Anne Marie McCarthy, Plan International Ireland’s Emergencies’ Programme Manager reports live from Cameroon, Central Africa.
Today I visited Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon, Central Africa. The camp is currently home to over 60,000 Nigerian refugees who have fled Nigeria as a result of the Boko Haram crisis.
The camp’s population is bigger than the population of Waterford city.
I spent the day in the camp and it was a real eye opener. It is hot and dusty, with temperatures often going over 40 degrees, and while there is plenty of space, most dwellings are made of straw and plastic sheeting, which offers no protection from the heat.
Getting water is also a huge challenge. People queue for hours in the heat to get water.
Not for the first time, I consider how lucky I was to win the geography lottery at birth, where in Ireland the closest we came to water shortages recently was buying water in the supermarket when there were supply issues after Storm Emma.
The reason that I was in the camp was to accompany a team from Irish Aid, who support emergency response overseas, to review the work that Plan International are doing. This is an important element of oversight for the spending of public funds. They wanted to get the perspective of the people we work with. One of the community leaders told us the importance of Plan International’s work in supporting education and how enthusiastic the children are about going to school. It makes him regret not going to school himself. As it was school holidays we did not meet the kids themselves, but we met with parents who said that they too would also like to go to school. With the assistance of Irish Aid, Plan has built early learning centres, and ensured the construction of toilets, with the inclusion of toilets for children with disabilities.
Above is the early learning centre built by Plan International, with solar lighting provided by UNHCR
School books and materials are also provided to ensure that children can learn. Plan International also supports the host communities around the camp, as this is an area which has also been affected by the crisis and we want to ensure that there are no tensions between the local community and the refugees.
It is clear from talking to the refugees that most of them want to return home. The work that we are doing with them will help to ensure as smooth a transition as possible for when they return home; children are getting an education and young women are learning skills that will help earn a living now to build on when they go home.
Meeting the young women who are learning to sew.
My work gives me perspective. I meet a lot of people on my travels and together we share stories and opinions and laugh often. Life can be challenging in Ireland, but I received a good education, had a stable home life growing up and the possibility of a job when I needed to look for one. The 22 million refugees in the world don’t always have these chances.