With Cameroon’s school year set to resume September 3, a group of students and their parents arrived Wednesday at the Government Bilingual High School in the northwestern town of Batibo.
Deserted for more than a year, the school is in a terrible state — infested with insects, and with grass growing through the floor.
Hundreds of schools in the area have been abandoned since armed separatists attacked schools and other public buildings two years ago.
The insurgents, who are fighting for an independent, English-speaking state, saw the schools as legitimate targets because they forced the French language on locals.
The violence saw thousands of students either move to other school districts or, more commonly, stay home.
Grace Nembo, 42, was not deterred. She came to ensure her 13-year-old son gets an education. She said it was a parent’s duty “to see his or her own child educated so that that child can be edified to be able to face the society and the world at large.”
The separatists had demanded that schools remain closed until all government troops left the English-speaking northwest and southwest provinces.
Warning to parents
This week, the separatists announced on social media that parents could begin sending their children back to area schools if they wished. However, the message warned that the separatists were still fighting Cameroon’s military and could not guarantee school safety.
The governor of the northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, sought to assure parents that security measures were in place to protect their children.
“I still give firm instructions to the administrative authorities, to security services, to take their responsibilities to accompany the resumption of classes,” Tchoffo said.
Peter Ngah escaped the fighting in Batibo and said he was not confident his child would be safe there. He will instead send his son to an English school in the French-speaking town of Bafoussam, where there is more security.
“I am ready for my children to go to school, but at the same time, we are very skeptical following the security situation,” he said.
The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the violence in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions. A majority of them are school-age children.