It’s midday on a sunny Thursday in the Lolo refugee camp in the East region of Cameroon. Djenabou, a refugee from the Central Africa Republic (CAR), is hard at work at her makeshift retail store. A mobile phone in one hand and food in the other.
“Business is thriving!” says the 39-year-old mother of ten children. “The job is not easy. I stand all day and I need to keep track of the food and the mobile transactions at the same time but it’s worth it.”
Djenabou, who fled to Cameroon in 2014 with her husband and children, is part of a group of refugee women who work as retailers in the camp. It is an activity that has given them a new lease to life. Hope that all is not lost after conflict forced them out of their country.
“I had a small business back home. It was nothing major but with the profit I made, I could support my husband and family. We had food and clothes, some of the children even attended school.”
Cameroon hosts a large number refugees from the Central African Republic — nearly 268,000 people who stay in camps or with host communities in the East, Adamawa and North regions of the country. Most of the refugees depend on humanitarian assistance for their basic needs including food.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) with the support of partners including the European Union’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and the United Kingdom’s aid department (DFID) provides food assistance to these people driven into hunger by conflict.
In areas where markets are functioning, and the necessary technical infrastructure is available, WFP in Cameroon serves people through cash transfers. In Lolo camp, WFP and partners set up a cash transfer system via mobile phones through which registered and eligible refugees receive money that they can use to buy food they want from retailers like Djenabou.
Cash empowers vulnerable people with the means and choice to meet their essential needs according to their household priorities
“When we first heard of cash transfers, my family and I were very happy. We could finally choose to eat what we wanted. Fish today, vegetable tomorrow…my children couldn’t stop making choices,” says Djenabou with a smile on her face. “I never imagined that it will also provide me a job.”
In several camps, refugees are selected and trained by cooperating partners on the use of the mobile phone for cash transfers. Basic courses on business and cash management are also included to help the retailers better manage their business and profits.
25 women have been trained by WFP as CBT retailers in the Lolo camp so far, not only providing them with food but also giving them the opportunity to build their livelihood and become independent.
Using the support from ECHO and DFID through cash transfers, WFP serves as an end-to-end broker of vulnerable people’s journey of empowerment to meet essential needs by using cash and digital programming to connect them to the providers of essential goods and services and, also enable them to re-build livelihoods.
Written by Glory Ndaka