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When the only place to go to the toilet is out in the open, fear of contracting diseases and embarrassment at being watched become part of girls' daily lives.
“I sometimes went for days without going to the toilet because I felt so uncomfortable,” admits 18-year-old Salimatou, who lives in a refugee camp in northern Cameroon.
She and her family were forced to leave Nigeria after their town was attacked by insurgents. They trekked for two weeks to reach Cameroon and finally arrived at Minawao refugee camp in May 2014. Today, Salimatou lives there with her parents, four brothers, and two sisters. She has completed her secondary education and hopes to continue to a higher level – if she gets the chance.
Salimatou has faced many problems since her arrival at the camp, but going to the toilet remains the most challenging one. “There were very few toilets in the camp compared to the large number of people who wanted to use them, so it was difficult for me to access a toilet when I needed to,” she remembers.
Salimatou realised that she had no choice but to defecate in open spaces or in the river. “People passing by used to watch me, and the few areas that were more secluded were over-used, with excrements all around and a horrible smell,” she adds. “This, in addition to the fear of catching a disease, made me very uncomfortable and sad.”
Salimatou is just one of over 49 000 refugees in Minawao camp who had to endure this experience every day.
Thanks to the financial support of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), Plan International has so far built 142 toilets and bathrooms equipped with hand washing facilities.
Luka Isaac, another Nigerian refugee in Minawao, has experienced first-hand what a big difference the new toilets have made. “Last year, we lost many of our loved ones because of cholera, due to poor hygiene levels in the camp,” he recalls. “This year, thanks to the new toilets, we have not registered any new cases of cholera.”
Despite such undeniable improvements, Kone Dramane, Emergency Response Manager at Plan International Cameroon, still wishes he could do more. “There is an increasing demand for more toilet facilities in the Minawao settlement, and we are making plans to build more as soon as we are able to raise the required financial resources,” he explains.
As far as Salimatou is concerned, the new facilities have considerably improved her daily life. “I am very happy with the new toilets around our block, and I can now go to the toilet privately and comfortably without the constant embarrassment and fear of contracting a disease,” she concludes with a smile.
Cameroon is currently hosting around 330 000 refugees. Some 72 000 are Nigerians, who have fled Boko Haram violence and sought asylum in the Far North region of Cameroon. Most of them are located in the Minawao camp, which has largely exceeded its capacity and has a problem of water availability, as well as shelter, latrines and showers.
Together with partners such as Plan International, the European Commission has helped provide the refugees in Cameroon with shelter, food, safe drinking water and sanitation, health care and child protection.
Read more about EU humanitarian aid in Sub-Saharan Africa.