When a language falls silent, a huge loss of human heritage goes with it - culture, art, religion, ecological knowledge, and more.
Iyasa, spoken along the southern coast of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, is among these endangered languages. With about 2,000 speakers, and few children learning the language, Iyasa is in danger of being lost.
But the youth of the Iyasa community are fighting to save their language and culture, and you can help.
In August 2018, a group of dedicated young people in Campo, Cameroon, joined together to form Iyasa Éboó ("Iyasa Forward!"), a group to protect and promote the Iyasa language and culture through youth publishing. The project was launched by Anna Belew (University of Hawaiʻi /Endangered Languages Project ) and Sammy Mbipite (Iyasa linguist ), thanks to a small grant from the Endangered Language Fund.
The project will help Iyasa youth learn computer skills and mother-tongue literacy; record the language and knowledge of their elders; write about what they've learned; and publish their writings in a magazine for the whole Iyasa community to read, learn from, and enjoy.
So far, the youth of Iyasa Éboó have :
▶︎ learned how to use audio recorders and computers (many had never used a computer before, but now they're "androïde," as one says in Cameroonian French), gaining crucial skills for future jobs and schooling;
▶︎ recorded interviews, songs, and stories with their grandparents, elders, and neighbors - creating important documentation of Iyasa language & culture, and helping restore the link between generations;
▶︎ improved their own knowledge of the Iyasa language, becoming more confident speakers and learners;
▶︎ and learned to read and write in Iyasa, including how to type the Iyasa alphabet in Word, to transcribe their recordings and write articles about what they've found.
And they've created a space for young people to speak, learn, and flourish in Iyasa. This is important: solid grounding in language and culture helps Indigenous youth achieve good outcomes in school, physical & mental health, and more. These young people are doing their best to revitalize their language, and finding pride in their own heritage in the process. And they're doing it all themselves.
But this isn't easy. In a town like Campo, where the minimum wage is less than $3/day, food insecurity is common, and there are no libraries or computers in schools (for those who can afford to attend), it's hard for Iyasa Éboó to find the resources to keep going.
Since the project began in August 2018, the membership of Iyasa Éboó has more than doubled. The young people of Campo are eager to learn. But they can't do it without your help.
We need your help to support these young learners and writers.
We're incredibly grateful to the Endangered Language Fund for the grant they awarded us. But it was just enough to hold the two-week training workshop to kick off the project.
Now, we need to sustain what the youth of Campo have begun. This campaign aims to raise money for three critical needs going forward:
1) A laptop for the group. The founders were able to donate two old computers for the project to use, but they are in rough condition, with small hard drives and weak battery life. We'd like to make sure they have at least one good laptop which is durable, has a large hard drive, and will be useful for years to come.
(Cost of this need: $500)
2) High-quality printing of the first issue of Iyasa Éboó, on the topic of traditional games (majóka). We'll be printing 150 copies of the magazine, so that a large number of people in Campo will be able to learn from it and take pride in their language, culture, and amazing young people. It will be sold in Campo for a price people can afford - 500FCFA, or about 90 cents USD, which is a fraction of the price of printing it. (Get your own copy for a $20 donation!)
(Cost of this need: $455)
3) And food for the coming year's weekly meetings. Life is hard for many of these young people, especially during the dry season. A hearty, nutritious meal at Iyasa Éboó's Saturday meetings will help them focus on writing and learning, not on a rumbling stomach.
(Cost of this need: $1800 for the next calendar year, since $35/meeting can feed about 30 people in Campo really well.)
If we surpass our goal, we'll also be able to provide Iyasa Éboó with things like:
-A scholarship fund, to help Iyasa Éboó members who want to attend school, but whose families can't afford tuition and supplies. (High-school tuition in Campo is about $30 a year, which is a lot for some families.)
-Additional computers and a video camera, so Iyasa youth can have more access to the technology they need to learn, write, and document their language and culture - including video recordings of fishing techniques, dances, games, and more.
-A printer, so that the writers can share interim materials around the community and distribute printed information about the project.
Solar panels and storage batteries to help the group be independent of Campo's unreliable and expensive power infrastructure.
-High-quality printing for future issues of Iyasa Éboó - we're aiming to release 1-2 volumes per year.
-And a travel fund for the youth leaders of Iyasa Éboó to hold peer training workshops in neighboring Iyasa villages, so that young people throughout Campo Sub-Division can join in this important work. (It can cost up to $20/person to get to nearby villages by motorcycle, so we need your help to make it happen.)