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From refugee to teacher: How solidarity and inclusion paved the way for Yacubu Britrus' success


From refugee to teacher: How solidarity and inclusion paved the way for Yacubu Britrus' success

4 October 2023 Also available in:
From refugee to teacher: How solidarity and inclusion paved the way for Yacubu Britrus' success

Yacubu Britrus, a Nigerian refugee from Minawao camp in Cameroon’s Far North, is now a lecturer at an institute of higher learning in the country’s economic capital Douala

There is a quiet self-assurance to Yacubu Britrus as he walks into a classroom in a tertiary-level institute offering biomedical and technological science courses to a few thousand students in Cameroon's economic capital city of Douala. A few years ago, he was a student at the Alpha Higher Institute. The school's management invited him to join the teaching staff once he completed his degree course with distinction.

"I really feel proud of myself. At the same time, I appreciate the school that recognised my efforts and offered me a job which I didn't go searching for. This makes me proud of myself," says Yacubu.

In 2014, when violence spawned by the Boko Haram insurgency engulfed their hometown of Bokko Hudele in northern Nigeria, Yacubu and his family were forced to flee in the dead of night, finding safety in Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon's Far North Region. Then came challenges ranging from food to eat and clothes to wear, adjusting to a new education system, and learning a new language – French – the predominantly used official language in the region.

"Due to the fact that I had an educational background from Nigeria, it put me down," says the 27-year-old Nigerian refugee, “I could not pass some subjects in which I was perfect, so I felt like I could have just left school, but I had some teachers who encouraged me to sit up and continue. I've been able to cope, and now I'm a graduate, a medical laboratory scientist."

Being on the teaching staff of a tertiary-level institute is a reward for Yacubu’s grit but also a direct product of his experiencing equal opportunity in his country of asylum through a combination of help from UNHCR and partners and the circle of solidarity that formed around him wherever he went, from Minawao, all the way to Douala.

UNHCR assistance ensured he would be able to complete high school, and a DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) scholarship secured an enrolment in a higher education course. Interest and coaching from his teachers and peers gave him a sense of belonging and helped him adjust to a new environment. 

"When I came to Douala, the Institute's staff took me as their brother. They [asked] me every day if I had any difficulty or distractions. These gave me the impression that, indeed, there are people out there that genuinely want others to progress."

However, Yacubu is among only one per cent of over 220,000 refugees above 18 years in Cameroon with a university degree, and an even smaller percentage of those with formal jobs. This is despite the country's inclusive policies, which give refugees and nationals equal rights to education and work.

"We try to remedy this by raising awareness among employers, who are often unaware that refugees have the same rights to work as Cameroonians," says UNHCR's livelihoods specialist in Douala, Michel Gouenet. "The ideal will be to replicate Yacubu's experience for as many refugees as possible. That's why we advocate for inclusion in education and work opportunities and demonstrate how everyone benefits when refugees have access to formal employment."

There's been no need to convince Yacubu's employers about the merits of having him on the Institute's teaching staff.

"Today, Yacubu stands here in this institution, where he is training Cameroonians," says Samuel Longtse, one of the Directors of Alpha Higher Institute and Yacubu's supervisor. "The nation as a whole stands to benefit from the services he's delivering, and that goes a long way to say that as school administrators, or as any other employer, we have to give refugees a chance to feel they belong and once that is given to them, they will deliver for the whole society around them."

Meanwhile, Yacubu is helping other refugee students to navigate tertiary education in Cameroon by coaching them on courses best suited to them and giving them insight into the advantages and disadvantages of different specialities. He also wants to make a mark in a more significant way, especially in refugee camps like Minawao, where his family still resides.

"I have a BSc in Medical laboratory sciences, which deals with human health. I would like to work in a refugee community to find out their health issues and look for a way to tackle these issues and reduce morbidities within the refugee community."