YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Church leaders in Cameroon’s war-ravaged English-speaking regions have launched a campaign for children to go back to school, as the Central African country prepares for the start of the 2023-2024 academic year on September 4.
The campaign, dubbed “Stronger & Better Together- Back to School Message from Religious Leaders,” challenges parents to defeat fear and to send their children to school, but it also calls on the government to create a safe environment for the country’s children to study.
Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions have been embroiled in war since 2017, with separatists fighting to create a new nation to be called “Ambazonia.” According to many observers, education has become the war’s greatest casualty.
In a December 15, 2021, report titled, “They Are Destroying Our Future: Armed Separatist Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions,” Human Rights Watch describes attacks on schools as “systematic and widespread” which have left students and teachers dead or kidnapped and schools destroyed.
“These attacks, the resulting fear, and the deteriorating security situation have caused school closures, with two out of three schools shut across the Anglophone regions, denying over 700,000 students access to education,” the report states.
The rights organization documented 268 abductions of students and education professionals since 2017.
Clerics in the two regions say this can’t continue, because denying kids their fundamental right to education means denying them their future.
“I have said this in season and out of season. Accepted or unaccepted, persecuted or praised, children must go to school,” said Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda.
The archbishop, who also serves as the president of the Cameroon Bishops’ Conference, explained that “school is the only way to guarantee the future of our kids. School is the only way to guarantee the future of our nation. School is the only way to guarantee the goodness and the wellbeing of families. So, school has to go on.”
He encouraged parents to “do everything possible to leave no child behind come September 2023.”
The Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, a flash point of separatist violence, called on those calling for a boycott of schools to desist.
“We are very concerned and interested to see that many more opportunities are given to our children to go back to school,” he said.
“Please, let our children go back to school,” Nkuo said. “Don’t block them from going to school. That means there should be no violence. Wherever the children are, they should find a place to go to school,” he pleaded.
He called on parents not to be “afraid” to send their kids to school.
Bishop Michael Bibi of Buea in the country’s South West region said that a fundamental function of the Church is also to foster the education of children.
“We don’t only preach the gospel,” Bibi said. “We encourage all our children to go to school.”
“As we prepare to begin another academic year, I will like to tell all our parents, all our brothers and sisters that education is important for each and every one of us and those of us who go to school, we are laying a future for ourselves,” the cleric said.
“If we deprive ourselves of education, it is not going to be of any benefit to us and the society but if we give opportunities for our children to be educated, that will go a long way to enable them to become responsible citizens in our nation,” Bibi said.
“It is with this in mind that I want to encourage all of you to facilitate a conducive environment for the academic year. I pray that God our loving Father will accompany us within the course of this academic year as we undertake our studies,” he said.
The Executive President of the Cameroon Baptist Convention, Rev. Dr. Charlemagne Nditemeh, added that there should be “a peaceful and enabling environment” in which children can study.
“No matter what we have as opinion, no matter what we have as differences or grievances, there is a very important need that in every context, we should create an enabling environment where children can go to school peacefully,” he said.
For the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, Rev. Fonki Samuel, the new academic year offers yet another opportunity “to change the mindset of children into responsible citizens.”
“I call on all parents to invest in our children for it is the best investment in life,” he noted.
He warned that “no one has the right to deprive our children the right to education. It is our responsibility as parents and government to make sure their right to education is respected.”
“I want to use this opportunity to plead with the government of Cameroon to grant free education to our children at the basic level,” Samuel said. “This will improve the literacy rate in Cameroon, for our nation’s development. If any society needs real growth, education is usually the magic. I pray that this academic year 2023/2024 will be a fruitful one for our children in this nation.”