly hassles female students about dressing modestly so as to avoid tempting the men.

With a church that serves both the University and the local community, on campus baptisms, weddings and other events are a regular part of life here.

One nice thing about living here is the music. There are a number of choral groups on campus that regularly sing in church, have concerts, and rehearse in the evenings. I can often sit in my house and hear singing all over campus. Since these groups are all pretty good, it's nice.

Food options are, sadly, a bit limited. There is a cafeteria which make serviceable meals but gets a bit boring after a while since they rotate through a pretty small repertoire. It is however reasonably priced and conveniently located, even if lunch is never ready on time.

At the edge of campus is a long hut where a group of women (who I refer to as "the fish mommies") come to sell food to the students. My typical breakfast is a bean sandwich purchased from one of the ladies who works there. When I don't feel like cooking at night I can get beans and rice or grilled fish from them as well.

Students live both on campus and off campus. Some students live in small, two person "cells" that are scattered around campus. Tiny concrete huts divided into two rooms, each with just enough space for a bunk bed and a tiny desk and chair. Others live in larger dorms. From what some students have told me, it sounds like life in the larger dorms is close to prison life. They live four, five, or six to a room and have a strict curfew after which the doors are locked.

There are also a limited number of apartments and houses for students with families and for professors. Some of these are decent (depending on how big the family is) but there aren't enough to go around.
Because there is not enough housing on campus (and because they want some freedom) many students live off campus. There is a small quartier (neighborhood) that surrounds the campus. Some students are able to rent rooms there, which is at least convenient for classes.

The rest have to find housing wherever they can in town. Often this means being several kilometers from campus. So, either they have a long walk to school, or, they have to pay for a motorcycle taxi ride - which starts to bite given that most of the students aren't exactly rolling in cash.

In general I like most of my students and the rest of the faculty and staff and have made a lot of good friends here. In spite of the school's organizational headaches and the area's problems with power and water, this is a great assignment for a Peace Corps volunteer. I've had many frustrating moments here, but the longer I've been here the more I've come to appreciate all I've learned here.


Hev's dad. said...

An interesting article, and as a visitor to Cameroon I can appreciate many of the points you mention. The same can be said of the item on roads.

Anonymous said...

As always Brian, well written and very informtive.

Tom S.

Sean said...

I love the pictures. I am hoping to visit Cameroon at some stage.

Edwin Kay said...


Please send me your email address so we can converse. I am an RPCV who taught at U Buea 1995-1997. Today I am in email contact with CAU graduate Paul-Marie Moulema, who I am trying to help get admitted to graduate school.

Jean Joel (former stutend of cosendai) said...

Excellent presentation of the reality of this difficult but wonderful place. Congratulation!!!!

Anonymous said...


just signed up and wanted to say hello while I read through the posts

hopefully this is just what im looking for looks like i have a lot to read.

Anonymous said...


It is my first post here wanted to say hi

See you later

Anonymous said...

A student
Happy about the job mr Brian
but a correction the major in nursing graduate after 3 years like the other majors and not 2 as stated in the above wokk