2019-09-10 CAMEROON

Challenges for the Marist mission

“Since November 2018, all the educational establishments run by the Marist Brothers in the Cameroon’s English-Speaking Regions have seen their doors shut. Many schools have witnessed the kidnapping of staff members or students or both. Equally all students who were previously in Marist run schools are either at home or have moved to other schools either in the lone regional headquarters where a few schools are operating below their capacity or to other towns in the French speaking zones of Cameroon. Prior to the onset of the crises in 2016 Marist Brothers in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon had about 2200 students”, says Brother Peter Awoh, speaking about the situation of Marist schools in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, country where most people is French-speaking.

Cameroon is one of the six countries of the district of West Africa – alongside Chad, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Liberia. Marists are present in Bafut/Bamenda, tatum, Douala, Mbengwi. In the country, the Marist schools are: Saint Albert’s College, Bafut; with 1,020 students; Saint Joseph’s College, Mbengwi, with 600 students, and Saint Pius’ College, Tatum, with 300 students. The fourth is the bilingual diocesan boarding school College Notre Dame des Nations in Douala.

Echoes from the anglophone crises

 “The crisis which have bedevilled not only the school system in Anglophone Cameroon but the entire Anglophone regions began with a strike called by teachers and lawyers over labour matters relating to erosion of the culture of English educational sub system and common law legal system. This peaceful strike by lawyers of the common law system and teachers of the English educational sub system turned bloody when security officers fired at peaceful unarmed protesters in December 2016 which resulted in the shooting of several protesters resulting in the death of at least one protester. It was clear that what had begun as a teachers and lawyers strike had attracted more sympathizers and spiral out of their control.

On the 11th of February 2017 the first calls for a separate state for the Anglophones became loud. What had begun as a call for federation burgeoned to calls for complete separation and restoration of independence. In late November 2017 the seminal stages of the armed conflict started. By October 2018 a good portion of the English-speaking Cameroon was under the control of the separatist forces popularly known as "Amba boys". Separatist forces have traded accusation with the government over who is responsible for the kidnappings and burning down of schools and other facilities.

In 1961 the British Southern Cameroon’s voted in a plebiscite to join French Cameroon as equal partners. In 1972 a new constitution abolished the federal structure of Cameroon and introduced a unitary centralized form of government. Cameroon’s current problems stemmed from the abolition of the Federal form of state which saw the erosion of the educational and legal systems which British Southern Cameroon had brought into the union” (Br. Peter Awoh).

Facing the reality

 “The negative effects of the crisis in Cameroon are abounding: many people have died, some are internally displaced; many more are refugees, villages have been destroyed and many schools have been closed for the last two years. For the Marist Brothers in Cameroon this is a serious challenge: Our apostolates have been greatly affected. This is the challenge in front of which we cannot remain indifferent. We have been reflecting and finding different ways of responding and we need to continue this process. We believe that we cannot afford be idle and irrelevant simply because our schools are not operating.

When Saint Albert’s Comprehensive College, Bafut could no longer operate, the Bafut Community had to figure out how to continue being relevant without a school. Faced with the ugly situation we opted to engaging in manual work aimed mainly at keeping the biggest Marist investment in the country intact. The brothers of the Bafut community have embraced this work with a positive attitude. We continually remind ourselves of work as something intrinsically good; we are co-creators of Gods world and work is part of our contribution in making the earth a beautiful home” (Br. Tansam Elvis).


Renewing our service to all those in need

“The Brothers in Tatum Community had to redefine and reorient their apostolate and sense of brother-hood to embrace more and more poor young people caught in the violence, deprived of schooling and compelled to stay idle unlike their well to do friends fleeing to safer regions of the country. By occupying them with skills, develop-ment programs focused on fluent reading, basic study skills, public speaking and recreational games. Some of the young people had their eyes opened to hidden talents they can explore when the situation eventually comes back to normal. Besides these programs in moments of relative calm, the community became a makeshift refugee center, welcoming and sheltering fleeing neighbours each time they were forced out of their homes by raging gun battles between the warring factions. Brothers have equally got fully involved in the Pastoral life of the Christian Community, offering spiritual and moral guidance where needed and collaborating to distribute material assistance to the displaced and homeless.

As the crisis continues, we, as Brothers have a renewed opportunity to continue questioning our sense of consecration as Marists and our service to young people and all those in need when surprised by unusual circumstances out of the mainstream of our traditional school focused apostolate. By the end of the crisis, we have got to think and address the plight of teenage mothers and adolescents currently initiated into drugs and gun violence as well as those orphaned or traumatized by the crisis in various ways” (Br. Stephen Kpunsa)

Trusting in God while we wait for a change

“As we wait in hope for the new academic year 2019/2020, we look up to God to soften the hearts and minds of the warring factions to feel the cry of the poor parents and children for peace and effective school resumption in the two regions of English Expression in Cameroon” (Br. Tansam Elvis).


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