Education in Emergencies: Providing Learning Opportunities for Children in Cameroon Crisis Areas

Over 45,000 children line up every two weeks to receive books and reading assignments from one of Nascent’s mobile libraries set up across the Bui division of the North-West region of Cameroon—a number that has increased exponentially over the past four years. As violence surrounding the Anglophone crisis persists, more than two-thirds of schools in the region have remained closed. Nascent teams have had to adjust interventions to accommodate volatile circumstances, and students, who would otherwise be benefitting from Nascent’s food and education program in the classroom setting, have had to adapt to a new way of learning.

Crisis Prevents Children from Attending School

In November 2016, political protests and teacher strikes in Cameroon’s Anglophone region forced all schools to close indefinitely. The complex sociopolitical crisis led to tensions between armed insurgents and the government, and violence throughout the area continues to prevent children and teachers from returning to school. Nascent’s program, which is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, targets 92 schools in the affected region. Currently, only 35 of those schools are operational.

 

The closure of schools initially left over 21,000 children without a viable option for education. This had a devastating impact on a region where most kids are reading below grade level. For example, less than 15 percent of kids in grade two can read and understand English at grade level. In addition, hungry children have difficulty concentrating on their lessons. Thus, a critical component of the education program was to provide cooked meals to students in the classroom. With schools shut down, our teams could no longer provide these essential meals.

A Community Steps Up to Provide Education During Conflict

In the face of unpredictable change, Nascent teams rallied the community together to adapt its program and ensure children living in the affected region continued to have access to education. In March 2017, Nascent launched its Mobile Reading Program (MRP), which targeted students previously enrolled in the project schools. The program involved setting up mobile libraries within safe walking distances from children’s homes where students can rent books. Our teams worked with the local government and partners to procure grade-level reading materials in English to furnish the libraries and trained volunteer parents and community members to serve as library assistants. Now, the program has 435 libraries set up across the Bui division, where library assistants can provide reading assignments and one-on-one lessons to approximately 130 students per assistant.

A beneficiary checks out a book from a volunteer library assistant.
A volunteer library assistant helps a student with reading lessons.

“I have taken the opportunity to prepare some small exercises for [the children], which they complete while reading storybooks,” said Yenla Margret, a volunteer library assistant, “I even visit some in their homes to follow up on how they are doing on the exercises. I am so surprised to see how much the children are learning just from reading stories. Parents are very happy.”

 

To achieve a culture of reading among the community, students can also participate in literacy-related games and reading clubs with monthly community-wide competitions led by Nascent teams.

Enthusiastic Readers Receive Food

Nascent’s expertise in commodity management, distribution, and logistics enabled our teams to transition food distribution efforts from serving cooked meals in classrooms to providing take-home rations to students enrolled in the MRP. Once students have completed their reading assignments, they receive dry rations of food to be cooked at home, including rice, beans and vegetable oil—the same amount they would have received in the classroom. The dry rations, which our teams distribute monthly, serve as an incentive for students to stay motivated and engaged in reading activities.

Students receive dry rations of food to take to their homes.

A Lifeline to Education

As the crisis continues to disrupt learning throughout the Bui division, many parents, teachers and community members view the program as the only source of educational opportunity for children. Since its inception, the mobile reading program has doubled in size as more and more parents are understanding the importance of education and enrolling their children. Originally serving 21,000 students from Nascent’s project schools, the program now provides more than 45,000 out-of-school children with access to reading materials and lessons.

“I was afraid that [because] I am not going to school now, when school starts again, I will be failing my exams. Now I am learning many new words. When I start school again, I will still be reading books,” said nine-year-old Agnes-Joy Ngwa, a participant of the MRP who hopes to become a doctor one day.

Students line up to check out books and reading materials

Nascent plans to continue scaling up the program in the North-West region to reach as many children as resources will allow. Our teams are also considering introducing a similar program as an after-school activity for other regions of Cameroon where schools are operating normally.

If you are interested in supporting the mobile reading program and would like to help our teams provide valuable resources such as books, learning materials, and more to students, please consider donating.

Learn more about our education program activities here.

 

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