Meet this Cameroonian mother defying the odds and reclaiming power through the opening of a food store
Discover the inspiring journey of Mercy, a 25-year-old mother from Cameroon, who, after enduring multiple displacements, reclaimed her independence and ensured her family's future with the collaborative support of IRC and the EU.
11 September 2023
In 2017, the regions of Northwest and Southwest Cameroon were plunged into turmoil as violent clashes erupted between non-state armed groups and the nation's security forces. Amidst this conflict, Mercy and her children, two girls and a boy, found themselves caught in the crossfire of the violence.
They began a harrowing journey when their home in North-West Cameroon was burned to the ground during the 2017 crisis.
An IRC staff member meets Mercy at her provisions store in Buea, Cameroon. Together, they reflect on the progress of the business.
At just 19 years old, Mercy embarked on an arduous journey to Nigeria in search of safety, where she was eventually reunited with the father of her children. However, her hopes of finding stability were dashed as he abandoned her without any support. Life in Nigeria proved to be harsh and unforgiving for Mercy and her children. She recalls, "I stayed in Nigeria for 1 year and 2 months, and life there was unbearable because the environment was hostile to Cameroonian refugees. I was treated cruelly by community members in Oyo – Akwaibom State, Nigeria, and was dismissed from my cleaning job in a hospital because they noticed I had a four-month-old baby. Life became more unbearable since I had no means to eat or even take care of myself and my children, who were out of school."
With no other options left, Mercy and her children returned to Yaoundé in the Centre Region of Cameroon, hoping for a fresh start. However, language barriers and a lack of understanding of French presented new challenges. For four months, they relied on the kindness of family members until they made their way to Buea, South-West, where Mercy's life took a hopeful turn.
It was in Buea that Mercy encountered the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and discovered the services that the organisation could offer to her. Mercy reveals, "Life was gradually coming to an end - I wanted to commit suicide. The children's responsibilities were a real burden... I wanted to end it all." She continues, "We lived in a perforated plank house which exposed the children to diseases, and there was no means to provide them healthcare. My life changed when I came across the IRC and presented my challenges to the organization."
With financial support from the European Union (EU), the IRC provided Mercy with a lifeline, offering both livelihood support and critical psychosocial counseling. Mercy shares, "IRC profiled and trained me on entrepreneurship and business plan development for 35 days from August to September 2022. After the training, IRC gave me a start-up capital of 390,000 XAF [approximately 600 euros] to begin my business."
But the transformation didn't stop there. Mercy also received one-on-one counseling sessions with IRC case management staff, helping her rebuild her self-confidence and self-worth. With her newfound knowledge and restored sense of purpose, Mercy now owns and manages a provision store where she sells fruits, vegetables, and basic foodstuffs. She can provide for herself and her children, ensuring they are well-fed, clothed, and living in a dignified home with rent fully paid.
"One of my greatest benefits from the IRC is the knowledge acquired through the capacity-building programs and the counseling sessions which restored my dignity," says Mercy.
"I am gradually expanding my business through a systematic saving scheme, and I have diversified my sources of income to get a higher return. I used to be an object of mockery in the community, but thanks to the IRC, my story is a source of motivation to other young girls, single mothers, and even men in the community" shares Mercy with a palpable sense of fulfilment.
Mercy's journey stands as a powerful testament to the profound impact of collaborative humanitarian efforts. Thanks to the EU-funded programs, Mercy not only reclaimed her independence but also secured a brighter future for her family. Looking ahead, Mercy holds hope for continued funding that can uplift her community. In her own words, she prays, "May God bless the benefactors of IRC, that their assistance may reach other vulnerable persons in my neighborhood".
The IRC continues its vital work, reaching out to displaced persons like Mercy, providing them with the tools and support they need to rebuild their lives and restore their hope in the face of unimaginable challenges.