The situation of the less privileged, the physically challenged, OVC and their caregivers in Cameroon remain highly deplorable. Many are in abject poverty deprived of even the basic necessities of life: dignified and sustainable access to food and nutrition, acceptable living conditions, psychosocial resources critical to development and health, legal and social protection, educational resources, wages/income, and affordable health care.
The generally held assumption is that the extended family and community provide a safety net of protection especially for orphans and vulnerable children following the death of parents or guardians. But in reality, the extended family and community systems have become so weakened that they rarely these days provide the said safety nets. Government structures are also considered quite weak in terms of providing support for OVC, especially at the state and local government levels where the most direct impact can be made on the lives of the target group. It is these weakened and eroded structures that are most important to the success of a community‐driven response to the challenge of OVC.
Within the Cameroon context, the female adolescent OVC experiences a complex set of vulnerabilities. She is young and entering puberty when many changes, both physical and psychological, are taking place. This is a sensitive period in her life cycle during which she needs gentle, caring navigation through the rites of passage to adulthood. Orphaning occurs and suddenly, all protective cover over her is removed. She feels exposed, cheated, betrayed, desperate, and powerless to change her situation because the layers of protection usually available to adolescents are either stripped off or ineffective.
Incapable of accessing even the most critical resources, overwhelmed by need and unable to make life‐enhancing decisions, she falls prey to exploitation and risks in her quest to access basic necessities. Gender inequities, poverty, age, culture, social class/status, terminal illness, education level and lack of access to information increases vulnerability and these are exacerbated by household politics in which women and girls are largely powerless, voiceless, and undervalued. Despite the low value placed upon these females, the burden of care and nurture falls heavily on them. This situation becomes worse if illness or death of the patriarch and breadwinner/head of household occurs. Illness or death of the mother figure can further exacerbate the balance of power and situation of the girl‐child who was already at the bottom in the hierarchy of power within the household. As poverty deepens, so does her vulnerability and ability to protect herself from HIV infection.
Due to the pervasiveness of the challenges facing all categories of OVC and especially female adolescents and heads of households, St. Albert Charity intervenes at three levels—individual, support network, and systems to have an impact on orphans through four critical as well as strategic intervention platforms (i.e., education, economic strengthening, psychosocial support, and legal protection). Focusing on these three access points and addressing these four areas of need, St. Albert Charity has successfully worked to reduce the vulnerability of adolescent females and female heads of households and to affect other OVC groups including male adolescents.