Countering Evil

Our readers are helping a Catholic community in Cameroon fight against Islamic fundamentalism by promoting real educational initiatives
January 07 2017 | by

ON 3 SEPTEMBER 2015, in Kerawa in the Far North Region, Cameroon, suicide bombers from the islamist militant group Boko Haram, based in Nigeria, targeted the local market and a camp housing infantry, resulting in 19 dead and 143 wounded. Boko Haram stepped up its attacks on Cameroon, Chad and Niger, which all border its northern Nigerian stronghold, after these countries participated in an offensive against it earlier in 2015. Since then there have been further suicide bombings in the region – some carried out by women, and yet others by teenage girls.

“One of the consequences of this is that people are fleeing areas which border Nigeria, where these attacks take place,” says Abbot Denis Djamba, project coordinator, Diocesan Development Service. “There is an urgency and seriousness to the situation, and the children displaced by these attacks must also be accommodated in our schools.” Already at stretching point for several years, the number of pupils in the catholic schools in the Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo has continued to increase: “The diocese, with the support of parents and a few aid agencies, has tried to build new classes each year,” continues Djamba, “but our schools have been overwhelmed by the children of families displaced by the Boko Haram attacks, which have become rampant in this part of Cameroon.”


Diverse region


The Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo, Far North Region, Cameroon, with approximately 1,450,000 inhabitants, covers a very diverse region in terms of ethnicity, landscape, culture and living standards. Human habitation in the mountainous regions is scattered but dense, and the people are generally poor. In contrast, people living on the plateau which extends from the south of Mokolo are more open and richer, and there are fewer inhabitants. In both of these areas, the majority of people follow the traditional religion. The plateau around Maroua and Mora has large villages and, in addition to the traditional religion, there are many who practise Islam. In the cities of Maroua, Mokolo and Mora, the ethnic groups co-exist, but the cities maintain a highly rural character. In total, there are fifty ethnic groups in the diocese. “Everywhere traditions are strong and marked by lively festivals,” says Djamba. Ethnic mixing is gradually taking place. However, illiteracy in the Far North Region is high, with around 9 out of 10 women and 7 out of 10 men illiterate. Only four out of 10 children go to school. Sustenance farming is the main occupation of most Far North residents, with fishing an important occupation for the people living along the shore line of Lake Chad. However, poverty is increasing and it is visible, marked by inaccessible health centres, schools with no trained teachers, overcrowded classes and ill-equipped classrooms, degraded roads which prevent local produce being transported for sale, a lack of good quality arable land, and recurrent famine.


Obstacle of fear


“The diocese is trying to react to this by developing projects with a view to the promotion of human dignity,” Djamba explains, “We have organised committees which support the setting up of help groups, community granaries and associations.” The diocese also supports training of both men and women, education of school children, training centres for the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises at the Jacques de Bernon College in Maroua, and micro-credit schemes for women which have run successfully since 2001. “However, fear is the greatest obstacle to development: the people are often afraid to ask questions, afraid to compete, afraid of taking initiatives, and afraid of making commitments to the community,” he continues. “These fears are rooted in ignorance and lack of information.”

The Meskine Catholic Private School, built and inaugurated on 25 June 2014, houses 115 students (55 boys and 60 girls), and is one of seven schools which receive children displaced by attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram. The project has as its objectives not only to contribute to the provision of universal basic education of all children in Cameroon, but specifically to guarantee primary education for these children. In order to facilitate this, the school planned to build two new classrooms, and a request was made to St. Anthony’s Charities for €18,000 to cover the building costs.


Three instalments



The first instalment of €6,000 was received on 29 December 2015, and work commenced on 15 January 2016. The first stage of the project involved creating the construction site, in particular to enable storage and to secure the materials, including the large quantities of cement purchased. “Breeze blocks to be used for the whole of the construction were then manufactured,” explains Djamba, “This was followed by excavation of the site and the laying of the foundations for the second phase.”

Following receipt of the second tranche of €6,000 work began on the next phase: this involved elevation of the walls, plastering, and the purchase and fitting of windows. “The construction company continued with work beyond the second phase because they also had other work in the area,” says Djamba. “They constructed the roof in order to prevent risks associated with the coming rainy season, which generally has drastic consequences in our zone.” The final instalment covered the cost of the roofing, finishing and fittings, and painting. The works were completed on 14 May 2016. “We estimate that around 100 students each year will benefit from these new classrooms,” adds Djamba.


Education weapon


In the future, responsibility for maintenance costs and teacher’s salaries will be assumed by the Maroua-Mokolo diocese. “The diocese provides an important part of the education of children and young people,” Djamba explains. “Education is one of the main weapons, if not the essential weapon, in the fight against intolerance, including the religious fundamentalism of the islamists of Boko Harem. In providing this education, we increase the chances of creating a society and environment of tolerance and interreligious dialogue. In the Far North Region we are moving from a feudal system to liberation which promotes private initiative and the emergence of formerly neglected groups of the mountainous regions of our diocese. There is a real beginning of open-mindedness: new agricultural techniques are being adopted, dialogue between couples is improving, the management of family assets is becoming more democratic, women are opening up to the education of children, there is an awareness of the importance of schooling for girls, and self-promotion. In our Christian communities, in our march towards the establishment of a society based on justice and fraternity, we are decided for Christ, and with Him to change our world, our villages and communities.”

“The educational situation in the Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo required particularly urgent action, especially for the reception of children displaced as a result of the actions of Boko Haram,” concludes Abbot Djamba. “The classrooms built at the Meskine Catholic Private School, thanks to St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, will make a significant contribution to the elimination of the educational supply gap. Many displaced children in this area will now feel welcomed. We wish you all a prosperous 2017.”


Updated on January 07 2017