It has been five years now since all schools in the NW/SW regions of Cameroon were closed because of war. More than 78 of these have been destroyed in the fighting and, although a few are now back functioning again, there are no formal schools open at all in the Bui Division of the NW region, where the fighting and the violence has been most intense. More than 600,000 children are still out of school and, because the situation is continuing, the majority are now very unlikely to return to their studies.
The impact on these children has been –
a rise in juvenile delinquency – an increase in drug taking – family separation – boys and girls recruited as child soldiers – an increase in gender-based violence – girls forced into prostitution, early marriage and early pregnancy – joblessness – trauma and long-lasting emotional distress – no sense of hope for the future and a beaten creative mind.
Many of these youngsters used to attend schools which we helped to build just a few years ago and were doing brilliantly (e.g. GBHS Kimbo, where enrolment increased from 38 to 1500 pupils in just 8 years and children in 6th form were taking 5 A level subjects). We felt we really must do whatever we could to help them regain a sense of purpose and success in their lives.
A pilot project was devised for 100 vulnerable out-of-school adolescents who were desperate to rebuild a life for themselves and their families. SHUMAS selected 59 boys and 31 girls (aged between 14 and 24) from three sub-divisions of Bui (including Kimbo) that had been hit the hardest by the conflict. The children were offered training and support in market gardening and livestock rearing so that they could start their own businesses producing sufficient food to feed their families and also sell in the market. Of these 100 beneficiaries, 22 are now heads of households, 15 are single mothers and 2 are physically disabled. All of them were living in extreme poverty, earning between £3 and £6 per week, which made them very vulnerable to exploitation. Finding safe training sites close to the villages was difficult and there were many delays to the start of the project due to prolonged outbreaks of cross-fire in the areas and lockdowns called by the Non-State Armed Groups.
Each participant had to have a small piece of land to use as their garden and access to water all year round – a difficult task even during peace-time! The initial training included instruction in how to prepare the land and how to fence it to keep stray animals out. They were given a couple of weeks to get their land ready before SHUMAS’ Agricultural Engineer visited to check that they were serious about the project. Only then did he hand over the vegetable seeds and the cultivation tools for the students to get their gardens producing. Each beneficiary also had to construct a shelter for their livestock and look for an appropriate goat or sheep to get their business started. Again, the Agricultural Engineer had to approve their preparations before the animal was bought and handed over, as part of the project.
Monitoring has been going on since the start of the project and will continue on a weekly basis to ensure that all the youngsters are successful.
We are so excited by this project, which was funded by our wonderful supporters at Clymac. We have turned these youngsters’ lives around once before by providing them with schools where they were able to get a good start in their education – and we are determined that they shouldn’t fail now, just because of war!