Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Sasse, Our Sasse: 30 September 1964 to 30 September 2014 – 50 Years Already!

By Asonganyi Tazoacha
   Not all that is countable counts. Since its advent in 1939, St. Joseph’s College Sasse, Buea, has witnessed many entrances and exits. One of the remarkable entrances that counts, occurred on 30 September 1964 when dozens of “foxes” or “plebs” (from plebian!) appeared in the clouded, chilly campus for roll call late in the afternoon. Those of them that have survived the travails of life have matured into senior citizens, and call themselves today “The September 1964 Transitions Class.”   
       As is usually the case in our cultures, some names are pregnant with meaning – so is the name of the class! As history would have it, it is in 1964 that the school system was modified and a seven year strand was introduced with instruction being given to “class” no longer “standard.”  In other words, our promotion that was in Standard Six in 1964 was the last. This is how we got into Saint Joseph’s College, Sasse in September 1964. Since we were the transition from the “Standard” system (of 8 years) whose school year started in January to the “Class” system (of 7 years) that started in September, we gave ourselves the “Transition” name.

      Initially we wanted to be called “The Transition Class” but as history would also have it, the class that came just behind us in 1965 came with around 6 girls – the first in the history of Sasse! The experiment quickly fizzled out because the half-dozen-some girls looked miserable and not very comfortable in the midst of some 300 jostling young lads! It is with great pride that SOBANS mingle and carry out their activities with these SOGANS who have all grown up with blissful memories of Sasse too! Incidentally, to the class we exercised our bullying skills on, the girls-experience constituted a “Transitions” too! As is usually the case in Sasse, when you are faced with the Class you bullied – because it came immediately behind you - they do not easily give up, so the standoff resulted in adding “September 1964” to our “Transition” name…There was really no quarrel because SOBANS hardly ever quarrel among themselves; each ignored the other, so we were forced to budge.

      Our class left Sasse on 21 June 1969 after spending five years that left a great – I would say an indelible – mark on us. We had “Houses” in the college: St. Christopher’s, St. Paul’s, St. Aquinas’s, and St. Augustine’s. In each House, there were several dormitories with some 20 students in a dormitory. Our daily interactions in these dormitories and houses shaped our emotional and social intelligence, and developed our ability to empathize with each other – sharing emotions, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Sasse marked the rest of our lives – in High School, in the University, in society… Sasse provided us the filter through which we see the world; through which we evaluate, judge and deal with life.. This was the result of the heroic efforts of our teachers to get us to understand the several subjects we learned; the discipline they imposed on our youthful spirits; the religious inspiration and enlightenment we got from the daily Church services and the compulsory study of the scriptures which we always took for granted, but which contributed in marking our lives indelibly; the models our instructors represented for us; the attitudes and behaviors of our teachers and senior students that helped to shape ours. Sasse did not just train us to pass the London GCE; it seemed to focus on the entire person and personality of the students, and made sure that we left the college as little Catholic Christians that had dozens of little voices in us that ordered us around throughout our lives: whispering to us how to act, dictating to us what to do and not to do…

    The principal who admitted us into Sasse was Rev. Fr. George Cunningham. He was followed by Fr. JW Stumpel, and then by Fr. Lawrence Flinn who graduated us from the College. Each of us left with a “Testimonial” that was a testimony for our academic ability, sense of responsibility, attitude to rules, attitude to manual work, attitude to sports, and so on. Interestingly, the “harmonization” of the education systems rendered “Testimonials” useless, so to say, since no one ever asked for such things in Cameroon! However, we have always known in our hearts that the “Testimonial” was one of the most important documents we had in our keeping, which we show to our children from time to time to tell them about our “good old days.” I think our not having presented it to anybody since we left Sasse is indicative of how much weight our society places on the type of holistic education we had in Sasse; the result is the corrupt society we are living in today.

     Sasse knew that a full education includes opportunities outside the classroom, including sport. The vast expanse of land in the college was exploited to build three football fields, a basket ball court, table tennis tables and other sporting arenas. There was also Buea Mountain climbing by the students from time to time. Sports contributed to our emotional, social and physical health; it helped to improve our mood and focus, it reduced our stress and increased our confidence. Sports taught us how to communicate and work together, to master specific techniques that instilled discipline and persistence. It helped us to develop as team players, healthy persons, innovators, and community members. Indeed, sports forced us to conform to the team concept, and to become familiar with pain, and deal with the limits of our own endurance; it helped us to learn to play within rules, and to face the disappointment of failure and the sweetness of success. Unfortunately, one of the glaring signs of the absence of the spirit of holistic education today is the hundred, thousands of colleges that exist today in Cameroon without sporting facilities!

      St. Joseph’s College Sasse stands near the Buea Mountain, high above the sea. It was the first College in Cameroon, and today, remains the first among equals. We who entered Sasse 50 years ago may have learned the hard way about the meaning of hard work, discipline and spirituality. The good thing is that we have since lived the joy and fulfillment that come from learning early how to make your own way in the world. In this, St. Joseph has always been near to guide us! We look forward to going back to Sasse over the weekend with our glamorous wives – our SOBANESE(S) – to see what time has done to the place.

*Asonganyi Tazoacha is a seasoned professor,teaching at Faculty of Biomedical Sciences,University of Yaounde 1

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