HOPE for Children Cameroon host special back to school event
In Cameroon more than 280,000 children are still not in school, most of them girls. The government recently made primary education free for every child but schools still ask for a Parents Teachers Association (PTA) fee to help them subsidise the cost of teachers’ salaries.
Cameroon has done a lot to help put more children in schools – but there is still much to be done. We want to see them make education a major priority as we move into the Sustainable Development Goals beyond 2015.
Growing up in Cameroon was a major challenge as my future was not certain. I was worried I would stay home just like my childhood friends. My mother didn’t receive the best education – but, with her hard work and determination, we went to some of the best schools. And what else could we have done than to give back to the community that raised us?
In 2008 I visited some of these schools to carry out a study on malaria and helminthes infections in school-age children. I saw children in pain. They looked isolated and some went all day with no food. Most of them stayed at home as their parents and guardians could not afford their school fees. Some walked naked with no shoes on.
I wanted to do something even though I was a student at the time. And that is how HOPE for Children Cameroon was born
September marked the fourth anniversary of our official back-to-school launch and this year was a little different. It was a day of selflessness, appreciation and bringing smiles to the faces of 100 underprivileged children.
The entire community in all three sub-divisions (Belo, Njinikom and Fundong) all came out – mothers, fathers, grandparents, government officials, traditional heads and youths all came out to see the work we have been doing since 2010.
The welcome songs from the kids, the smiles on their faces, a new beginning and mothers and grandmothers bringing us cooked food as a sign of their appreciation was priceless. Mothers decided not to go to their farms on this day – an indication of just how much they cherish education for their children, especially the girls.
One woman heard of our visit to one of the schools and decided to bring a girl aged 13 to see if we could take her into our programme. She was unable to walk and has never been to school. We were told she would cry every time she saw her friends pass by their compound to go to school – but she could not go because of her inability to walk. She is now in school and we are happy to make her dreams become a reality.
One of the main highlights of this event was the official handing over of three clean and safe pit toilets to the school authorities which will serve over 1000 children in all three schools. The women danced traditional songs to thank us for giving their children an opportunity to live dignified lives through these toilets. One said: “When you give a child a toilet, you have given him or her their dignity.”
Despite the cultural and religious differences that exists in these communities, education was the only tool that united them. Since our work in 2010, enrollment rates in one of the schools has increased from 150 in 2010 to over 300 in 2014 due to our advocacy work and the support we offer to parents and guardians who can’t afford to send their children to school.
As a recipient of a 2014 Youth Courage Award from the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education, we will continue to reach to children in underserved communities to make sure they are in school and learning.