Whilst SHUMAS staff were busy implementing the Humanitarian Aid project at the IDP communities in Fungom, they were approached by many of the community leaders who begged them to try to find some way of getting their children back to school. They were desperate. All schools had been closed down for five years and the children had largely forgotten everything they had ever learned: they were traumatised, rebellious, they could see no future for themselves in the modern world and many of the teenagers had joined the armed gangs or turned to prostitution as a means of surviving.
SHUMAS put together an amazing project and we were delighted to be able to find funding for it. The objectives of this project were
- to provide learning opportunities for children in nine IDP communities in Fungom district,
- to reduce by 50% the social ills recently suffered by these children: early pregnancy, drugs, forced marriages, recruitment as child soldiers,
- to ensure preventive measures against COVID were taken in the schools and the communities,
- to ensure social cohesion through weekly sporting activities at the learning spaces.
SHUMAS also provided emergency toilets close to the learning spaces for each community to use as there were no such facilities at all and disease was spreading quickly.
The communities themselves undertook to construct the learning spaces – mostly in the form of grass huts with thatch roofs, and with benches made from bamboo poles – whilst SHUMAS trained local facilitators to act as teachers and employed Psychosocial Support/Community Education Counsellors to help the children deal with the traumas they had experienced. Almost as many girls as boys were enrolled into the ‘schools’, reaching a total of 2301 children over the nine communities.
Books, writing materials, blackboards and chalks, sports equipment and COVID prevention items were then purchased and transported to the nearest village to the forest communities. The final transportation of all these items was by headload, carried by community members and many of the children. SHUMAS staff supervised the distribution of items to each of the learning spaces and to the children themselves.
Teaching and learning was carried out from 8 am to 2 pm on Tuesdays – Fridays. On Saturdays classes ran from 8 am to 12 noon and were followed by sporting activities. Monitoring of the project took place every week by a local SHUMAS volunteer who reported to the project manager. A field supervisor visited the project sites once a month to check all was running smoothly and to provide solutions to any challenges experienced.
There had been a number of problems encountered during the setting up of the project.
- It had been originally estimated that approximately 1600 children from 6 communities would be involved but the need was greater than expected, resulting in 2301 children from 9 communities being catered for.
- The project was carried out during the rainy season when the condition of the roads was atrocious, making it difficult to find vehicles to transport all the materials.
- Fighting in the area intensified. The State Security Forces (SSF) set up camp near one of the communities, causing enormous fear amongst the IDPs, many of whom moved away once more. The presence of the SSF also caused additional tension and there were spells of crossfire, which meant SHUMAS staff could not always visit when planned.
Nonetheless, the project was fully implemented by late February 2022 and by August we received an initial Impact Report. All the objectives had been achieved, the children were enjoying attending the learning spaces, social cohesion had improved and incidents of early pregnancy, drug abuse and forced marriages had reduced considerably.
The following are extracts from interviews with members of some of the communities.
“The community of Ngun shall forever remain indebted to SHUMAS and Building Schools for Africa for influencing the community positively at a time when everything was almost out of hand. We plead on the almighty God to bless your sources of income, protect you and enable you to extend this hand of fellowship to other areas.” (Nja Vincent – Ngun Community Leader)
“In April 2020, the Fulani invaded Buu village, burnt many houses and even killed people. As a result of insecurity and fear of subsequent attacks, the inhabitants of Buu migrated to Abar. Again in March 2022 there was confrontation between the SSFs and the NSAGs in Buu and many more houses were burnt. This has increased the numbers of IDPs here. For the past five years, elements of this community have not known about education …. children were involved in all sorts of crime and were very aggressive …
(But since the project…)
- The children now are very obedient and participate in house duties unlike before
- It has strengthened family ties and love amongst family members and the community at large
- The children can now read and write
- The provision of toilets has enabled the inhabitants of this community not to be defeacating at random in bushes as before
- The sports equipment has enabled the children to increase socialisation and has relieved them from trauma of all sorts” (Kolo Peter from Abar)
“My name is Longkfe Tina from Class Three in Abar community. … I am very happy with SHUMAS/BSFA and promise to study very well to help my community and the country at large in the near future.”
“I am from Class Four from Abar … Before the creation of the learning space I was unable to read and so were many of my friends. Now I am very happy because I can read so many things and write, I talk and express myself in English.”