Tanka Melvis Ngonjan is a thirteen-year-old girl who is heading their household. She lives with two of her siblings in Meta quarters (Atu’azire Mankon) Bamenda. She originally came from Oku with her parents and siblings and settled in Bamenda because of the Anglophone crisis. Having left their village almost empty handed, they could only afford a small bedroom which cost 6000 FCFA ($12) a month where they all had to squeeze in (father, mother and 6
children). It is in this cluttered environment that Melvis’ mother got pregnant for her seventh child. Instead of being a source of joy in the family as in the African culture, this bitter sweet news brought a dispute between the spouses which led to a separation between them. While their dad left for Foumbot in the West Region, their mom stayed back with them in Bamenda. Months later, she gave birth to their last sibling. Though they were struggling, the birth of the new baby brought joy into their home and somehow reconciliation between their parents. The joy of coming back together encouraged their mother to move to Foumbot to join her husband so that together they could work hard to better take care of their children. The intention was for her to raise a capital from the sale of their farm produce to establish a business. While in Foumbot, they realized that the proceeds of their farm alone will not be enough to start a worthy business. Melvis’ mother came up with the brilliant idea of buying beans at a cheaper price directly from the farms to resell in Douala. Their father caught the vision and supported his wife to concretize it. They harvested beans from their farm and also bought some and sent to Douala to their dad’s sister who was supposed to store the beans until their mother got to Douala. They had succeeded to send 50 bags already and their mom thought 50 bags was a great milestone for her to initiate her business in Douala. With all excitement, she came back to Bamenda and took three of her children along to Douala to start the business. She dreamt of a new life which she hoped will be fruitful so that the rest of the family could join them eventually.
The journey to Douala was a happy one; her three kids were happy to finally move away from the gunshots and frequent ghost towns. They were looking forward to this new opportunity in a safer community where they could finally live normally. Unfortunately, when they got to Douala, it did not take long for them to discover that their dreams have been shattered even before they began their new life. Their aunt who was collecting the beans was selling without their consent instead of storing as per their agreement. When asked to give them the money, she had no dime to offer. Melvis’ mother felt like she just received a stab on her chest. All her hard work was gone. Here dreams were shattered. Where will she begin?
Since it was her sister in-law, her hands were tied as per the African culture, she is not authorized to take her sister in-law to court nor seek any kind of repair out of the family circle. In her disappointment, she left with her kids and they rented one room in Douala where they lived while looking forward to what new opportunity the future might hold for them.
Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old Melvis stayed back in Bamenda with two of her siblings. Their aunt in Bamenda had taken one of their siblings to stay with even before they relocated to Bamenda. Life in Bamenda for a thirteen-year-old who has assumed the responsibility of a parent was very tough. She became the bread winner of the family and had to provide for the needs of her two younger ones. This was even tougher because she had to go to school as well. Melvis currently attends a government secondary school. With their difficult financial situation, her parents haven’t been able to pay her school fees. Even though her name has been dropped from the class register, she still attends school and wrote her exams. To make ends meet, she started selling onions for her aunt who paid her 500 FCFA (about $1) as her remuneration each week. She used this money to buy whatever little food for her household. Life was really hard and they never had enough to fill their stomach with, not to talk of affording a balanced meal. Despite her many troubles, Melvis still had time to attend the Child Friendly Space (CFS) at her church. She always looked forward to this moment because it helped to relieve her of stress. Little did she know that her breakthrough will come from the CFS.
One day as Melvis went to attend the CFS at her church, the CFS leader inquired to know a little more about the children in her group. It was then that she came to know about Melvis and her situation. She felt deeply sorry for this little girl who had become a parent even though still a child. When she went back to her office at the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services, the CFS leader shared Melvis’ story with the coordinator of the Comprehensive Child Response (CCR) Project and other team members. They were very moved by the pathetic story and decided to support Melvis.
When they asked Melvis whether she would like to start her own onion business, Melvis leaped for joy and accepted the idea without further thought. Excitement was palpable on her face. The team leader disbursed some money from the Project to support Melvis. With this money, a bag of onions was bought. Melvis started her business right away. At the close of the first day of sale, she immediately went to the community worker’s house. On seeing her, Melvis jumped on her and said, “Mom here is the money I sold today, please, I don’t even know the total amount but let’s count the money together”. She brought out the money and it amounted to 14.000 FCFA ($28). In order to help Melvis boost her sales, the community worker had told the pastor of the church where they were having the CFS meetings about Melvis. As others, the pastor was moved and encouraged every member of his church to buy onions only from Melvis. She didn’t stop there as she narrated Melvis’ story to her colleagues; they now place their order and she brings to work.
At the end of the first week of sales, Melvis saved 5.000 FCFA after removing 3.000 for their weekly upkeep. This was a far cry from the 500 FCFA she used to receive weekly from her aunt. The future is looking brighter for Melvis and her household. She is looking forward to the Easter holiday when she will be able to sell for a full day. She plans to pay her school fees at the beginning of the third term so that her name can be reinstated in the register and she takes her report card at the end of the academic year. Melvis is very grateful for the help she received from the CCR Project. Her parents are also very happy and thankful to CBC Health Services for their support to their family.
By Vivian Maku