“After doing my chores in the mornings, I used to go to the support centre for my studies. But now, I can’t any more because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now I stay at home every day and doing nothing reminds me of all the stress that my family and I are going through,” says 17-year-old Sonia.
Sonia lives with her parents and siblings in a small town in Cameroon’s South West region. She is the eldest of six children, including four girls, the youngest of whom is five years old. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Sonia and her family were living with the upheaval of the civil war which is raging in Cameroon’s two English speaking regions, a crisis that has led to the internal displacement of 680,000 people, with girls and women among the worst affected.
Before it was closed to control the spead of the disease, Sonia attended the Children Community Support Structure (CCSS) in her village, which is an education centre for children who have no access to school, teaching basic literacy and numeracy skills. These structures were set up under a partnership between Plan International and the Education Cannot Wait Fund, in response to the closure of schools in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon since 2016, due to the ongoing conflict in the two regions.
Sonia regularly attended the CCSS and participating enthusiastically with all the activities on offer, keeping her busy and happy. It also kept her dreams of becoming a teacher alive, and gave her the desire to be more focused on her studies. “Sonia is very active and smart. She is inquisitive and takes her studies and participation in every activity very seriously,” confirms one of the facilitators at the CCSS.
Since COVID-19 was first reported in Cameroon, things have changed for Sonia. She can’t attend the CCSS as gatherings are prohibited and her parents’ businesses are no longer as profitable as before, a situation which means she is unable to buy basic necessities such as sanitary pads. She now spends all her time at home doing the housework.
“I hate COVID-19 because it kills. The pandemic has badly affected my parent’s business, and it has become difficult to take care of our basic needs. I am scared of going to the market to buy provisions for my family and me. I cannot even go out to visit friends like before.” Sonia says sadly.
She also fears being attacked as there has been a risein the number of incidents of violence towards girls in her community. “Crime has increased in my neighbourhood. Criminals now take advantage of the compulsory wearing of masks to commit crimes, since you can’t easily recognise them. As a result, many more girls are being exposed to different forms of abuse, including rape.”
Sonia is just one of thousands of girls in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon who are caught between the effects of the conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic. To support children and their families, Plan International has launched an emergency response covering both the socio-political crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work includes child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, relief aid distributions, education, nutrition and livelihood.
“So far, we are working in 176 communities across the two regions and have developed a plan to extend our response to more communities in need; with the availability of more funds, we shall be able to extend our operations to these areas,” says Francesco Kabirou, Plan International’s Emergency Response Manager for the North West / South West Response in Cameroon.