Providing care and support to grandmothers, children and adolescent girls in the conflict zone of the North West Region of Cameroon


In times of war, women and children suffer most, as they are subject to being killed, relocating to safer zones, looking for food and shelter. In most conflict zones, women and children are in the majority of all war refugees. Rape, sexual torture and sexual exploitation are fueled by war. Most often, women and girls are sexually exploited by aid workers and armed groups and also by development workers in post-conflict areas. Women and girls are at higher risk of STDs, including HIV infection, from soldiers and humanitarian/development workers.
As a result of the war situation that has been going on in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, Saint Albert Charity started focusing her work in the said war zone by providing care and support to grandmothers, orphaned children, women and adolescent girls most acutely affected by the ongoing socio-political conflict and violence in the North West Region of Cameroon. Daily military incursions, curfews, movement restrictions, targeted killing, kidnapping, arrests, humiliation, spread of terror acts, armed groups activities, economic hardship and poverty have been the order of the day.
These women, girls and children have suffered trauma as a result of death of a parent, relative or acquaintance, torture; witnessing an act of violence, separation from one or both parents for a long period of time, injury, including those resulting in deformity or handicaps; burning of villages / mass destruction of property, just to name a few. The impact has resulted in children being unable to attend school for years; prolonged ghost towns have resulted in gender-based violence (mainly physical and sexual abuse), sexual harassment, child abuse, exploitation and sexual violence targeting adolescent girls and women. Villages have been deserted and abandoned to grandmothers and children; while men, young adults and adolescent girls are easy targets of the military and armed groups. Grandmothers are mostly nursing the dying and bringing up orphaned
children on their own and in many localities dig the graves to bury lost loved ones. To make things worse, these grandmothers, for the most part, suffer from a lack of information, stigmatization and overriding poverty. One of the most dominant effects of the continued conflict is the loss of hope. The effects on the individual, the family, and the community will be long lasting – finding ways to overcome the traumas of the past is the only way to bring hope and a brighter future.

Approach of Saint Albert in addressing the issues
We use a rights-based approach to address issues faced by grandmothers in the ongoing conflict. Despite their sufferings, we fine time to educate them on their human rights and to let them understand basic international instruments they can rely on. Assistance which they received is based on humanitarian principles and we try to reach out to many affected women as much as possible.
Helping women (grandmothers) overcome the challenges of war

i. Gender roles as a result of war
The conflict between government troops and armed separatist fighters is forcing many women to take on a role usually left to men – that is digging graves to bury the dead (something that has never happened in the conflict area). With most of the men having fled from their communities, women and children, mostly less than 18 years, are left to search for corpses of their children and community members killed during the war for burials. It is a taboo that has now been broken; considering most especially that such rituals were hitherto performed by municipal authorities of local governments, most of whom also have virtually relocated to ‘greener zones.’
Our work consists in providing food assistance and counseling to these women as they express their frustrations in playing roles hitherto reserved for men. Most women we talk to have revealed that “we keep praying to have an end to this war as we are now community watch dogs playing roles of men here.” Sometimes decomposed corpses are littered in communities and no one dares to come near them for fear of being killed by the military who may open fire, thinking that the accomplices of said victims are sneaking out to take away the corpses of their fallen friends. Houses get burned but women simply escape with their teenage children as they mostly lack the capacity to repair them.

ii. Escalation of food crises as a result of war
Though we provide food assistance to families still living in the war zones, women do not find it easy accepting to be fed with such food, as it is their culture to eat food cultivated by themselves from their farms. They have even feared repression as they find life very difficult working in the field as many have received life stray bullets while doing so. They are forced to change their diet composition and many have expressed the wish to have peace return to their communities so that they return to their usual communal way of life. Their livelihood patterns are being reshaped against their wishes and many fine it difficult to accept and continue to brave the odds.

Women from one of our beneficiary communities anxiously waiting to receive food assistance

Saint Albert Charity has simply been engaged in counseling with a goal of addressing trauma and we are making great strides as confidence building is gradually recorded in the communities we serve. Access to some of the most remote areas where heavy fighting is raging is quite limited at this point in time and everyone is considered a suspect.

The role women, especially the grandmothers, now play in communities is seen as taboo by many persons who learn of this; yet, they see it normal as they have always had this care-giver role. However, the grandmothers feel more frustrated digging graves and making coffins to bury the dead. They are only comforted by organizations like Saint Albert Charity, who come to give them hope.