Every 19 August, we celebrate World Humanitarian Day to honour humanitarian efforts made around the globe and to assert the need for supporting people in crisis. This year, we celebrate our local partner staff Esung Elizabeth Mbende, a humanitarian worker at the frontline of the conflict in Cameroon.
52-year-old Elizabeth is a real-life hero working tirelessly and putting her life at risk to serve others. Fondly called Ma Eli because of her caring attitude, she is a fieldworker with a CBM-supported disability inclusive humanitarian response project by the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC). Elizabeth lives and works in Buea, capital of the Southwest region where there is ongoing violent conflict.
Cameroon’s Anglophone regions (Northwest and Southwest Region) have been engulfed in crisis since late 2016 due to the economic and political marginalisation of Cameroon’s Anglophone minority. The crisis became an armed conflict with an increasing death toll and displacements. The disability inclusive humanitarian project is in the health and protection sectors for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and host communities in the Southwest region of Cameroon.
Penn Julius the Project Manager and Elizabeth’s supervisor says “after almost five years of the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis, the Southwest region remains in dire need of disability inclusive humanitarian relief. The needs are becoming increasingly complex. There are many actors on the ground, but most of their interventions do not recognise or meet the needs of people with disabilities. Our project, with the support of CBM, bridges this gap.”
Need for an inclusive humanitarian response
Emmanuel Mouti, CBM Cameroon Humanitarian Coordinator, admits the increasing need for inclusive emergency responses in Cameroon: “We noticed that persons with disabilities are left out and their needs ignored and not taken into account. They are most affected by the ongoing crisis. We have supported our partners like the PCC to train humanitarian actors and UN agencies in Cameroon to include Persons with Disabilities in their humanitarian program cycles and interventions. CBM funded PCC’s disability inclusive humanitarian response project since June 2020 and the results so far are impressive.”
The project achieves this through a dedicated team of 11 project staff, 50 volunteers and 5 field workers supported by CBM and the German Federal Foreign Office.
What does Elizabeth’s day-to-day work look like?
Elizabeth is one of the field workers working hard daily to make this happen. Before the conflict started five years ago, Elizabeth worked as a Community Based Rehabilitation worker with the PCC, a CBM partner organisation she has served since 2004. Her work involved home visits, community-based rehabilitation, client identifications and referrals to competent service providers. Today, her tasks are similar but in a very different and difficult context – of armed conflict and heightened insecurity in some communities where Elizabeth works.
Due to the insecurity, Elizabeth has to prioritize her safety from dusk to dawn: “every morning, I pray to God to direct my plan for the day. After that, I listen to local news to get updates on security situation. I also make calls to get updates on the security situation in the community I must work in for the day. When I am sure that it is safe to go to the field, I head out to work.”
In the field, Elizabeth goes from home to home in the host communities for IDPs displaced by the armed conflict. She identifies potential beneficiaries especially persons with disabilities who need assistive devices and other emergency items like basic medication for assessment and registration. She also carries out basic training on orientation and mobility to beneficiaries with visual impairment who have received white canes from the humanitarian project. This is to ensure the white cane is used properly. She then visits previous beneficiaries who have received assistive devices, basic medication, and psycho-social support.
Elizabeth says the needs in the field are as varied as the people she meets: “The needs in the communities can be quite different. My job is to identify these differences and incorporate them into our response in the community”.
Thanks to the work of field workers like Elizabeth, in the past one year, the project has successfully reached out to 3800 beneficiaries in the Southwest Region of Cameroon.
Elizabeth shares in the joy of these results; “What gives me satisfaction in this work are the success stories that I have registered during the implementation of this humanitarian project. I see lives changed and it gives me great joy. We are meeting needs that will otherwise not be met. I have countless stories of such change. For example, 12-year-old Roy has been deaf from birth. He lives in a conflict zone with his grandfather who has no money to seek medical intervention. During my community visits I invited Roy to an outreach campaign, where an ENT (Ear Nose and throat) doctor examined Roy for a free consultation. He then received a pair of hearing aids. Now Roy can hear, and he is learning to speak, thanks to the hearing aids. His family is thankful to the project, so am I. When I see the lives of people are changing for the better, I am motivated to do even more.”
Despite the success stories, Elizabeth says theirs is not an easy job; “One cannot register successes without passing through challenges especially when our security is not guaranteed. During one of my community visits, the unexpected happened; a gun battle erupted in the community - I had to sleep on the floor of a beneficiary’s house till the shooting ended. As a field worker, it’s likely to return home as late as 9:00 pm due to confrontations between the state security forces and armed groups.”
Elizabeth says the work is tasking especially for her as a woman: “To work in a humanitarian project like this as a woman comes with challenges, but our work expresses our love for humanity. We also alleviate the sufferings of those affected by the crisis especially women and girls. I think it is an honor to sacrifice my time and life for the benefit of others.”
More help is required
As Elizabeth reviews her work and its impact, she regrets that the need in the field is greater than humanitarian actors can currently meet. According to Relief Web, the crisis is among the most underfunded humanitarian crises worldwide.
“Sometimes I lose sleep”, says Elizabeth, “with the ongoing crisis, cases that need our help keep increasing. The need is great. We try our best to help those we can. All the human suffering I see every day – I pray this is all over soon. In the meantime, I am glad we are able to help where we can.”