Bertoua – In 2017, Cameroon hosted almost 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers. A majority of these refugees are from Central African Republic (CAR), driven west by war, but there are also refugees from Chad and Nigeria. Cameroon also has more than 200,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) due to political tensions and the insurgence of Boko Haram in its northern region. In Eastern Cameroon, The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) supports refugees though a livelihood programme in Bertoua by providing professional and vocational training, start-up support, and entrepreneurial guidance.
JRS Cameroon offers literacy courses to improve communication skills, entrepreneurship training, business plan guidance, economic support, and more.
Chimene Steva is a refugee from CAR, now living in Gado-Badzéré refugee camp with her two young daughters. She arrived in Cameroon four years ago when the armed conflict forced her to leave her country. She recently finished the JRS training course in cosmetics and hairdressing. Thanks to her new skills she was able to open her own beauty salon: Steva Coiffure.
“At the start it’s not easy, but I got an idea. I called some girls in the camps and I styled them free. After a few days, the other girls in the camps saw their hairstyle and they really liked it, so thanks to this I started to have clients.”
Before the training, Chimene sold pastries in the camps. Now she combines both activities and sells pastries in her beauty salon. Steva Coiffure is the only beauty salon in Gado camp, and now refugee women don’t have to go to the city for this service. Chimene’s dream is to earn enough money to improve her business and buy some beauty products that are not available in the camps. She wants to help transform her new home and community.
Harouna Marian also lives in Gado refugee camp and is a student in the JRS livelihood programme. Harouna fled her country while pregnant after her husband was murdered during the war in CAR.
“I have never gone to school, and before the training I was at home. I started the JRS literacy course in the camp and after 5 months I learned to read and write. Then I enrolled in JRS professional training in mechanics.” Harouna is about to successfully complete her training.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of becoming a mechanic, but people always told me that this is not a woman’s job. After one of the JRS awareness sessions about gender and occupations, I understood that this is not true and I that I can do anything I want. So, a few days after, I decided to enroll in the mechanic training. Now I know I can continue with my life. I can read and write, and I can provide for my family, because now I have learned a profession and I can find a job.” Harouna wants to tell all women or girls in her same situation not to listen to critics because “there is nothing you cannot do; you just have to be willing.”
Jean Cadeau and Mahamat are refugees who live in Garoua Boulai, a town on the border of Cameroon and CAR. They have both completed JRS training in computer maintenance and decided to open their own business that provides services for photocopies, printing, computer repairs, and more. Jean Cadeau says, “the world is computerised and for this reason we decided to create our business. We think that people in Garoua Boulai need to have access to this kind of service. We have some electricity problems, but our dream is to improve the business and create the first Internet café in the town.”
Mahamat shares these aspirations with Jean Cadeau. He was forced to drop out of school because he did not have the funds to continue his studies. Now, after JRS training and thanks to their business income, he hopes to go back to school. They are happy to see the effect their work has had on the community. Mahamat says, “people congratulate us for our initiative when they come and they know that we are refugees. Usually people say, ‘this is the first time that we have seen refugees open a business!’ We are so proud, and all our neighbours here encourage us.”