Creating a safe space for Internally Displaced Women in Cameroon
25 April 2023
To reinforce its humanitarian response to the protection needs of internally displaced women and girls in the region, JRS West Africa organised the GLOW camp, an acronym for Girls Leading Our World, funded by the Basque government and our partner Alboan.
Ten days of living together with 40 girls, aged between 12 and 25, in which they shared experiences, acquired tools, and enjoyed a safe and healing space together. “We decided to hold the camp in Kribi, a coastal area in southern Cameroon, because it was a neutral space for them, where they were able to speak freely about complex issues,” attested Kongmo Kingsley, field agent. During these days, the girls worked together on topics such as sexual education, self-esteem, human rights, interpersonal communication, and conflict resolution. The main objective was to emphasise the significant role that girls have in society, promote leadership, and provide the skills needed to work on reducing gender-based violence (GBV).
Resilience in the face of adversity
In the urban areas of Yaoundé and Douala, Cameroon JRS supports Internally Displaced People (IDPs), who are fleeing the socio-political conflict in the northwest and southwest regions of the country. This crisis, which began in 2017, has forced thousands of people to flee, while many more are internally displaced. “The women we serve arrive in Yaoundé with traumas due to rape, murder, and insecurity. They come here hoping to find safety for themselves and their families,” Kingsley declares, “in addition, when they arrive here, they are exposed to stigma, abuse, and domestic violence.”
“For internally displaced women in Cameroon, dreaming is difficult in a society that doesn’t allow them to do so. Helping them to dream was a wonderful experience,” declares Christian Alama, JRS expert in MHPSS. Sharing fears, experiences, and emotions was healing for the girls. “We worked with them to build their capacity to cope with adversity. Most of them were raped and experienced a lot of violence. Sharing their testimonies with other girls was therapeutic. Also, as a psychologist, I provided them with stress management resources to cope with tricky situations,” explained Christian. “Glow Camp was a wonderful community based MHPSS initiative.”
Daniella* comes from the northwest region of Cameroon. She left her home in 2019 because of the Anglophone crisis. “There were so many killings around us. When the crisis started, they burned homes, and they also killed one of my cousins, so I decided to move to Yaoundé.” As Cameroon is a bilingual country, it was difficult for Daniella to integrate into Yaoundé because she does not speak French and that affected her self-esteem.
She describes the GLOW camp as an amazing opportunity to grow and socialise with other girls. “I didn’t know a day could be like this in my life. I have learned from the GLOW camp that, as a girl, I should not minimise myself. I can do what a man can do.”
JRS also supports Daniella’s traditional sewing business with the livelihood programme. “I can put food on my table, and my kids attend school thanks to this programme.”
Nadine* is originally from the southwest region of Cameroon. She arrived in the capital in 2019. Due to the crisis, she had to stop her education. “When I first arrived, I found it really difficult to take care of myself. I had to deal with boys who wanted to take advantage of me.” JRS supported her with training in soap production and provided her with the necessary materials to start her own small business.
One thing Nadine values most about participating in the GLOW camp is undoubtedly sharing her experiences with other women and feeling supported by the testimonies of other girls. “They shared experiences of violence, and together we learned to recognise the early signs, so we could take action.” For her, education is key, and she always encourages younger girls to continue going to school. “When you go to school, you have more opportunities. In my area, girls do not always have the opportunity, because families often force them to get married at the age of 13 or 14. I tell them: you are capable, don’t put yourself down.”
“In the GLOW camp, I learned that no one can force a woman to get married. Not even the family, I also learned about GBV: how I can deal with it, overcome it, and denounce it. It is important to talk when you are suffering.” She used to think that she was nobody, but thanks to the self-esteem workshop and the psychosocial support, now she has confidence in herself.
*name of fantasy to protect the identity of the person.