In Bertoua, Cameroon, young students are not only learning a vocational skill, but how to live and work alongside each other. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cameroon is offering an eight-month professional training course, along with dormitory accommodations, for young refugees and Cameroonians in five different centres. The project promotes reconciliation and social cohesion with the aim to end discrimination against Central African refugees in the country, build bridges between communities, and provide opportunities to youths who want to build a better future.
“This training has advantages for both Cameroonians and Central Africans,” explained Zari, a young Cameroonian who is studying in the Health Assistant course. “For Cameroonians, it means benefiting from the discovery of new cultures and ways of life. Also, learning to collaborate in each other’s businesses benefits us all.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 105,000 Central Africans have been displaced in bordering countries following the violence erupting from the December 2020 elections, and more than 5,000 of them sought refuge in Cameroon.
The lack of resources and opportunities has stoked prejudices and hostility towards these newcomers. Limited access to basic services and education has also created instances of social exclusion to forcibly displaced individuals from their host countries.
In this JRS youth training programme—supported by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM), Missio Aachen, and other partners—seventy per cent of the students are refugees, while thirty per cent come from the host community; this creates opportunities for cultural exchanges, hospitality, solidarity, and fellowship. The students also participate in theatre, cinema, and peacebuilding activities.
Since the program started in 2018, around 470 students have taken advantage of the various courses that are offered—e.g., courses geared to teach skills in industries such as the hotel business, hair and beauty, administration, and healthcare.
“I am learning about the functions of the human body and how to work in a healthcare centre, because it is my dream to heal others,” expressed Ezéchiel from CAR, who is in the same course as Zari.
“Personally, I would like to develop my own business with a refugee,” explained Esther. After living together with a mixed group of friends while following a course on administration, she came to understand the importance of social inclusion for refugees. “Refugees need people to understand them in order to overcome their difficulties,” she added.
“At the beginning I was not so sure about the idea of living with people I didn’t know,” recounted Sylver from CAR. But later, I told myself that we can actually complement and assist each other.” After finishing the administration course, he wants to start a business with a Cameroonian person to contribute to peace and stability. “You have to think about others as your brothers and sisters,” Sylver emphasised.