Education, Freedom, and Sacrifice–The Life of Martin Fameni

Written by Kailyn Noble

At the age of eight, Martin Fameni used an abandoned house as his classroom. Using a piece of charcoal to write out problems on a door, he taught math lessons to his friends. According to Fameni, this childhood experience inspired him to become a teacher.

Fameni grew up in Cameroon, Africa.  Unlike most American kids, he didn’t have regular toys like a soccer ball or a bicycle; instead, he had the “elements of nature and creativity.”  When Fameni wanted to play a game of soccer with his friends, he used the only resources he had.  By tying plastic wrap around banana leaves multiple times, Fameni was able to fashion a ball that lasted for a few minutes until it fell apart. Fameni and his friends once used scraps of wood and rubber to make a bike, but because he didn’t create brakes, he only used the bike for going downhill.

In Cameroon, the education system was also very different from the American public school system. Most children did not have the privilege of having a thorough, well-rounded education. Many children, some older than Fameni, asked him to explain concepts that they weren’t being taught.

“That’s how I decided that teaching was a calling,” Fameni said.

During Mr. Fameni’s college years, he deciding to do something about the education system.  His college class had enough room for 500 people, but 1000 people showed up, ready to take the class. His school had a small number of books, and the existing books were out of date.

Fameni and the other students began to protest. “Cameroon doesn’t have rules of law or democracy, and the government doesn’t like protests.  They started arresting students, beating them, and doing horrible things to the protestors.”

Things quickly escalated, and in addition to beatings, rapes, and arrests, there were shootings and hostage situations. Once, the school was having a demonstration, and 40,000 students attended.  Suddenly, the police began shooting at the students, causing Fameni and his fellow students to run for their lives.

“I ran with a group of people, and they turned left or right, and disappeared. I was running straight, and then I realized that a helicopter was chasing me and there was someone aiming a weapon at me. I started zig-zagging while the guy was shooting.  Finally, I came to a huge mango tree and a large bush.  So I jumped over the bush and fell under the mango tree–that essentially saved my life.”

Despite such obstacles, Fameni earned a double-major in French and English and a minor in Spanish from the University of Cameroon in Yaoundé.  He is now living his dream of being a teacher. Fameni teaches French in the World Language Department, and he is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. He has earned endorsements from several universities in the U.S., and  he has led professional development seminars.

Fameni loves the American people, saying they are “extremely kind and generous.” He also appreciates the many opportunities provided in the U.S., and he loves having freedom of speech. Despite that, Fameni has discovered one thing that makes him miss Cameroon… stress.

“There is a lot of stress in the U.S. It’s more relaxed in Cameroon–whether you are a kid or an adult–it’s more relaxed, more carefree, and more nonchalant, but in a good way,” Fameni said.  Fameni believes the big problem with the education system in the U.S. is the stress it causes. He believes that shorter classes, more extracurricular activities and less homework will eliminate stress from teenagers’ lives and will therefore yield better educational results.

“There is a way for to rethink our practice, and we can get to a point where we can let teenagers be teenagers,” Fameni said. “I think we can achieve the same educational results but with less stress.”

Martin Fameni’s fight for education may have started in an abandoned house in Cameroon, but through his passion, Fameni serves as a shining example of excellence in education for his students.