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Africa

Cameroonian teacher helping children with disabilities

In Cameroon, people living with disabilities face discrimination. This applies to children as well adults. Teacher Fuka Fuen Relindis has made it her mission to fight popular prejudice.

It is seven o'clock in the morning. Parents and their children are streaming in to Cameroon's National Center for the Rehabilitation of People Living with Disabilities in the capital Yaounde.

About 300 children attending classes at this institution are physically or mentally challenged. They require specialized care and training.

30-year-old Fuka Fuen Relindis is standing at the gate to welcome them. She described her daily routine to DW. "I come here before seven, I wait for the children because parents bring them early and dump them and go," Relindis said. Another reason why the teachers and caregivers have to come in early is because "some of the children may harm themselves."

"I give them toys to play with, I give them things to do, and then we have the normal morning assembly and then they move to class," Relindis said.

Humble background

The second child in a family of six, Relindis was born in North West Cameroon. Her parents, who are peasant farmers, wanted her to find a good job after her studies.

A sign board with information on Cameroon's school for the rehabilitation of persons living with disabilities in Yaounde.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Paul Emil Leger cared for lepers and children with disabilities in Cameroon.

That would enable her to support the rest of the family.

However, soon after she finished her education, Relindis decided that it was the many physically challenged people in her home village in Kom who needed care and attention. "I noticed a lot of things that people do against the wish of persons living with disabilities," Relindis said. She also dislikes the way people still refer to persons living with disabilities as "disabled people."

Relindis believes this is one of the reasons why society continues to treat them poorly. "I think they have abilities that are not given to every one and so I prefer calling them people with special abilities."

Her courage, hard work and commitment to the cause of the physically challenged, finally paid off when Cameroon's National Center for the Rehabilitation of People Living with Disabilities invited her to accept a teaching post.

Mbi Divine, a colleague at the rehabilitation center, described Relindis as an inspirational figure. "Relindis has been so pragmatic in the way she has been handling the children and collaborating with the rest of the staff," Divine said. "Relindis has skills, she has talents," she added.

Payback for wrongdoing

Traditionally, many Cameroonians believe that people born with disabilities, or those who later become disabled, have been struck by some form of divine punishment for their wrongdoings.

A female young teacher stands in front of a rehabilitation school in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Fuka Fuen Relindis says her work with children with disabilities contravened the wishes of her parents

They also believe children are born with physical challenges because of misdeeds committed by their parents. It is not uncommon for people born with disabilities to be abandoned in the bush and left to die.

Relindis said she has to educate the people so they eventually abandon such beliefs and focus on parenting.

"Most of the parents do not accept that their children can be trained, for example, if you tell a parent to buy a balloon, to them it is just a waste of time but it makes the child concentrate." Relindis also said such a simple thing as a balloon could help the kid work on speech and breathing.

Relindis is now a graduate of the only school in Cameroon that trains teachers for the physically challenged. She said she wants to commit her life to their care and would be quite prepared to have a physically challenged man as her life partner.

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