Rev Fr Peter Nouck, a class 84 Ex student of St Joseph’s College Sasse Buea says he is extremely proud and privileged to be serving his alma mater as the college prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in December this year. Like thousands of students, former students and parents, he was shocked when a small dormitory fracas turned into a murder on campus, the first in the history of the oldest secondary school in Cameroon late last year.
In this wide ranging interview, Rev Nouck talks about the upcoming anniversary celebrations, the need to construct new modern structures for the school, that St Kitts broken down washroom, why he works for free and how he was forced to re-introduce an old time favourite on the school menu
He spoke to Francis Ngwa
Q 75 years after St Josephs College Sasse was created. Is there really anything to celebrate?
There is quiet a lot to celebrate. When this incident happened (the knife fight that led to the death of a lower sixth student) a little boy in form three came up and told me “father, do you know why this happened? I said no. See father, have you forgotten our motto? And I asked him what our motto is? Faith, seeking, understanding. That was his respond so I said what about that? He said, father in our religious lesson, we read about the trials of Abraham and that Abraham had a test of his faith when he was an old man. Sasse is getting to 75, he said. Sasse is old so God wanted to test our faith father. He wanted to see whether we are living out our motto. He said everything about Sasse up to now had been intellectual things. God wanted to see if we respected the faith that is in our motto. Are we people of faith? The little boy said that is why the incident happened. God wanted to test the faith of all the present students and all the ex students before the anniversary. I think Sasse has a lot to celebrate. God has done quite a lot for Sasse. Even the sad incident is to be celebrated because God is testing us all. Remember shortly after the golden jubilee, a student died on campus. He was my classmate but I will not be mentioning his name. He had an accident on the hill and died on the spot. This time around, another student has died just before the college celebrates its 75th anniversary. It is a way of testing the faith of everyone here.
Q What are some of the special things that have been planned to mark the 75th anniversary celebrations?
There is a lot of planning going on but in the last council meeting that held in Buea, there were plans to carry out a good number of projects on campus. Some of these projects will be short term and some will be long term.
Q Lets talk about one of those projects, the sick back project. It now looks abandoned?
I really don’t know what to say about that for now but I know Mr Joki Manga (UK) has been following up the project and things suddenly grounded to a halt. I sincerely don’t know what went wrong (Update. SOBA UK has since sent some money and work has resumed on the sick bay but not enough to complete the structure)
Q Why are the structures of Sasse not changing? I was a student in this college in 1982 and was in St Kitts dormitory. I have gone there and it is still the same dormitory with an outdated run down washroom?
Things are improving. The thing is we cannot break down those old structures. That will be tampering with our heritage. Those structures must remain there for posterity. You must have also seen that there are many new structures on campus, new dormitories etc. Even though some of the structures are old, we are doing work to improve them. The dormitories still have the same toilet structures but every holiday, we change the toilet pots. The problem is with the age of the students, their family backgrounds, there is a lot of carelessness. They don’t take good care of some of the structures. If you look at some of those toilet pots, you will not believe they are new ones that were put there during the long holidays. I will not over blame the students also because in some of the dormitories, there sometimes don’t have flowing water. Boys being what they are, they will use toilets when there is no water, find it difficult to fetch water to flush them and this causes problems.
Q I went inside the St Kitts washroom and it was completely in shambles with water on the floor and broken down doors.
St Kitts is one of the dormitories that have a lot of problems. What happened with that particular dormitory is that we don’t even want the students to use the toilets in the washroom again. There is a pit latrine near the dormitory that the students are supposed to use.
Q Even the pit latrine is in very bad shape.
Yes it is because the students had not cleaned them when you came. They usually wash them three times a day. You came when they had not done that. The pit latrines are usually very clean. The St Kitts toilets have been sealed and they have been told not to use them again because they have destroyed the pots. They have also destroyed the pipes. Repair work will be done there when they are on holidays because that cannot be done while they are in school. We have a very serious problem with water supply on campus. Even toilets that are reserved for visitors are clean but when there is no water flowing there, you still have a serious problem. Even some teachers are careless and use toilets and leave them dirty because there is no water to flush them
Q So water is really a serious problem on campus?
It is more than serious. It is acute now.
Q Why has the problem not been resolved then?
You see difficulties abound. Before the beginning of this academic year, we spent close to 5 million frs trying to resolve the problem. We changed the pipes, installed bigger pipes and did a few other things but all that didn’t help. Thank God, the local council said they will send out some engineers to come and look at the problem because for several years now, they have not been able to diagnose what the problem really was. I know that is one particular problem because there are some people who have their farms near the catchment and during the tomato season, they break our pipes to have water. Quiet often, we repair the pipes but even without that particular problem, we still don’t have enough water in Sasse College. Especially in the central dormitories
Q Away from broken toilets and water shortages, where do you think Sasse College will be in the next thirty years?
