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Tents and mud-brick homes allow refugees in Cameroon, West Africa, to rebuild their lives

The Church supports ShelterBox in its efforts to meet immediate and long-term needs of families in Minawao Refugee Camp

Editor’s note: The last names of the refugees in this story were not given to protect their privacy.

Kaltoumi was sleeping when conflict reached her neighborhood in Nigeria. The attack happened so quickly that she had no time to take anything she owned with her as she fled with her children and mother-in-law.

Kaltoumi became one of thousands of people who fled to Minawao Refugee Camp in Cameroon for safety.

Thanks to the nonprofit organization ShelterBox — with support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Kaltoumi was able to get settled and start creating a new home. She received a tent, tarpaulins, rope and other essentials.

“My daily life has improved. When I arrived, I had no belongings. The shelter is great,” she said.

Shelterbox has been providing life-saving aid to Minawao Camp since 2015 and is the sole provider of tents for new arrivals. Having a place to call home is the first step towards recovery. With the help she received, Kaltoumi built a home, community and a livelihood.

“I haven’t had a moment of insecurity since I’ve been living here,” she said.

Now she has a small piece of land on which she grows peanuts and vegetables: “I love farming because it feeds my family without depending on anyone.”

Kaltoumi tends to her garden at Minawao Refugee Camp, Cameroon.
Kaltoumi tends to her garden at Minawao Refugee Camp, Cameroon. She arrived in February 2020 after fleeing violence in Nigeria and has been rebuilding her life in the years since then. | ShelterBox

With her daily needs met, Kaltoumi can focus on the future. She has plans to set up a small business by selling goods in a stand in the camp. As she told her story, she expressed gratitude to the kindness of ShelterBox supporters for allowing her a new life.

The Church provides funding to ShelterBox and also supports the work through awareness.

Caring.ChurchofJesusChrist.org explains that the plight of people who have been driven from their homes is close to the hearts of Church members. Therefore the Church seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ by providing immediate and long-term aid and supporting organizations that work on the ground in many regions of the world.

The Church also has a global initiative for women and children that seeks to improve the well-being of women and children throughout the world in multiple ways. Many of the refugees at the camp in Cameroon are mothers and children whose husbands were killed through violence.

Flora Longley-Cook, the Cameroon program manager at ShelterBox, called the situation a forgotten crisis.

“We have been working in Minawao Camp since 2015,” she said. “It is officially home to 75,000 refugees, and the number is only growing as people arrive every day.”

The camp is located about 40 miles east of Nigeria. Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic also border Cameroon — all are among the world’s most fragile countries.

Mud-brick homes changing lives in Cameroon

Refugee families or displaced persons start by living in communal shelters with others in a large open room in a camp. After a few weeks of processing, the government gives them a piece of land in the camp, and ShelterBox gives them a tent and household supplies for their own single-family dwelling. Then, over the next few months or year, each family works their land and learns from ShelterBox how to construct a mud-brick home for their family.

With proper care, the mud-brick homes can last up to about 10 years — allowing families to feel more settled as they focus on improving their livelihoods, education and health.

Apsatu and three of her children stand in their new home made of mud bricks in Minawao Refugee Camp, Cameroon. They arrived in the camp in 2017 and were first given a tent before being able to build the more durable shelter.
Apsatu and three of her children stand in their new home made of mud bricks in Minawao Refugee Camp, Cameroon. They arrived in the camp in 2017 and were first given a tent before being able to build the more durable shelter. | ShelterBox

Apsatu, 36, had a good life before she had to flee her village in Nigeria. She has lived in Minawao Camp since 2017.

“My former life is now a distant memory, a life that is no longer mine,” she said.

Apsatu has worked hard to better her family’s life in the camp. She grows vegetables, grains and tubers. She started a new business running a small stall selling food and basic necessities. She trades and goes to the market, visits friends in the camp and takes part in community activities. Her children are able to go to school.

She made a goal to get out of a tent and into a more permanent, safer shelter and is proud to have achieved it through the assistance of ShelterBox. Apsatu hired a team of three people to build a new home, which began with making the mud bricks. She received a tarpaulin, wood, nails, cement, sheet metal and a lock for the door.

“I started dancing when I received my items, I was so happy and relieved,” she said.

A woman named Apsatu stands by her home made of cement and mud bricks that Sshe built through the help of ShelterBox in Minawao Refugee Camp, Cameroon
Apsatu stands by her more durable shelter she built through the help of ShelterBox in Minawao Refugee Camp, Cameroon. ShelterBox has been working in the camp since 2015. | ShelterBox

Now she is no longer afraid of facing the rainy season because her shelter is more solid.

She has since added a shed and a gate to her home and has more plans for improvement. She hopes her children will grow up with a good education and a profession to give them access to a better life than they have now. She also wants them to grow up to be good people and be kind.

“I feel safe here, I feel at home. ...May God bless you all and all the hands that helped us receive these donations.’’

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