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Cameroon: Two Girls Brave the Odds, Campaign for School Benches in Crisis-ridden Region

In the crisis-affected region of the Southwest, two Cameroonian girls are raising money to provide school benches for pupils.

by Paul Njie

When Raisa Foletia and Forbin Audrey watched the news recently, they didn’t like what they saw. The images of pupils crammed in classrooms with only few benches were shocking—they became inspired to launch a campaign to provide more classroom benches for Government Primary School, Unity Quarters in Limbe, Cameroon.

An Equinoxe TV report showed kids in this school scrambling for seats—which were insufficient in the first place—just so they could receive lectures. Be it on the floor or on pieces of planks where they sat, the pupils didn’t care. They were only eager to learn, after some of them had been away from school for about three years.

Why the campaign for school benches?

A separatist insurgency in the area—just like in other parts of Anglophone Cameroon—has crippled social life. Cameroon has been suffering from an Anglophone crisis for close to three years now.

The crisis broke out in 2016 when Anglophone lawyers and teachers staged sit-ins, against the over dominance of the French system in the two English speaking North West and South West regions of Cameroon—the country is bilingual, with French and English subsystems.

In 2017, some angry Anglophone Cameroonians took up arms after their protests decrying the marginalization of Anglophones by the Francophone dominated government were violently quelled by the military. They demanded a breakaway from the main country to form a separate state they refer to as “Ambazonia.”

Since then, the separatists have ordered for school boycotts. Frequent gun battles between the separatists and state military have forced more than 80% of schools to shut down in Anglophone Cameroon, and leaving close to a million children out of school according to UNICEF. The secessionist fighters have not hesitated to kidnap students and teachers who violated their ban on schools; in some cases, teachers have reportedly been killed.

The fear of reprisal from the separatists prevented some parents in the Anglophone zones from sending their children to school—others have braved the odds and let their kids go to school. Now, some children are more determined to go to school, after years of staying away.

Some structures at Government Primary School, Unity Quarters in Limbe, have seemingly become shadows of themselves. Located in the restive South West, the school has existed for quite a long while; a building which hosted at least one classroom has been abandoned, making learners overcrowded in other classes.

But despite the lack of facilities here, the school couldn’t help but admit more pupils than normal this academic year. At least, it is seemingly meant to let those who’ve been out of school have another chance at education.

The learning conditions are deplorable: pupils learn seated on the floor, some while standing and others jam-packed on the few available seats. Shockingly, though, pupils often try to repair disintegrated benches themselves, just so they could have a place to sit.

How Audrey and Raisa are faring with their campaign for school benches

Raisa and Audrey, both girls aged 20, couldn’t be any indifferent to this. Owing to the grave security situation in Cameroon now, they asked that EboniGram withhold key details about them, including their pictures.

When school authorities recently made an appeal to government and people of goodwill to render assistance to the school, Raisa and Audrey immediately launched a campaign aimed at getting donations from different people, to provide more benches for the primary school.  

“It was just so sad how in the center of the town [Limbe], there’ll be that type of problem and everybody is just watching,” Audrey told EboniGram.

“So we thought maybe we might not be able to do that much, but at least we could start a small campaign with our friends to raise money for benches and donate to them.”

And, the campaign has been going just great. Through social media platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram, the girls have been able to get donations from several quarters: the likes that have raised money for at least 15 benches. Notwithstanding the progress, some comments from spectators prove to be mean and discouraging.

“What do these children [Raisa and Audrey] want to show?” they’d ask, “why are you people trying to do the government’s job?”

Despite these comments, “we’ve decided to do this, so we just turn a deaf ear to the comments. The people in support of the idea are way more than those against it,” Audrey said.

When Raisa and Audrey visited the school some days ago to see things for themselves, they informed the school’s Head Mistress about their project. She could not hide her joy and her hope that things were about to change for the struggling pupils.

In a few weeks, the pupils will notice a new change—from sitting on the bare floor, to learning with every comfort that new benches can offer. Nothing more could have given Audrey and Raisa more joy.

They’ll end their campaign knowing they’d have achieved one thing, which is, using their rallying force to make the young ones smile again.

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