News / Africa

Tailors Become Schoolteachers in Cameroon Camps

Children escaped from the Central African Republic civil war study at Gado Badzere refugee camp in Cameroon. (Photo by Eugene Nforngwa)
Children escaped from the Central African Republic civil war study at Gado Badzere refugee camp in Cameroon. (Photo by Eugene Nforngwa)
Eugene Nforngwa

Thousands of children from the Central African Republic continue arriving in eastern Cameroon as refugees – more than 18 months since a coup d’état sparked a cycle of killings in their country.  They have sought safety in camps next door in Cameroon, but they are not getting the education they need. With little donor money coming in, relief workers can only do the barest minimum such as teacher children songs and handwork.

This year alone, more than 106,000 Central Africans crossed the border. Relief workers expect the number to reach 180,000 by the end of the year. The vast majority of them, about 60 percent, are children who have now been put out of school.

Challenges on Cameroon’s eastern border

Refugee camps have mushroomed along Cameroon’s eastern border and challenge officials who must try to educate young residents as other life-threatening emergencies rage on: malnutrition, sanitation and personal security from violence.

Every morning hundreds of children squat on mats under large white tents in the Gado Badzere camp to sing and recite rhymes. It’s their only chance to forget the mayhem back home and the atrocities they have encountered during their flight.  

The learning and recreation areas are called “child-friendly zones” and they were carved out by UNICEF and run by a local organization. Many of those who care for the children are unpaid volunteers recruited from the ranks of the refugees themselves.

When a tailor becomes a teacher

Zaibabou Kaleb was a tailor before the killings began and she fled. She is one of a dozen refugees who have been drafted to supervise children and teach basic skills at the refugee camp, which is home to over 13,000 refugees.

Kaleb says most of the children would like to be in school but don’t have the opportunity. She says at the “child friendly-zone” boys learn how to make wooden toys and girls how to sew. They also listen to educational talks on a variety of subjects.

UNICEF, which has been looking out for the welfare of young refugees, says education is an important priority: only 3 percent of all children of school-going age in refugee camps have ever been to school.

Felicite Tchibindat is UNICEF’s resident representative in the capital, Yaounde. She says it would be hard to put them in local schools in Cameroon.

Three percent have been in a school before

“That is why we took this option of a temporary space to start preparing them and we do have accelerated curricula to help them go to school,” says Tchibinbat. “And then, those who have been to school, we have to evaluate their level and see in which class they should be. Before that we need space for children to start rebuilding, getting their life back to normal.

The program seems to be paying off. Children are beginning to master different skills. Some have developed self-confidence and are willing to walk forward and perform recitations.

The number of children attending educational and recreational activities has been growing, because parents themselves see the importance of education. But Tchibindat says critical obstacles remain.

“The biggest phase will be how to increase the capacity of the different schools in the community so that they are able to accommodate refugees. We know already that this region is a priority-education region, meaning that there are fewer classrooms, fewer teachers, and all that.”

Lack of resources could hamper the plans of organizations like UNICEF. With so many crises in the world, the plight of Central African refugees appears to be getting very little attention from donors.  UNICEF, for example, says it needs around $25-million for all its interventions this year. But half-way through the year, only 15 percent has come in.




You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs