In 2016, the English-speaking regions of Cameroon were plagued by civil unrest. That year marked the beginning of a tumultuous period that shaped my life and educational journey. I was in form four when the crisis disrupted the tranquility of our lives, abruptly interfering with the academic year and shattering the dreams of countless students.
Initially, the disruption seemed like a temporary setback, a minor hurdle that would be overcome swiftly. However, as days turned into weeks, and weeks into a disheartening longer wait, it became evident that the situation was far from transient. The ominous signs of most schools remaining closed cast a long shadow over my aspirations to pursue education. The dream of attending school, once so simple now seemed distant and elusive.
Lawrentine (in green t-shirt) in one of the Open Dreams Humanitarian Outreach Programs
Nevertheless, I was hopeful that the following academic year things would get back to normal, I eagerly awaited the reopening of schools. The first month passed, and the doors of formal education remained firmly shut to many of us in the region. Some parents, in a desperate attempt to secure their children’s education, sent them to safer regions. My mother, however, faced financial constraints that prevented such a move.
Fortunately, my school timidly resumed the following month so I went back to school. That year the government make some concessions to sustain schools in the crisis zone and to ease restrictions for IDP students seeking admission into schools in safer zones. While many of my classmates chose to repeat because not much course work was covered, I was determined on achieving my General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary levels that year so I moved forward.
Going to school became a risky venture as students were being threatened and some getting kidnapped, molested or even killed especially in cross fire. The atmosphere was fraught with danger – so we no longer wore uniforms to avoid being easily identified.
Field visit to carry community education
My school was in a bushy area so I had to always look for someone to walk with to school due to constant fear of potential attacks on our way to or within the school premises. I vividly remember a day during a chemistry class when my school was under attack by some armed men. I was perplexed whether to run or just lie on the floor. Our teacher advised us to lay low since getting to the main road from school was distant. After some time, these men left and in confusion we all started running to our various houses. We were more afraid to go back to school. In response to this, my classmates and I organized tutorial sessions outside of school to bridge the gaps in our coursework since we were preparing for a national exam, with students who were studying in zones were there were no disruptions.
The struggle persisted throughout the academic year as we navigated the uncertainties of whether the situation would worsen, preventing our attendance, or temporarily ease, allowing us to resume our studies.
Despite the challenges, we persevered. When the time came to write the GCE Ordinary Level exam, all who had registered in my community wrote in one center for security purpose. Every day, my mother would pray for my safe return home, as did other parents for their children. Thanks to God, we experienced no disruptions during this period, and when the results came out, I emerged second best in my school.
Beyond the realm of academics, the civil unrest brought about curfews that affected daily life, especially businesses. My mother, who used to sell food at the roadside, could no longer do so. As time passed, the crisis escalated, with indiscriminate shooting becoming a grim reality. Our once-safe home, situated by the road, became a danger zone as bullets destroyed it.
Open Dreams Buea Hub in its vibrancy in the community
There were nights when we slept on the floor, a makeshift safeguard against stray bullets that threatened our safety. On some days, we ran to our farm hut for safety. As days went by the situation intensified as we were asked not to go out of our homes for weeks.
I remember a mother who was shot dead at her farm during this period because she wanted to get food stuffs for herself and her children. There were countless of such scenarios which made us even more scared.
When the curfew was uplifted for a few days, my mother and I had to flee to a different town for safety. We moved to a French-speaking region. While the language barrier posed initial challenges, my mother began her food business anew and I assisted her. This was not easy because she now had to pay rent for the house we lived in and the business space making it difficult for her to save. Despite the challenges I went to high school and obtained my GCE Advanced level securing the 6th position in my school.
Moving on with smiles, addressing some pressing community challenges
When I moved to the university, I joined the Bali Nyonga Students’ Association, an organization aimed at uniting the youths of the Bali community to preserve cultural values. Having faced numerous challenges with my education back home due to the ongoing crisis, I recognized the need to extend aid to my fellow brothers and sisters still there. The crisis had imposed financial challenges on parents due to the unending curfews, and some children had lost their parents in the armed struggle, making it even more difficult for them to pay tuition. So, together with a team of seven, we organized a fundraising project called “The Back to School Project” to assist some of these children. We solicited funds from the general public and raised $1400, which was used to buy educational materials, pay registration fees, and subsidize tuition for 19 students from 5 different primary schools.
We move on
This experience has taught me to be resilient and most especially thankful to God for my life because there are many who wished to be here today but their lives have been cut short.
Lawrentine Nahbila Titajani | Open Dreams