Damaris Ngwa, Chapter Ambassador for Women’s March Bamenda, shares with us her experience as a woman affected by conflict and the work she is doing to support women in her community. Damaris’ story is part of the #OurStory Campaign with World Pulse, the first of our 5 actions to #EndVAW, which called on women and allies around the world to break their silence and tell their stories; highlighting that when we bring our stories into the light, we not only empower ourselves but also those who are afraid to do so.
I am a girl affected by conflict. I hail from the North West region of Cameroon which has been going through a crisis since 2016 that has led to violence, resistance, deaths, displacement, sexual harassment, poverty, diseases, loss of education and more. I have gone through a lot, for two years this struggle has been going on. From watching people being killed on daily basis, to education being disrupted, curfews and restriction of movement, people losing their jobs and businesses, poor housing conditions and all other dilapidating conditions that arise as a result of war.
As a girl affected by conflict, I realized this scenario was affecting me not only physically but psychologically. The thought alone makes me live in continuous fear because I feel I could be raped, I feel I could get a stray bullet, so I am always uneasy. Sometimes when the violence is so much I have to seek shelter and security in the nearby bushes or other homes. Sometimes I am in these bushes with nothing to eat drink or lie on. At times I have to manage my menstrual cycle with no sanitary napkins to use so I let fate take care of me during that period. I realized because of the poor hygienic conditions during this period my health was negatively affected as well and another problem I faced was meeting a doctor which is sometimes very difficult. Sometimes, I can’t go to work so I barely get a salary to take care of myself at the end of month therefore poverty is another issue I am faced with.
As a girl affected by conflict, I decided to learn how to care for myself during this period because I realized it’s the best thing to do. Firstly, I decided to go learn basic first aid on how to handle female related issues and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). These will help me handle first aid for myself and those around me before we are able to meet a doctor. As regards my health, I involved myself in the World AIDS day celebration on the 1st of December with the theme “Know Your Status” so I got tested and knew my HIV status. I also try to carry out regular checks on my genital organs and other vital organs whenever there is available means. I abstain from unprotected sex to free myself from unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases etc. Secondly, I try to stay safe by avoiding being alone, avoiding getting in contact with armed men, less or no night activities, dress properly etc. Thirdly, I work on my mental health. I get in contact with people both online and physically who mentor and boost my morale and give me the strength to keep going. That way I feel less depressed and traumatized. I also try to educate myself as much as possible on the laws and rights of citizens and armed groups during conflict. This helps me stay on track and avoid further damage to myself. To address the issue of poverty, I carry out small farming in safe areas so that I can feed myself. I also carry out small scale businesses when possible so that I could get my basic needs in case I can’t go to work and it also keeps me busy.
As a girl affected by conflict and considering what I have gone through and what I am currently facing, I see the need to educate myself and other women around me who are facing similar situations. To assist them with their physical and mental well-being, I am currently doing mentoring to women in my community. I mentor them both online and through talks. I educate them to empower themselves, keep themselves safe from violence and diseases. I encourage them and give them ideas on how to economically empower themselves despite the current situation. I have also created a Peace and Green Village in my community called “Happy World” with the objective of fostering peace, unity and justice which will go a long way to solve our current crisis. I also have talks with armed groups on how to treat women during conflict. Above all, I encourage women to speak out. I educate them on all the safe platforms available to hear from them so that they could be helped out of this current situation. I am happy to be Bamenda Chapter Ambassador because it has helped me gain visibility to spread the word of peace further.
Maya Hendler is an Intern at Women’s March Global.