September 16th, 2019 marked the beginning of a new initiative ‘The Salaam School’ breath by Local Youth Corner Cameroon in a community called Igagwa1 in the town of Mora, Far North Region of Cameroon. This school is an avenue to promote the prevention and counter the radicalization of internally displaced vulnerable children and youth by providing alternatives to violence through education.
The Salaam(Peace) School is an initiative that seeks to respond to the radicalization and recruitment of displaced children and orphans by Boko Haram in the Far North Region of Cameroon through the provision of access to free formal and non-formal education. The school was launched with 10 children and it grew to 120 children aged 3 to 18 who are almajeri in a community in Mora. These children who have been victims of the terrorist insurgency within their communities have witnessed unspeakable trauma, many of who have been rendered orphans and homeless. For years, they have been living with Mallam Talba Abdoulaye in the Igagwa1 area in the town of Mora with the aim to prevent radicalization and recruitment of children who have been displaced as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency and have been forced into the “Almajiri system” 1 in the Extreme North of Cameroon.
This initiative will provide access to quality education and livelihood in an effort to build their hope and give them an alternative to violence. To achieve this objective, this initiative has been designed into four major activities which include; creation of an elementary school for the children to introduce the French language and basic reading and writing skills; facilitate the identification of the children through the provision of Birth Certificates; provide psycho-social counseling; improve living conditions through the provision of basic necessities.
BACKGROUND AND JUSTIFICATION
In the past five years, the terrorist group Boko Haram has destabilized community life in the Far North region of Cameroon leading to the death of thousands of Cameroonians, thousands more have become refugees in foreign countries and over 238,099 2 people are internally displaced. These internally displaced people (IDPs) have been forced to abandon their livelihoods, depriving them of sufficient food and income, or have lost family members who were their support, pushing many into destitution. Among the IDPs, the majority are women, children, and youth. The children and youth are most affected by the crisis and have become vulnerable to recruitment and radicalization by Boko Haram. They have become susceptible to violence and violent extremism due to the absence of stable community life and security. In the Igagwa1 local community in Mora in the Far North region of Cameroon, many displaced children who have lost their families roam the streets without access to any form of quality education or care. Mallam Talba Abba who is a Quranic teacher in Igagwa1 and runs an “Almagiri” has offered shelter and quranic classes to over 120 abandoned internally displaced children(2-20 years old) with nowhere to go. Most of these children can neither speak French nor English and do not have birth certificates. With no education, no vocational skills, or any source of income, these children have no hope of a better tomorrow. control, and family love thus making them susceptible to extremist narratives they encounter on a daily basis. Consequently, the empty promises of financial stability and purpose offered by Boko Haram fighters become enticing, causing many of them to unknowingly join the ranks of Boko Haram as child soldiers, informants, or suicide bombers. This assertion on the vulnerability of these children both young boys and girls to radicalization and recruitment was shared by the Mallam in our conversation who expressed fears on how some of the kids he harbored have disappeared while others, actively suffer from trauma due to the loss of their families as a result of the insurgency in the region. Similarly, according to Aghedo & Eke (2013), the majority of these young people in the Almajiri system have reportedly been the major foments of violent acts in Northern Nigeria as they are ready to do anything to survive. This project, therefore, is an opportunity to promote and build sustainable peace by providing alternatives to violence through education, sensitization, and psycho-social support for these children and youth.
The specific objectives of this project are:
- To increase the literacy levels (reading and writing proficiency) of the Internally displaced children and youth found in the Igagwa1 area
- To facilitate learning and the transition into formal education for the internally displaced youth and children in this area
- To enable the children, have access to identification material such as birth certificates
- To provide psycho-social counselling aimed at empowering internally displaced children and youth in the Igagwa1 area
- To equip internally displaced children and youth with coping skills necessary to respond to situations of radicalization and violence.
The skills and lessons that the children and youth gain from this program not only helps them resolve and resist conflicts throughout their lives but will also give them alternatives to violent extremism such as access to formal education. By engaging in this project, the beneficiaries will become inspirations and role models to their peers and will act as pioneers through which their families and communities will be lifted out of poverty.