If I was in any position to suggest, I like Sasse to be in the next thirty years, the place to be, with more modern structures. We will not necessarily destroy these old edifices but will build new ones to compliment them. The place should not only look old fashioned but should look more modern and more beautiful.
Q Personally, do you think you are a more accomplished man today because you were a student in sasse College?
Not at all. But I think the one joy I have ever had has been the opportunity for me to serve my alma mater. That is my greatest joy. That is why in my fifth year here, I have made sure I do my best because it is my alma mater. I give just the best and many improvements have been made here because I am principal. Many people who come here are happily shocked by some of the changes I have made. It has never happened that students are now able to evaluate their teachers. This is because I think that if Sasse has to achieve the standards that I have in mind, not only should students be disciplined, teachers also should be disciplined. Students should also have a direct say in how they are taught because they are the recipients. Every term, students evaluate their teachers…
Q How do they do that?
They do that through a confidential evaluation sheet.
Q You mean you just ask students to say anything they want about their teacher?
No. They have a guideline or questionnaires they need to answer. There is a section there where they are free to write anything they like about any teacher.
Q Do you take any action after reading these feedback from the students?
Of course. We take serious action
Q What kind of action have you taken following reports from students?
The students know and the teachers also know that many teachers have been transferred from Sasse because of the evaluations. The evaluations are taken seriously. If a teacher does not meet up either morally or intellectual wise, there are consequences. This makes teachers serious. We announce to students which teachers have to be on duty from what time and those who fail get into trouble because students note that and evaluate them on that. We also have an opinion and suggestion box in the academic block so students don’t only have to wait till end of term to evaluate their teachers or what they don’t like happening in school etc. They are free to say whatever they like. They don’t have to put their names on the paper. Every Sunday during the principals’ conference, students air out any issues they have
Q This question might be tricky because you are not the proprietor of Sasse college but I will still ask because you are the principal. Some of the workers complain their pay is too low
The proprietor can only pay them according to his means. Sincerely, Sasse teachers are doing quite a lot. They need to do quite a lot of work in school and it is good they get enough pay but Sasse College cannot afford to pay them more money
Q If every student pays more than 400.000 frs per year in school fees, Sasse college can afford to pay its teachers and workers more than 100.000 frs monthly?
If a student pays 400.000 frs, there is boarding and books included. Books take a lot of the money. Students pay just 60.000 frs for tuition and that is a very minimal amount. You can check the prospectus.
Q So why don’t you increase the tuition?
If we do that, we will be going contrary to the idea for which the missionaries opened this college. They did so primarily to evangelize and educate the poor. Evangelization and education is not only meant for the rich. That is why teachers in a mission school should see what they do as a vocation and not a profession. How much are they paying me as principal? They don’t pay me anything but I don’t sleep. I am a prisoner in here
Q That is your vocation
My vocation as a priest is not to stay in Sasse and monitor students 24 hours a day. We all have to sacrifice on behalf of some people for the glory of God. That is how God blesses us. On the day (when a student was stabbed) Cameroon was playing a football match. If I was not the principal here, I will have been watching the match. My other friends who are priests watched the match. I don’t have any cable connection in my house here. The chaplain left but I remained because both of us cannot leave the school. Imagine that the incident happened and I was not in the college. We all should use our time here as a means to serve God so we can go to heaven. We cannot pay our teachers commensurate to the work they do.
Q This is the very last question. I have spoken to some students who say they are not very happy with the food they eat here. They say they eat beans from 1st to 31st. They want some variation in their food
You know that Sasse is a boarding school. How many type of food varieties can you have for a big crowd like this? Those complaining are some of the lazy students. Every doctor advices that people should eat a lot of beans because it has proteins; proteins give energy. Students need a lot of energy. If some students hear others are complaining about beans, they will get very angry because you don’t joke with Sasse boys and beans. If you were in the chapel and you heard the priest mentioned rice chaff and they were all giggling happily, you will know how important beans is to them. Rice chaff is one of the new dishes we brought in and they love it. Back in our days, we used to eat puff puff and beans but that was stopped several years ago because it was expensive and tedious to prepare. The boys said they wanted it again and we brought it back. The finance office is complaining that we are spending quiet a lot on food and last year, we even outspent on food. I had to plead on behalf of the boys that they will get the food they want because I want to keep them happy. They even made me introduce fufu and eru once a month. They told me they did not like garri so we suppressed it. Sasse has changed a lot. We stopped students from beating others so apart from the unfortunate incident in school, things are ok