BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Schools resumed yesterday after three months of vacation for students in Cameroon. But many children here were doing anything but resting during the break.
Chefor Fritz, 12, sold onions all summer. Chefor, who completed his primary school education during the previous school year, says he needed to earn money during the holidays in order to be able to advance to secondary school.
“I am hoping to go to form one,” he says. “If I don't sell onions, I will not be able to go to school because my parents do not have enough money. So my mum encouraged me to sell onions so that I can make money that will be used to send me to school.”
He says that if he had a choice, he would not have spent his vacation from school selling onions in the streets. Rather, he would have attended computer classes like his peers who come from wealthy families.
While some children’s families could afford to send them to classes and youth camps during the vacation, other children had to hawk goods on the streets in order to raise money for the new school year. In Cameroon, school holidays are characterized by scores of young hawkers in the streets, especially the most recent one because it’s the longest. The three-month vacation is the most crucial, as parents face the burden of saving money for a new school year.
To help their parents, the youth sold goods such as towels, plastic and leather bags, chair pillows, books, pens, pencils, stickers, flags and second-hand clothing. Others sold food, such as Irish potatoes, peppers, onions, tomatoes, fresh spices, salt, cakes, fish rolls, meat rolls, cooking oil, bean rolls, boiled groundnuts, sweets and biscuits.
But unlike Chefor, some children say they would rather hawk goods than attend school.
Junior, a 13-year-old who declined to give his last name, says he collects different goods from shop owners to sell depending on seasonal demands. With the start of the new school year, he is now selling schoolbags.
“I like selling in the streets at all times,” he says. “I enjoy the exercise. I make money from selling bags. Sometimes, I sell books.”
He says he began hawking goods during primary school to earn money for his education. But he liked making money and disliked going to school, so he discontinued his education after primary school.
“Nobody forced me into the business,” he says. “After my primary education, I decided not to go to school again. I make between 800 francs ($1.50) and 1,500 francs ($2.85) daily, and I hope to own a shop someday.”