The song “Oh Teachers” by Cameroonian singer Aunty Clo blasted through speakers Tuesday at Yaounde’s city council courtyard with about 200 teachers listening.
Aunty Clo’s lyrics are about how teachers should be respected and protected as they are the ones tasked with molding young minds for the future and Cameroon’s development.
Most of the teachers attending the protest, held to mark U.N.-declared World Teachers Day, say they fled the Boko Haram insurgency in the north or fighting between the government and English-speaking separatists in the west.
Fifty-two-year-old Peter Tar, a spokesperson for the teachers, says instructors working in Cameroon’s conflict zones endure a lot of suffering.
“Teachers are being persecuted every day, every hour. Some have been brutally killed. Others, brutally deprived of some parts of their bodies, forced out of their areas to become internally displaced persons. Some are now jobless. My heart bleeds for these teachers. I pray peace should return,” he said.
Tar said he escaped from a government school in the town of Ndop after separatist fighters kidnapped him.
The protest was organized by the Cameroon Association of Teachers in Crisis. Tar said the teachers want the international community to know that they are suffering.
More than 40 teachers have been killed in Cameroon since 2017. At least 300 others were abducted and freed only after their families paid ransom.
Hundreds of schools in the north and west were destroyed or shut down.
Valentine Tameh, president of the Teachers Association of Cameroon, says teachers sometimes have no option but to flee the violence.
“It becomes, really, a sorry spectacle, seeing teachers running with their families, some losing their lives, some fleeing to areas where they cannot do anything to sustain themselves. We are appealing that everyone who is engaged in a kind of war should understand that teachers and the milieu in which they operate are sacrosanct and fighters should understand that, without teachers, the community is preparing for a kind of dark ages,” Tameh said.
Cameroon’s Minister of Basic Education, Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, says the military is protecting schools, teachers and school children in regions where there is a security crisis.
He encouraged teachers who fled insecurity to return to relatively peaceful areas for the sake of the children in need of education.
“We’ve just recruited 5,000 teachers to support those who have already been in the field. When you (teachers) go to teach in a region of Cameroon, you must know that it is your country. The children, who are there, are all our sons and daughters, so we have to do everything necessary for them to have a safe education because they are the actors who tomorrow will continue building Cameroon,” Etoundi Ngoa said.
The United Nations declared October 5 as World Teacher’s Day in 1994 to honor educators for the important role they play in economic development and other sectors.