Yaounde, Cameroon — Authorities in Cameroon said at least 70,000 schoolchildren and their teachers have returned to classrooms this year in the troubled western regions. The schools had been abandoned due to threats from English-speaking rebels, who see them as an arm of the French-speaking-majority's rule.
Fourteen-year-old Clementine Fua is spending a holiday in Yaoundé with her uncle. Fua said this year, she braved threats from separatists and successfully went to school in her hometown Njinikom, in the English-speaking Northwest region. Fua said separatists deprived her of education for three years.
"It is good for everyone to go to school so they can have the knowledge," Fua said. "We struggled through the crisis. When we were going to school there were gunshots, we ran and we came back (to school) by God's grace. God helped us. We wrote the First School Leaving Certificate peacefully."
Cameron's First School Leaving Certificate and Common Entrance Examinations qualify primary students for secondary school studies.
Cameroon's ministries of basic and secondary education said Fua is one of 70,000 students who returned to more than 400 re-opened schools this year in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
Wilfred Wambeng Ndong is the highest government official in charge of basic education in the Northwest.
He reports that the number of children who took their First School Leaving exams this year increased dramatically.
"Last year we had 12,786 candidates who sat the First School Leaving and Common Entrance," Ndong said. "And this year, we have 27,128, meaning that the number almost doubled."
Ngwang Roland Yuven is in charge of secondary education in the Northwest region. He said the number of kids taking secondary school exams also increased.
"This year, the figure moved from the 13,000 of last year to 22,482 candidates," Yuven said. "The examinations were conducted in a hitch-free manner thanks to the strict and committed follow-up by security. The success also came about as a result of the determination and resilience of parents and the candidates themselves who defied all challenges to ensure that they participated."
Yuven said the success recorded this year might motivate parents to send their children back to school, despite continued threats from separatist militants.
The separatists attacked or set fire to more than 200 schools between 2017 and 2019, and nearly all schools in the North- and Southwest regions shut down, as teachers left their jobs due to insecurity.
Nji Samuel Kale is education secretary of schools owned by the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, or the PCC. He said everyone involved -- students, parents, teachers and security forces -- has shown great commitment to making sure the schools stay open.
"We want to thank the community for the strong mobilization they carried out to ensure that the schools reopened," Kale said. "The community and the Christians helped us run the schools. The teachers, we must attest, they have been enduring a lot. They have shown a lot of resilience. We are praying that unfortunate incidents should not occur again so that the children should have education."
The separatists launched their rebellion in 2017. According to the United Nations, more than 3,000 people, including soldiers and police, have been killed since the violence in the regions began.