Thousands of teachers celebrated World Teacher’s Day in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital on October 5.
Ernestine Tabe, a teacher, came to the capital in September to look for a job. She used to live in Kumba, an English-speaking town.
Tabe had not been paid for five months because of an ongoing strike in Cameroon’s English speaking areas.
I decided to come here in order to get myself involved in teaching, so that the zeal in me would not die down because, as a teacher, you are always eager to teach others to know.
Last November, most of the schools in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions closed when lawyers and teachers went on strike. The strikers demanded that the government reform how it uses the French language in the country.
Gideon Tanda is a leader of one of the teacher’s trade unions that called the strike.
Tanda spoke about some of the issues the teachers’ union is concerned about. He said English-speaking teachers are often sent to French-speaking regions and French-speaking teachers are sent to English-speaking areas. He added that the teachers often have to teach in areas outside of their training. What do you think? That person [teacher] cannot perform. There is bad faith," he said.
Tanda also said that he is concerned that teachers will miss more school.
“[The] Government is not listening, and it is so deplorable now that we have had a lot of killing. People are on the run, others are nowhere to be found, just missing. I feel terribly bad as a teacher that at this point in time people have to miss classes for a whole year and they are about to miss another year."
English-speaking separatist groups have joined the strike. They are demanding that English-speaking regions form a new state called “Ambazonia.”
Thousands of people demonstrated in the streets in support of calls for independence earlier this month. However, the rights group Amnesty International said security forces reacted violently, killing at least 17 people.
In response to the strike, the government says it has given jobs to 1,000 English-speaking teachers and paid subsidies to private schools. Officials also say they have released some of the leader of teachers’ unions from jail.
The governor of the Southwest Region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, is urging teachers to return to their classrooms. He says the state is here to guarantee their security. He says officials will continue to talk with teachers to deal with their concerns throughout the year.
But other violence also has been reported. Unknown arsonists, possibly from militant groups, have targeted schools that have ignored the call to take part in the strike. Some parents say it is not safe to send their children back to school.
The government estimates that only 20 percent of expected students in the English-speaking regions have shown up for class since the school year began in September.
I’m John Russell.