Although Cameroon is one of the more stable countries in West Africa, vulnerable families and children face many challenges. Poverty, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS mark the lives of many, especially in rural areas. Children are in need of protection and care so that they can grow up in safety, go to school and become independent adults.
Poverty affect thousands of families
Children who have lost parental care grow up in the care of SOS Children’s Villages with their siblings (photo: SOS archives)
Douala is the capital of Littoral Province and is located on the banks of the Wouri River, 30 km from Cameroon’s southern Atlantic coast. It is the largest city in Cameroon – around three million people live in Douala.
Many people move to the city from rural areas. They are in search of work and a better life. However, many end up living in overcrowded slums. In these areas, there is a great risk of flooding or landslides. Douala has around 180 days of rainfall each year and in many parts of the city, drainage is not available. This also greatly increases the danger of infectious diseases such as malaria and typhoid.
At nearly seven percent, the poverty rate in Douala is not as high as in other areas of Cameroon, but finding work can be very difficult. Up to 74 per cent of the population is estimated to be employed in the informal sector. This type of work offers little security and very low wages. Families that rely on this kind of income usually have to work very long hours, leaving little time to care for their children. In the worst cases, the children must work and contribute financially in order to help the family survive.
Many children work and do not go to school
Over 97 per cent of children are enrolled in primary school in Douala, and although this is higher than the national average, many children do not complete primary education. Children from poor households often drop out due to the difficulties in reaching school or the costs of extra expenses such as books and clothing.
The HIV/AIDS rate is higher in Douala than in other cities. Recent governmental initiatives are working to promote the testing for HIV, to reduce the mother-to-child transmission, and to prevent new infections. When adults are affected by the disease, the families, including the children, often face stigmatisation and discrimination. If parents are too ill to work, then children have to find ways of supporting the family. In Doula children can be seen collecting rubbish or selling small goods on the streets. Some are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of these children do not go to school.
What we do in Douala
Family life: children baking together at SOS Children’s Village Douala (photo: SOS archives)
SOS Children's Villages began working in Douala in 2007.
Strengthen families: We provide support to families who are struggling to stay together. The needs of each family are different: in some cases we assist them with counselling and guidance on how to generate income. In other cases we ensure that they have access to a doctor and that children can go to school.
Care in SOS families: For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, SOS families can provide a loving home. In each family, they live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS parent. Children are also looked after by SOS foster families.
We work closely with the families of origin, and in some cases support the families so that they can live together again.
Education: Children can attend the SOS Kindergarten together with local children from the community. The children then go on to complete their primary education at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School. Around 210 pupils from the children’s village and the neighbourhood attend the school.
Health care: A small SOS Medical Centre provides the local community with medical care and informs them about preventative measures.