TACOMA, Washington — Cameroon, a country located in central Africa, has an ethnically diverse population with more than 200 different ethnic groups and is one of the most urban countries in Africa. However, ethnic differences often lead to conflict. The majority of Cameroon consists of French speakers, around 80%, and the rest of the country speaks English. The English speaking part of the country is seeking to separate from the French-dominated government and create a new nation called Ambazonia. Over the past two years, hundreds have died because of the conflict and 500,000 people have been displaced. The conflict has also greatly affected education as it is becoming increasingly dangerous to attend schools. Programs have been established to lower the ever-increasing education gap. Most of these programs use football, as it is considered more than a sport in Cameroon, as part of their culture. Football can be used to promote peace as well as education in Cameroon.
The Education Crisis
In the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, more than 80% of schools have closed over the three-year conflict between the government and armed groups. The closures are the result of a ban on education in Cameroon imposed by militia groups.
The risks of attending school include violence, abduction or even death. As a result of these closures, 9 in 10 children have been out of school for 10 years. This translates to the bans affecting more than 600,000 students. In addition, more than 74 schools have been destroyed.
Effects of the Education Crisis
The crisis has caused those in the English-speaking regions to move to the French regions. This has resulted in overpopulation in those areas, greatly affecting education in Cameroon. Class sizes are generally supposed to be around 40 students, but today, there can be as many as 100 students per classroom. If a student does not turn up early enough for a seat, they can be turned away from class. For those who cannot afford to move their children, they must either pay for an expensive tutor or risk holding home-schooling sessions. Any gathering of more than five people can attract the authorities.
With children out of school, they are at higher risk of being recruited by armed groups. Many children are also exposed to child marriage, early pregnancy and trauma. In fact, since the closure of schools, the number of children exposed to these risks has increased. About 25% of reported pregnancies in Cameroon are from school-aged girls. Of these girls, 20% do not return to school.
In addition, 31% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 10% are married before turning 15. The challenges that children in Cameroon face are one of the reasons football is more than just a sport, it is an integral part of their lives and culture.
Football and Education in Cameroon
Football is the most popular sport in Cameroon; and with good reason. The sport unified the nation when the Cameroon football team became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals in 1990. They also won the African Cup of Nations in both 1984 and 2000. The Cameroon football team also won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
The sport is more important than just viewing pleasure. Children from all backgrounds come together in the streets of Cameroon to play football together.
Through football in Cameroon, children find ways to escape from their everyday lives, form friendships and deal with traumas. Playing football is the only safe space some children have. Whether they are good or bad at football, it is a way for children to form healthy relationships. In addition, it is their only form of entertainment. Small villages do not have a library, a playground or other safe places for children to play. These vulnerable children turn to football, or they are subject to the risks mentioned earlier.
Children who are good at football also have greater educational opportunities. They will be recruited by schools to play against other school’s teams. Often the fees of attending school will be waived for them, so children who could not otherwise afford school can use football to get a better education. Being a good football player means a child can travel to different areas of Cameroon, such as the big cities they wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. Programs developed to aid in education have recognized the importance of football in Cameroon and designed their programs to accommodate it.
Programs Using Football as Education
The Association Internationale Femmes et Population (AIFP) collaborated with One Day One Goal, a program that integrates conflict resolution skills into football training and matches, to hold an event on Peace Day called “Rehabilitation for 5000 Children in Education with Football” in Cameroon. The event included 34 football matches aiming to teach teamwork, understanding of types of violence and health education to children. The program’s long-term goals are to decrease the spike seen in teen pregnancies, child soldiers and child marriages through its education in conflict resolution and making healthy decisions.
Kick for Trade has also chosen Cameroon as a project site. The organization teaches life skills like leadership and teamwork through football. Problem-solving, creative thinking, communication, interpersonal skills, empathy and resilience are the life skills most focused on. The lessons require minimal equipment, making the program accessible for any child who would like to learn life skills in order to be more employable. The project in Cameroon will specifically focus on using these skills to improve ethnic integration and promote peace.
Since Cameroon’s culture is intertwined with football, it makes sense to form programs promoting peace and education through football. Hopefully, these programs will have a positive impact on the children of Cameroon and more programs will emerge to help solve the education crisis.