If you’ve packed your children off to class this morning or have seen little ones skipping their way to school, you probably didn’t give a second thought as to how lucky these children are.
And that’s understandable because, in the western world, we take education for granted. It’s a normal rite of passage and we expect our children to attend. The situation in Cameroon, however, is very different. Various factors mean schooling is hard to access and this is especially the case for girls.
Over one-half of the world’s children do not attend primary school, although education is defined as a human right. 57% of this age group without schooling live in sub-Saharan Africa, which is shown in the map below. This vast area includes Cameroon, Nigeria, Angola, Somalia, and many other countries.
There are complex and long-standing issues that have led to this situation. The impact and legacy of colonialism, plus the effects of conflicts and wars, government inadequacies, widespread corruption, and fewer job opportunities, have had a devastating impact on the region.
But while there are complicated reasons for this lack of schooling, Children of Cameroon has one simple aim: to help children access education. Every child deserves the chance to learn and by doing so, to help break the cycle of poverty. For girls in particular, who are under-represented in education, this is crucial.
Girls are desperate to learn but lack opportunities
In 2010, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that it was “deeply concerned” about the disadvantages girls, and other vulnerable groups, had in regard to education in Cameroon. But why is this the case? It is because girls face several barriers that are put in their way. These include:
The family cannot afford books, uniforms, or school fees.
Although internet sources claim that primary education is free to attend in Cameroon, this is not true. All children must pay school fees, both at primary and secondary level. Although the Cameroonian government subsidise secondary schools, this is still insufficient for many families because of other costs.
Even at primary age families must also pay for books and uniforms, meaning that many girls miss out on even starting education due to a lack of money. This poverty also means that many girls who do attend school are often forced to leave to earn an income for their families. The jobs they do are low-paid with little, or no, potential.
Family and cultural norms
In some families, education for girls is not seen as necessary or desirable. The girls may be the youngest in a line of poorly educated females and this may be accepted as normal. If the family has both sons and daughters, the sons will be prioritised for schooling as it is believed they will become wage-earners but the daughters will become wives and mothers.
Conflict and violence
Conflict and violence are major barriers to education in Cameroon.
In the Far North Region of Cameroon where it borders Nigeria, the militant Boko Harem group are active. In the North-West and South-West areas of the country, the civil war Anglophone Crisis has forced schools to shut. Students and school personnel have been threatened, kidnapped, and killed.
Lack of qualified teachers and resources
Unsurprisingly, many teachers have left their jobs due to the violence and also left the country. They take with them knowledge and experience and have not been replaced. Thus, if schools can still operate, there are often around 44 pupils for each teacher. This is a huge number of pupils to cater for and poses a challenge to the quality and impact of the teaching.
Lack of toilets
In Cameroon, like many less developed countries, schools often lack separate toilet facilities for boys and girls. This causes acute problems for girls, especially those who are going through puberty. The onset of and presence of periods and body changes can be embarrassing and difficult to cope with.
This lack of safe toilets also puts girls at greater risk of sexual assault as they try to find private places to go. The lack of sanitation in general also means girls will miss school because of hygiene-related illnesses.
Teen marriage and early pregnancy
According to the UN, teen marriage is widespread throughout Cameroon. A girl may be offered to pay off a family debt or in exchange for a dowry of money, livestock, land, or food. Often, the younger the girl, the higher the price.
Some families believe early marriage is a protection against the shame of their daughter getting pregnant outside of marriage, even if the pregnancy is the result of abuse.
Sexual harassment and abuse
Girls often withdraw from school because of sexual abuse and harassment from both teachers and male students. This hostile and dangerous atmosphere effectively excludes girls from their right to an education.
The statistics that result from these barriers to education are stark: only 47% of girls go to primary school.
In the northern region of Cameroon, the figures are even lower.
The reality of this statistic hits home when we compare it to other countries. Cameroon’s education system is a legacy of its colonial past when both the French and British ruled the country. Statistics show that in both France and the UK, 99% + of girls attend primary school (this is not 100% due to children who are excluded due to hospitalisation etc.)
How we help
Girls in Cameroon desperately want to have the chance to go to school and as a charity, we help them achieve this. One of the girls that we are trying to find a sponsor for, 10-year-old Markdeline, lost her father recently. Markdeline is one of seven siblings and her mother, like most of the young widowers we help, is a subsistence farmer. This means she grows crops and raises livestock for family needs, but unfortunately doesn’t have any surplus to sell or trade.
This leaves the family in a difficult situation. Without any schooling, Markdeline will have less chance of securing a job in the future, though she is skilled at maths and dreams of becoming a teacher.
As we have seen, there are many difficulties around education in Cameroon, but there is also some optimism. Several major organisations, such as the UN, are trying to help with the educational infrastructure.
This means by the time Markdeline has finished her possible future education, she could be employed in this professional role. This would not only be an incredible personal accomplishment for her but also help interrupt the cycle of poverty for her family.
We are committed to supporting Markdeline in her goals and would love it if you could support her too. For just the price of a few lattes or a takeaway, you could directly empower this young girl. Your assistance would allow her to continue her education which means so much to her.
Markdeline longs to be at school and will study at any opportunity she can. It would be a tragedy for a girl this motivated to lose the chance to continue her education. Such a waste of potential and possibility; the possibility of a brighter future for herself and her family, and the children she herself could be teaching in years to come.
By choosing to sponsor Markdeline you will receive regular monthly updates on her progress and a message from her. There is no doubt that the impact your donation will have will be life-changing, perhaps not just for Markdeline and her family…maybe for you, too? In a world which can feel difficult for all of us, knowing that you are directly helping can be a life-affirming feeling.
You will be doing something that will help a little girl, on the other side of the world, whom you will probably never meet, reach her potential. And that is something very special, for her and for you. So, Markdeline is waiting for you - yes you! Please get in touch with us today to talk about how we can work together to help this motivated young girl achieve her goals. And if by any chance Markdeline has been sponsored by the time you read this, please look at the other children who need your help.
Markdeline’s story isn’t unusual and we have other young girls who need sponsorship so that they too can continue their education. Here’s a direct link to our sponsor page and please do look around our website Children of Cameroon to get an understanding of the way we work with our partner charity, Goodness and Mercy Missions, in a region called Boyo and the capital city Yaounde.
We hope to hear from you soon.