A youth leader with a passion for community development, Eric Mbotiji often travels to villages throughout his country Cameroon to identify the educational and health-related needs of local communities and its young people.
A frequent blogger for UNICEF Voices of Youth and Advocates for Youth, Mbotiji has written a guest post for eLearning Africa to share his latest experience – travelling to Northern Cameroon to see how access to quality education can be improved for children in the region.
By Eric Mbotiji
As a student and youth advocate in my country Cameroon, I took a recent trip to the northern part of the region, together with my best friend and member of the Youth Advocacy Group for the UN Global Education First Initiative Tchangoue Bertheline Nina.
Boarding a train from Yaoundé, we first arrived at Ngaoundéré before heading to Garoua and then to our final destination Maroua. Our inspiration for this trip was to see how the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal number two – which is Universal Access to Primary Education – was doing so far in this part of the region.
Before making the trip we heard on the radio that most parents in the North were very reluctant to send their children to school, especially girls. Often, these parents will take the young boys along with them to help in cattle rearing and herding, while the girls were simply home schooled for house duties and given away for marriage as early as 12 and 13 years old. Just a few parents understood the value of education.
Nina and I decided to visit some primary schools in the towns of Ngaoundéré and Garoua, and believe me we were shocked by what we saw. The classrooms were made from a thatched worn-out material; the pupils used stones as benches and studied under the scorching heat of the sun.
Cameroon is one of the beneficiary nations of funding from the Global Partnership for Education – those funds have enabled the Government of Cameroon to make primary education free. But, how can we make education free without the facilities to make a learning environment conducive?
From what I saw, there was no library for the kids, poor sanitary conditions and very deplorable school structures to accommodate both pupils and teachers. The few parents who sent their children to school did so without providing books and equipment to help them learn. We were also told by the teachers that during heavy downpours they and the pupils cannot go to school, because the thatched material which forms the classroom is often destroyed by the violent winds and storms. In order to use that classroom again, they have to wait on the Parents/Teachers Association (PTA) for a very long time before another thatch is constructed. This alone discourages parents from sending their children to school, and can result in others withdrawing theirs.
I was very disturbed by what I saw, because growing up I went to a good primary school with all the necessary infrastructure and facilities to make learning conducive.
Leaving the North to head back to the South, my heart was very heavy because I saw young brilliant children hungry, willing and thirsty to go to school and gain a good education. They deserve the right to good and quality education just like any other child has.
I made a quick report of this issue to the government but no response ever came. I have made several attempts but all has been futile. As I left the North back to the South, I had tears in my eyes and a heart willing to do something to change this situation. Like the late great Nelson Mandela of blessed memory said, “There are two ways to break out of poverty. The first is by formal education, and the second is by the worker acquiring a greater skill at his work and thus higher wages”. I believe that if we can invest more in the education sector, then we are one step ahead in paving the way to create a sustainable future.
These Pictures were taken in the Northern Region of Cameroon and show the kind of infrastructures and conditions under which pupils study in some primary schools.