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Water brings dignity to refugee girls in Cameroon

When the only place to go to the toilet is out in the open, fear of contracting diseases and embarrassment at being watched, become part of girls' daily lives.

“I sometimes went for days without defecating because I felt so uncomfortable,” explains 18 years-old Salimatou, living in a refugee camp in Northern Cameroon.

She and her family fled to Cameroon after their town in Nigeria was attacked by insurgents. They trekked for two weeks to reach Cameroon and arrived at Minawao refugee camp in May 2014.

Salimatou lives with her parents, four brothers and two sisters. She has completed her secondary education and hopes to continue to a higher level if she has the chance to do so. 

Daily challenges

Salimatou has faced many problems since arriving at the camp, but the most challenging of all is going to the toilet. “There were very few toilets in the settlement for the large number of people who wanted to use them, so it was difficult for me to access a toilet when I needed to,” she remembers.

Instead, Salimatou found she had no choice but to defecate in open spaces or in the river. “People passing by used to watch me, and the few areas that were a little hidden were over used, with excrements all around and a horrible smell,” she adds. 

Salimatou standing in front of the newly built toilets.

“This, in addition to the fear of catching an illness, made me very uncomfortable and sad.”

Salimatou is just one of more than 49,000 refugees in Minawao refugee camp who had to undergo this experience every day.

Regaining dignity

That is why with the financial support from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Plan International has so far built 142 toilets and bathrooms equipped with hand washing facilities. 

Luka Isaac, President of the Nigerian refugees in Minawao has experienced firsthand the difference the new toilets have made: “Last year, we lost many of our loved ones because of cholera, due to poor hygiene in the camp. This year, we have not registered any cases of cholera, thanks to the new toilets”.

 I can now go to the toilet privately and comfortably wi

thout the constant embarrassment and fear of contracting a disease

Despite this improvement of the situation, Emergency Response Manager of Plan International Cameroon’s Maroua Programme Unit Kone Dramane still wishes he could do more. “There is an increasing demand for more toilet facilities in the Minawao settlement, and we are making plans to build more as soon as we are able to raise the required financial resources,” he explains.

As far as Salimatou is concerned, the new facilities have considerably improved her daily life. “I am very happy with the new toilets around our block and I can now go to the toilet privately and comfortably without the constant embarrassment and fear of contracting a disease,” she concludes with a smile. 

 

For more information about Plan International's work in Cameroon go to plan-international.org/cameroon.

For more information about the work of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate-General, please click here.