Back to School? The Trickle-Down Effect of the Cameroon Crisis

A large part of this year we have spent in a small city in Adamawa state. It is a nice little city, quite stable.  Languages spoken are mostly French and Fulfulde- except in our quarter, which is where the CBC (Cameroon Baptist Convention) hospital is. Since most of the CBC medical staff are from English Cameroon, we have a large segment of English speakers in the neighborhood

It has now been almost one full year since we left Ndu in Sept 2018 (thinking we would be back inside of a space of a few months).  Cameroon has been in a state of political turmoil/crisis going on almost three years, and we have been here in the country for almost two.

The main methods of protest the separatist have been enforcing fairly consistently within the Northwest and Southwest regions have been Ghost Town days (shutting down of all business and most movement for a minimum of one day per week, often more) and preventing school from functioning – sometimes just disturbing its function and sometimes shutting it down all together. After 3 years of lost education for their children, parents have been becoming more desperate to get their children to school somewhere. Some families have moved to the French regions, but large numbers have simply sent their children to live with family or friends in areas where they can go to school. Recently, after announcing a complete shutdown of school and businesses at least 5 days/week from August 26, for about 3 weeks, people that I knew who were trying to get out before September were simple blocked from leaving at separatist checkpoints.  Here is a link to a recent BBC article on the continued closure of schools in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

The trickle down effect of that, besides the disruption of thousands of families, is that thousands of children are now schooling in other regions. The ones bordering the affected regions have seen a large influx of students into their schools and they are struggling to cope.  No small feat, since a huge percentage of Cameroonian schools are already overcrowded and/or running with class sizes of 2-3 times what we would consider acceptable in North America. The government has told its school it must accept all IDP children, but has not commenced construction of additional schools in many regions that I am aware of.  Here in Banyo, many English speaking families have enroled their children in the Government Bilingual schools, which has minimal school feels and the primary language of instruction is English. The one nearest our quarter is about a 20-30 minute walk away.  They are overflowing with students. Their solution to the population explosion has been to have A and B school. Each one has its own teachers and headmaster, and has classes for about 4 hours each day. In order to make it ‘fair’ they alternate morning or afternoon every week. So while it means they can teach more children, all the students are getting a truncated education.

About three years ago, some parents in this ‘quarter’ of town started a ‘Parent School” and have been using the tiny buildings beside the church (site of the original Baptist  Health clinic here in the quarter of Worrum).20190906_144128

 

The one larger building is also used by the church for children’s church, and is basically one room with plain benches.  The parents were in the process of asking the government to assist and take over the school but it would have not provided much improvement in the short term.  With a recent rotation of new English speaking  hospital staff to the area, a few got wind of this plan and have taken steps to make the school into a CBC school instead, as these parents need places for their children NOW.  Many are relocating from the Northwest, where their children have not had proper school for the last 2-3 years and they want to do whatever they can to help their children catch up.

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They have great enthusiam for this, but not a whole lot of resources. They are now offering classes 1-6, have hired one returning and two new teachers, set up a managing board. They have successfully raised funds for desks for the class 3-4 and one additional blackboard, probably for class 5-6, which will hold in the church sanctuary for now.  The hospital has been very helpful in helping free up another building for class 3-4, loaning the school their mason and carpenter for this first couple of weeks, and providing bits of this and that when they are able, including a bit of administrative experience.

Enrolment exploded the first day of school, and went from 30 students to almost 100 as of Thursday.  Classes started amidst crazy conditions, and the students I am working with (for a month or two) are excited to see the small changes every day. We started on Tuesday with 22 kids (ending with about 31) crowded into a 3m x 3m metre room  with children sittng 5-6 abreast on 2 metre long plain wooden benches and using ‘armboards’ to write on.  (SO sorry I didn’t get a picture of THAT!!) Wednesday brought the repainting of their chalkboard, Thursday- the arrival of some ‘proper; desks and starting Monday, they will benefit from the tearing down of the wall to double the size of their room and to accommodate (almost) all of their new desks.  Plastering, floor and roof repairs, perhaps even some painting, desks for another clasroom- all are still needed.  But the funds raised for far are mostly at an end now, and although the community hopes to raise more, there is still much to be done to create a conducive (although far from deluxe) learning environment.

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What they are charging for school fees is triple what the parent school did last year, because the teachers were paid next to nothing then, but it’s still well below most of the other ‘private’ schools in the area and less than what is actually needed to run the school and pay teachers the minimum living wage. At 15,000 per year per student for fees (approx $30 US), teachers know they will be continuing to sacrifice their salary to make this school happen.

If you would you consider making a donation to help this school a boost to the (re)launch would be greatly encouraging to them, and get them off to a better start.

Please go to North American Baptist Special Projects page, using this link  ‘Restore a Primary School’  Fund in Cameroon projects. Please indicate ‘Banyo school’ in the special instructions of your donation to be sure we receive the funds here, as quickly as possible. If we raise more money than the maximum  ($1000 per school within the parameters of the project), additional funds will be used by Cameroon Baptist Convention’s education department to direct to other schools needing assistance.  Schools that ARE trying to operate in the English regions have seen their buildings deteriorate, or be detroyed, in the past 3 years of crisis.  Please give this some serious consideration.

You can send your comments or questions here, or you can email me directly if you have my email address.