Armed Conflict in the NW/SW: Voices of the unheard: in search for education, children with disabilities in need of attention

From Bakah Derick in Bamenda 

Several institutions with focus on the wellbeing of persons with disabilities PWDs have expressed concerns over the education of persons with special needs in the conflict hit North West region.
Their concerns are based on the closure of the few existing specialised schools for PWDs in the region and also the anti-school going embargo placed on educational facilities and institutions sanctioned by separatists as part of the raging armed conflict in the region.

 “After consultation with our coordinators on the field, we realised that most persons with disabilities which is estimated at over 95% no longer have access to education because the institutions that were promoting their education are closed down. We start from most popular one in the NW region which SAJOCAH of which there were gun shots inside the institution so you can imagine how scary it is for children with disabilities to go to that center. We have CEFED in Santa, we have the integrated school for the blind in Kumbo, we have the integrated school for the deaf in Mbingo and Akum (morning star), all these institutions are closed down not to talk about government institutions that were trying to promote inclusive education.” Samuel Nyingchuo of the Coordinating Unit of Association of Persons with Disabilities CUAPWDs said.

The few functional schools in the city center in Bamenda have witness an unprecedented drop in the number of PWDs during the crisis period. According to Bridget Longla Forbuzie Education Advisor of the Socio Economic Empowerment of persons with disabilities SEEPD program working with some partner school attendance for PWDs has witnessed a significant drop.

“We worked with students with different forms of impairments. Those with different forms of impairments amounting to about 350 students in all the 18 schools we are working with. The majority of them had profound vision impairment meaning that they were blind, and we had quite a good number of learners with hearing impairments. We had 25 learners with hearing impairments. Unfortunately as a result of the crisis with schools being shutdown, all the others schools in the other divisions are not functioning meaning that children with impairments in those divisions are not attending school.” She explained.

Citing Government Bilingual High School GBHS Bamenda as one of the schools she added “we had 25 learners with profound hearing impairments, presently we have six and we have only four with vision impairment given that we use to have anything between eight and ten learners with vision impairment.” In disappointment she shared a story corroborated by Nyinnchuo Samuel and other advocates for PWDs about one of the learners with hearing impairment who was killed in a shootout because he could not hear the sound of the guns. “As people were running he probably was looking around to understand what was happening and got caught in the cross fire. If this child was in school that would not have happened.” She said visibly saddened adding that “as I speak we really don’t know where these children are.” 

Nogning Armelle A of North West Association for Women with Disabilities admits the challenge for PWDs to access education especially now with the armed conflict. “It’s quite challenging considering the challenges at hand… it is really impossible for children with disabilities CWDs to access education due to the risk at hand. People being killed, people being kidnapped; that is the big challenge we are facing now.” This to her as a woman and her association “it is a big minus to PWDs. It is of our disadvantage because it is bringing more of illiteracy to PWDs.”

Apart from affecting the PWDs individually, the armed conflict is affecting institutions and projects promoting their wellbeing. Amongst the projects affected is the Sustainable Inclusive Education Project SIEP of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Education department and Health Services which has been forced to extend to west region due to inaccessibility to some of the project pilot schools.

Speaking recently in Bamenda during the second stakeholder committee meeting of SIEP, the project officer Dr Atanga Napthalin disclosed that some CBC schools in the West region will now serve as pilot schools for the project since other pilot schools like BCHS Njinikejem, CBC Nursery/Primary School Bamuka Ndop and others have been seriously affected by the armed conflict. He mentioned CBC schools in Bafoussam, Foumbot Koutaba and Magba all in the West region to where phase one of SIEP will be extended to.
Family picture after SIEP committee meeting in Bamenda on ways to make education inclusive
This has made the challenge bigger for PWDs who will not only continue to suffer stereotypes, remain under empowered, miss out on opportunity and effective but also remain in the vicious circle of poverty and disability.

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