Cameroon: Sisters of Charity in the fight against poverty and prostitution

In Ngaoundal, Cameroon, the nuns of Saint Jeanne Antida Thouret run a women’s training centre and two clinics, and according to the sister who runs it “Since we have been here there have been improvements in the condition of women”.

By Francesca Sabatinelli – Ngaoundal: Vatican News

Whether it be early marriage or a life on the streets, almost all the girls who arrive at the women’s training centre in Ngaoundal, in the Adamaoua region of central Cameroon, are fleeing from something. It is in this village that the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antida Thouret, who have been present in the African country since 1987, set up the project aimed at supporting these young girls who, as young as 12 years old, risk being married off by their parents or, alternatively, end up in the web of prostitution. “But once you have made them independent, it is difficult to trap them,” Sister Claudine Boloum says with conviction. The Chadian nun who has been in Cameroon for four years, explains that “school opens the eyes of these girls, who begin to think,” at which point they are unable to be married  off before their time, and once they have become independent, it is difficult to trap them in prostitution.

The groups of nomads

In the centre set up by the nuns, mostly Muslim girls from the Foulbé or Mbororo ethnic groups arrive. They are nomads who “work and live with animals, which are their priority”, continues Sister Claudine. In these groups, “women are not valued, men have more than one wife, they have no work and often cannot even feed their children”. Over the years, the nuns have tried to support the families and there have been some improvements, Sister Claudine continues: “Now the women also want to work, they have understood that they can be responsible and have started to send their daughters to school. These young women are taught cutting and sewing, but also accounting, and then, at the end of their training, they will be able to express themselves in both English and French.

Ina and Nadia

One example of these courageous young women is  Ina, who is married and has decided to study in order to be able to leave home and then, one day, to work – a goal she will naturally only achieve with the consent of her husband and parents. Nadia’s story is different. She comes from Ngaoundéré, a place very far from the school. “Her parents,” says the nun, “do not have the means to send her to a normal school and when she heard about ours, she decided to enrol to learn to sew, and she managed to find the money. Once she has learnt, she will be able to return home and give life to her dream, to open her own small shop. However, this will only be possible if someone gives her a sewing machine, which is what the Sisters of Charity do when it comes to young people from very poor families.

The challenge of the sorcerers

In the same area, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antida Thouret have set up two outpatient clinics, the ‘Pietro Pecora’ and the ‘Santa Agostina’, staffed by nurses. It is here that less serious cases of malaria are treated, and it is here that children are given vaccines and pregnant women are cared for. “The reason for two clinics,” explains Sister Claudine, “comes from the fact that so many do not believe in modern medicine. Before coming here, they go to the witch doctors, to those who treat them with ‘traditional medicine’ and therefore with leaves, and it is only when they realise that the person is in danger of dying that they decide to take them to the hospital,’ which is, however, five kilometres from the village. Thus, the presence of the two clinics among the inhabitants has so far helped to save several lives. Malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis and malnutrition are what most of the patients are suffering from, many of them very young children. “They only drink raw milk,” Sister Claudine continues, “they get TB and cannot feed themselves enough”.

The question of medicines

“Here at Pietro Pecora,” explains Nestor Sadoli, nurse and centre manager, “we have a vaccination programme, we deal with prenatal medicine, childbirth, we have analysis laboratories, and we also provide vaccinations in the villages. We have cases of malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, typhoid fever and sometimes hypertension and diabetes among the elderly’. One of the most serious problems is the unavailability of medicines. “They cannot be found,” Nestor continues, “but we do what we can to get at least the essential ones.’We have suppliers,’ continues Sister Claudine, ‘there are also foreign companies, who are in Europe but manufacture here. We place orders, they arrive after a week, but we never manage to pay everything immediately, we do it after we have collected from the patients,” except that in most cases, the patients have nothing to offer in exchange for treatment.

The role of the India Group

There is a well, a training centre, two clinics, the purchase of medicines with no support from the state, which has made so many promises over the years. “Materials, sewing machines for the school, all these come thanks to the annual grant from Gruppo India (a non-profit organisation founded by the Jesuit Mario Pesce) which helps us to give the girls a better life. And so, although the India Group is far away,” Claudine concludes, “it is present in our hearts every day and every day these girls pray for what they receive”.


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