Cameroon Orphan Faces Tough Choices

Lane Hartill, CRS regional information officer for West Africa, sends this report from Cameroon.

There’s a frank conversation going on in a mud house in eastern Cameroon.

A handful of orphans live here, and they are raising themselves. There is an older sister who’s 21, but she’s rarely home and, from what I can gather, isn’t much of a mother. She comes home only at night and brings along a man. He’s new, says her 16 year-old sister, Edwige. She’s been seeing him since her first husband died.

So that means that Edwige, rail thin with a chattering stutter, is the woman of the house.

Cameroon orphan

Edwige, a 16-year-old orphan (left) who CRS supports, sits with her brother, Wilfred, in their home in Batouri, Cameroon. Edwige has dropped out of school and stays at home to cook for her brothers. CRS provides her with such items as rice, oil, soap, and toothpaste. Photo by Lane Hartill

When I arrive, Edwige’s two girlfriends, both school dropouts and both dressed for a night on the town, are keeping her company.

That has Ida worried. She’s a government social worker who works with CRS. Her caseload: 500 orphans and children whose parents can’t support them.

She knows what Ewidge is going through. Both of her parents died when she was a girl and her seven brothers and sisters had to fend for themselves.

Maybe that’s why the conversation is so blunt.

“Have you been with any guys?”

Edwige, looks at the floor, but finally says no.

“Where do you get extra money?”

Edwige continues her examination of the floor.

“Do you know what HIV is? Have you ever seen anyone with HIV?”

“It’s a sickness,” says Edwige.

I’m surprised that Ida is so frank with her. But she doesn’t let up. She wants to know about things mothers talk to their daughters about. But above all, she wants to know where she gets extra money.

“What else do you do to get money for food?”

Wilfred, her 13 year old brother pipes up.

“Well, if there’s no money and there’s no manioc (cassava) , we don’t eat,” he says. CRS is supporting Edwige with things like rice and soap and health care. But she’s already gone through the food CRS gave her. Now they are down to cassava and cassava leaves. Nothing else.

Edwige finally tells Ida that she collects wild leaves and sells them to wrap food in, a common form of packaging here. Ida seems relieved. She was thinking the worst.

For a teenager like Edwige, who doesn’t have a mother, Ida is attempting to fill the void. I wonder if Edwige will gravitate to her. The two girls beside her aren’t helping any. The lycra-tight shirts and short skirts tell Ida that they are sliding toward a certain kind of life.

“When you hang out with friends,” she says, looking at the two older girls draped over their chairs glowering at her, “who have already been with men, you better pay attention. Because they don’t go to school and you don’t go to school and they may encourage you to not go to school.

“Don’t think you’re any different,” Ida says, raising her voice. “God created you and he’s going to help you. Don’t think you are different kids. You are kids like any others.”

When Ida leaves, she’s nervous about what will happen to her. But at least Edwige knows she has someone to turn to, someone who cares about her.

See related story here.

– Lane Hartill

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2 Responses to “Cameroon Orphan Faces Tough Choices”

  1. El hambre acecha a una estudiante camerunesa | CRS Espanol Says:

    […] Edwige (en inglés) tiene 16 años pero todavía tiene la frágil silueta de una niña. Para entrar en su casa de barro hay que agacharse. Conversa en la sala de estar con dos niñas mayores. […]

  2. El hambre acecha a una estudiante camerunesa - Catholic Relief Services Says:

    […] Edwige (en inglés) tiene 16 años pero todavía tiene la frágil silueta de una niña. Para entrar en su casa de barro hay que agacharse. Conversa en la sala de estar con dos niñas mayores. […]

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