By Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC

In Cameroon’s far north, Bintou Abba Ali, a mother of thirteen, was forced to flee her village after a suicide attack devastated her family.

“My husband and three of my sons were killed during a suicide attack. I left my home and fled with seven of my children in the hope of finding a safer place for them,” recalls Bintou.

She suffers the fate of many other women, who witnessed the terror and violence claiming the lives of their loved ones.  Bintou fled to the Maroua III neighbourhood with her children, where the locals helped her care for her surviving children, the youngest of which was just two months old.

“With no money to pay rent, we slept in makeshift shelters and spent days without having a decent meal.  We struggled to make ends meet. We moved from one neighbourhood to the other, looking for shelter.  Uncompleted buildings and abandoned houses became our place of refuge,” said Bintou.

Today, Bintou and her children live in a 16-square metre room, in the Doursoungou neighbourhood, where she pays a monthly rent which is equivalent to about ten US dollars. The room has no electricity or running water. The family shares the only existing bathroom facilities with sixteen other people living in the same compound.

Making ends meet is still tough

Despite her circumstances, Bintou shows an impressive level of resourcefulness and resilience in her efforts to support her family. With her meagre resources, she manages to buy the ingredients to make “Makala”, a very popular local doughnut, which four of her children aged between ten and six sell at the market.

“I take everything on credit:  flour, sugar and oil from a neighbour who owns a grocery store. It is thanks to this small business that we eat and pay our rent though most of the time, the money we make from it does not cover our needs.  What matters to me is to be able to secure shelter for my children. Sometimes, we are left with no options but to eat leftover food when it is possible to find some,” added Bintou.

Some 223,000 people are displaced internally in the far north region of Cameroon because of the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region. Most of them are in urgent need of shelter, food, safe drinking water, sanitation and access to primary healthcare, among other needs.

Bintou’s village, Amchide, shares a border with Nigeria and is reported to be the hardest hit. Recurrent suicide attacks in the area since 2014 have forced thousands of families to flee their homes, in search of a safe-haven, leaving behind farms, cattle and businesses.

The Cameroon Red Cross has been providing assistance since the onset of the crisis. “Our teams provide first aid assistance and psychosocial support to affected families and victims of the conflict, with support from the French Red Cross and ICRC,” said the Cameroon Red Cross Divisional Secretary, Aminou Samaya Daniel.

Today, the Red Cross continues to register new arrivals as regular attacks are being recorded inside Cameroon. Cameroon Red Cross, Swedish Red Cross and IFRC are conducting full assessment of the crisis and humanitarian need in order to provide immediate relief to vulnerable people in affected areas.

“The assessment has been an opportunity for us to witness the sad reality on the ground, identify the most urgent needs, and kick-start the first phase of an initial response plan. The mission highlighted the need to provide psychosocial support to Red Cross volunteers who are at the forefront of interventions in the aftermath of suicide attacks“, said  Zena Awad, Senior Health and Resilience Advisor with the Swedish Red Cross.