Churube Stella, 39, is hopeful that her sufferings will soon go away after acquiring skills that will enable her to generate income for herself and her family.
She was a prosperous businesswoman and farmer in Ako, an agrarian locality in Cameroon, before an armed separatist conflict erupted in the country’s English-speaking regions of Northwest and Southwest in 2016.
Stella, who was born and bred in the Northwest, said all her goods and farmlands were destroyed and her life plus that of her family members threatened. She came under attack several times and even lost her tooth owing to beatings administered to her by non-state armed groups.
“They destroyed our businesses, farms and houses,” she said, “so we escaped to Buea (Cameroon’s Southwest regional capital).”
While in Buea, life became unbearable for Stella, her three grandmothers and nine children who looked up to her for feeding. Living as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) in a stranger land, she could only survive with her family based on charity from goodwill people.
As years went by without any signs of the war ending soon, Stella joined a prayer group and, fortunately for her, she came in contact with a pastor who introduced her to Ghoshem – a baking school run by gender activist and baker, Ekabe Quinta, who is passionate about training female victims of the war.
Stella has completed the training and can’t wait to start a baking business which she believes will eventually revive her prosperous business days.
“I am very grateful because, with just this training, my life has already changed,” she said. “With the knowledge I have acquired from this programme, I know that even if there is no money to start today, by God’s grace, tomorrow I can bake, fry gateau somewhere and raise small money to start my own business in order to take care of my family.”
Stella is just one of the over 30 female victims (teenagers and adults) who are undergoing training at Ghoshem Baking School in order to acquire knowledge that will render them self-reliant.
Tatah Destrice is 15 years old. She has been an IDP in Buea for five years now because she was displaced with her family from Munyenge, a village 51 kilometres away from the town of Buea. Tata could have been completing university by now but, because of the conflict, her family property was destroyed making it difficult for her parents to continue sending her to school. She still has dreams of going back to school one day and studying to become a nurse. But now, she is focused on learning a trade that will help her and her siblings.
“I cannot be illiterate and again don’t have any hand work to do,” she said.
“I cannot just give up. I am still a young girl and bright. I am very happy because I know that my life will eventually improve because of this training. I know what lies ahead of me is very big. I have learned how to bake a cake – which I will use to make money to help my siblings and pay school fees,” she added.
Her life in Buea before she was introduced to the training was wretched. She said they lived in a plant house – no door or window – with roofs leaking each time rain falls and with that some people could only sleep on the floor because of no mattress coupled with them not having what to eat. Tata is upbeat that the hard life will soon be a thing of the past because she has gained knowledge that will change her life.
The IDP women who just completed the training at Ghoshem Baking School in Buea can now look at a better life in the future thanks to the Pastor of Crown of Faith Deliverance Ministry, Roland Essele.
He initiated the programme because he came across many IDP women who came to his church and tabled their problems owing to the war.
“Most of them will complain of not having what to eat and where to stay. Some are prostituting. When you ask them why, they will say they are coming from war zones. When I come across these complaints, I look at them…. We have been struggling, sharing them bags of rice, even small tips to help them save in one or two ways. Yet, the complaints keep coming,” he said.
“So I decided that I will look for a partner whom we can empower them to have something to do for themselves,” Pastor Roland Essele added.
According to him, the main reason for training the IPDs is to fight poverty in the lives of women, both the old and the youth.
“If they have what they can do, I believe the world will have something to gain from them and the community will benefit from it,” he said.
The Pastor is also a commercial taxi driver. It is the proceeds from his driving that he uses in organising the training for these IPD women and girls.
His wish is for more resources and funding. However, he is not relenting as he said he would make it like a training school so that many more who are suffering as a result of the conflict can benefit from it and poverty will be fought.
Currently, they are still patching in a small room which they converted into a bakery at the Buea Youth Centre. There, the IPDs are involved in learning how to bake different kinds of cakes, be it for weddings or birthdays. Aside from cakes, they are learning how to fry different varieties of food.
Ekabe Quinta, is giving them the desired skills. According to her, she can only rest when women are financially stable, especially at this time they are suffering from the effects of the current war.
She started the training by making the women psychologically balanced owing to the trauma from the war before proceeding to teach them.
“I had to bring their minds back telling them that they can do it. Secondly, I tell them what they can benefit from if they learn,” she said, adding that she teaches them everything in the bakery. “I try to educate them that they can stand and become bakery owners anywhere in the world. I teach them entrepreneurship and bring them together to see how they can be empowered.”
Ekabe trained them on how to bake, measure and make ice cakes. “Apart from cake, we have sugar bowls, gâteau, boulangerie, cookies, fish pie, meat pie, and hamburgers, among others.”
The project initiators called on the international community and people of goodwill to come to their aid in their drive to empower thousands of IDP women.
Cameroon is the only bilingual country in Africa. The English-speaking regions that have been plagued by war constitute about 20 percent of the population. The current war started with just a protest from lawyers and teachers of English extraction over claims of marginalisation by the government of President Paul Biya.
Owing to the government’s inability to properly tackle the demands of the aggrieved lawyers and teachers, what was just a crisis, by 2017 had escalated into an armed conflict. According to the Global Centre For The Responsibility To Protect, more than 6,000 people have been killed since 2016 while over 500,000 have been displaced internally.
By Njodzeka Danhatu and Arison Tamfu