Ten-year old Anastasie lives in Oudjila Igazawa, a village in the far north (Extreme-Nord province) in Cameroon. She dreams of becoming a teacher and is fortunate to have the support of her parents, siblings and grandparents. “I want all children to go to school,” she says, “especially girls who are told that they should stay home.”

Ten-year old Anastasie sits outside with elbow leaning on chair and her COVID-19  face mask pulled down around her neck.

Anastasie (above) also benefits from the International Rescue Committee’s Safe Healing and Learning Spaces initiative, where children who have been out of school are taught basic reading, writing, math and social-emotional skills so they can re-enter the formal education system.

Anastasie sits outdoors at an IRC Safe Space with IRC staff

COVID-19 closed schools in countries across West Africa, but the virus was not the only threat to education in Cameroon: in the far north, conflict has ravaged many communities, leaving thousands displaced and children without education.

A teacher with her arms spread out and seen from the back addresses a group of children seated socially distanced outdoors on a sheet, wearing masks.

The IRC responded to the dual challenge by adapting classrooms to be COVID-secure and providing catch-up classes; in our Safe Healing and Learning Spaces, children are taught the importance of hygiene and techniques to prevent the spread of COVID-19—wearing masks, keeping social distance, and washing hands properly.

10-year old Anastasie, wearing a face mask to protect her against COVID-19 washes her hands at an IRC wash stand fashioned from a covered plastic bucket.

Hand-washing stations set up at the Safe Healing and Learning Spaces can be accessed by adults as well as children.

54-year-old Zara Tapita sits outdoors surrounded by other parents at an IRC Safe Space for children in Cameroon.

Zara Tapita (pictured center), a 54-year-old widow living in Oudjila Igazawa, cares for nine children while rearing cattle and running a small business selling sugar, tea and oil. One of her daughters, Adora, participates in Safe Healing and Learning Spaces, and Zara herself attends sessions targeted at caregivers.

54-year-old Zara Tapita sits on a wooden bench with other parents listening to an IRC staff member leading a session for caregivers, to help them ensure their children can learn and thrive despite crises.

Here Zara learns parenting skills like positive discipline, tips for supporting children emotionally, and stress management aimed at maintaining healthy home environments. Zara believes these sessions help her to encourage Adora to continue studying, and to take better care of her family’s needs generally.

41-year old Komonda stands outside an IRC Safe Space in northern Cameroon, near a tree on a bright day.

Komonda (above), 41, a father of four, lives in Makandai village, also in the far north. He hopes his children become teachers and is an ardent advocate for education in his community.

Komonda, 41, seated on a wooden bench, wearing a COVID-19 face mask, at an IRC session for parents of students in northern Cameroon.

When children don’t turn up at school, he visits their homes and personally talks with their parents to make sure they continue their studies.  

11-year old Kauvaumah stands in a classroom with her backpack slung over her shoulder.

Eleven-year-old Kauvaumah (above) lives in Gouria village with her parents and eight siblings. She is determined to read and write well so she can become a doctor.

Eleven-year-old Kauvaumah, wearing her school uniform, writes at a wooden desk in her classroom in Cameroon.

As a student at Gouria Public School, she’s on the right path to her goal.

Kauvaumah, 11, smiles as she stands writing at a blackboard in her classroom in northern Cameroon.

Photos by Njouliaminche Zedou

The International Rescue Committee’s Safe Healing and Learning Spaces initiative is supported by the European Union. Our Programmatic Partnership with the EU helps school-aged children in CameroonNigeria and Niger access quality education and protection services. In addition, the IRC has been working with parents in West Africa to ensure children have safe and supportive home environments and receive all the support they need.

A version of this story was first published by IRC EU.