God’s word offers many things to those who receive it, and to traumatised young women and girls in Cameroon, the Bible is being offered as a source of healing and hope, and a basis on which to build a new life.
In Cameroon, young girls face more of the dark side of life than anyone ever should, with many of them experiencing physical and sexual violence. More than 55% of women experience physical violence; 30 % of women younger than 15 are victims of sexual violence; 25% of Cameroon’s women aged 15-19 were either pregnant or mothers already when surveyed in 2011.
The fear of stigmatisation and reprisals leads these young women to become timid and remain silent. Their trauma usually lasts a lifetime as a result.
With Project Esther, Bible Society Cameroon is passing on hope and healing to these young women, through God’s word. Project Esther works to offer support services to young mothers and those who have experienced sexual abuse or exploitation. Through training camps, the young women are offered support to assist them in navigating challenges and achieving a better future for themselves and their children.
One young lady said, with an openness in her face and warmth in her eyes, “I am very happy to be here (at this Project Esther camp). I have been going through all kind of difficulties. Lack of love, lack of understanding. I feel like people around me do not love me, do not understand me. I am very happy that I came here to this project. I came with so many worries, but I am going back with so much joy and happiness and I am very grateful.”
The project aims to biblically equip young women to develop self-esteem, confidence, and the capacity to build their lives on positive values while overcoming past experiences. Erline, 21 years old, attended a Project Esther camp in 2021. Erline admits, “Before coming to Project Esther, I was someone who liked being alone, someone who is reserved. I had a lot of anger in me, a hard bitterness. I was depressed and my thinking was just negative all the time.”
“I discovered forgiveness. It’s good to forgive. We were taught how to let go and how to put our problems in front of God,” she says. “I took my soul to the foot of the cross. I felt a pain leaving my spirit, I felt relief, detachment. The hurt was burned into ashes, I saw my problems, my anger, my hatred, being burnt into the air, and I said, ‘thank you, Lord Jesus. Today I am free, I am stress-free, heartbreak free, I am emotionally free – in fact, I am healed!’”
The camps offer counselling, spiritual retreats and spaces to share experiences and read the Bible together. Biblical values are recognised as a foundation for a restored and flourishing life.
Erline reflects that what she found in the program isn’t seen every day. She says, “For once I felt real love and true love from the mothers who were cooking food and showing us how to earn money. I found what I was really searching for.
“(I learnt) entrepreneurship. We learned how to make hand sanitiser, how to sew, how to make yoghurt, how to make sheets – all these things to show that women are talented enough and there are things we can do to set up our own enterprise.”
In schools and churches, Project Esther also runs an Adolescent awareness campaign on the prevalence of sexual abuse. One attendee said, “I thank the Lord who permitted me to attend the program… I have learned how to make good choices, to stop mocking other people and to love myself just as I am, for God created me unique and special. I would like to change my behaviour, make good choices of my friendships, take care of my body and positively influence my relatives by showing them the importance of making good choices.”
Another resolved, “I would like to change my way of talking to my parents, put limitations on my body and positively influence my friends.”
“This programme on adolescents is very important and I believe many young people need to attend it,” said another attendee. “We were instructed and challenged about our studies, the Bible, social layers and on day-to-day life issues. At the end of the program, I decided that I would allow my parents (to) talk more while I would listen to them more. I will accept who I am, think twice before making a decision that can influence my whole life.”
Thirteen-year–old Mirabelle, said, “I decided to choose the right path of life, take care of my body… to stop despising others, because God created us all at his own image. So, falling in(to) the temptation of (looking down on) others is not good, for we are all special.”
Project Esther is reaching these girls and young women where they are, passing on God’s word to them, and making a difference. Erline concludes, “My emotional trauma has been healed thanks to Project Esther.”
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