Open wounds: Hadja Bintou has never been able to find stability in her new environment after she fled from her village because of violence

It is in the neighbourhood of Sararé Lougueo—in the Far North capital city of Maroua in Cameroon—that Hadja Bintou, together with her husband and their seven children found refuge. For the 35-year-old woman, what she thought would be a temporary situation became permanent as her village Amchide in the Far North and other villages near the Cameroon border with Nigeria have been targets of recurrent suicide bombing attacks for close to five years now.

“My return to my home village has only been a dream which has never come true. I have become a permanent internally displaced person in my country, living from hand to mouth with the little savings we had and depending on others. Finding myself in this condition and getting to survive with my children has been a heavy load for me to carry especially as I left my house leaving every belonging behind. After three years of struggle with my husband, he died and left me all alone to face the hard realities of life,” sais Bintou.

The Far North region has, for the past years, witnessed massive displacements of close to 246,000 people, most of whom are women and children in dire need of assistance.  Most of these poeple settled in the Diamaré, Mayo sava and Mayo Tsanaga divisions of Cameroon.

“At the beginning of the crisis, spontaneous solidarity was expressed by host communities who shared their food and provided shelter and clothing to vulnerable internally displaced people (IDPs). But after few months of constant assistance by the host communities, the burden became too heavy for them to bear given their limited means and other life challenges which they also face,” explains Ali Adoum, Red Cross local President in Maroua.

Bintou’s family, just like for many others, has been struggling to rent a house, feed, pay school fees for children and provide medical care for them.

“I was able to raise capital from the sale of my valuable jewelleries in order to start a business to support my family. However, no matter how hard I have had to work, I still have not been able to cope up with my responsibilities. Sending my daughters to school has always been a matter of honour to me as I was not lucky to enjoy that privilege. I hope that if my daughters are educated, they will stand a better chance to succeed in life,” adds Bintou.

Today, because of the precarious condition in which Bintou finds herself, she has had no choice but to send three of her children to a neighbouring village where they assist her sister in her business, in the hope that she would, someday, be able to have all of her family back together to live in a more dignified way. “All I am crying for is to have an income generating activity to relieve me from the chaotic condition in which I presently am and to enable me to care for my children with dignity.”

In response to the most urgent needs of IDPs in the Far North region, the Cameroon Red Cross has been involved, for the past two years, in water sanitation and hygiene promotion activities. The actions which have been implemented by 148 volunteers and senior staff include providing communities with awareness-raising messages on good hygiene practices, improving their  knowledge on environmental hygiene, handwashing  and food  hygiene. These activities were all carried out with a view to reducing the risk of exposure to waterborne diseases, and particularly the cholera endemic in that part of the country.

By Mirabelle Kima, IFRC