Martine Tchitchihe, a girls' education and human rights advocate, is visiting Collegiate School to speak with students across all divisions about her experience growing up in Cameroon and her pursuit of an education despite persecution from the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
Ms. Tchitchihe spent time with 2nd Graders this morning and told them about school, climate, animals and food in Cameroon. She also demonstrated how she would carry items from the market in a basket on her head and asked for volunteers from the audience.
At the end of her visit, three members of the 2nd Grade class presented her with a few handmade gifts that they will sell at their African Market in the Lower School in February. Since 2013, 2nd Graders in Mrs. Smith’s Studio Art class have hosted the African Market. The 2nd Graders use proceeds from market sales to buy workbooks and textbooks for Jam’s Academy, a small school in Cameroon. In 2016, Ms. Tchitchihe, with Mrs. Smith and students who are now current 4th Graders, wrote and published a children’s book called Pagne Pals. The book is sold in Collegiate’s campus store, the Cougar Shop, and proceeds are used to help buy books for students at Jam’s Academy.
As the day progressed, Ms. Tchitchihe spoke to a 1st Grade French class, as well as three Upper School French classes. She also talked with Upper School students in a Human Rights class, taught by Director of Global Engagement and Inclusion Erica Coffey. (Ms. Tchitchihe will speak with 8th Grade French students tomorrow.)
Originally from Tokombéré, a town in the far north of Cameroon, Ms. Tchitchihe holds the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in French and master's degrees from the École normale supérieure de Maroua and the Université de Maroua. She told an Upper School class of her experience being attacked by members of Boko Haram who had told her to stop getting an education. She left Cameroon to come to the United States for a teaching-exchange opportunity in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and was granted asylum by the United States.
“Many people come to the U.S. with broken wings,” she said. “They come to heal their wings and fly again. That is me.”
Ms. Tchitchihe is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in comparative literature and literary theory. Only a handful of women from her town have ever attained such an advanced level of education. It is her wish that more young girls have the opportunity to pursue an education, if that is their goal.
“I hope that they get all the information and get the chance to explore,” she said. “I want them to know that it is possible to become whoever they want to be. Because we all should.”