WFP’s cash assistance empowers women like Houreiratou, to turn horrifying tales of survival to examples of resilience and promotes the food security
Stacking the bags of rice, arranging the boxes of spaghetti and sardines Houreiratou Bello (39) stands up straight and takes a breath. She is nearly ready to receive her eager customers lined up outside her store. The bustling noise of the market of Borgop refugee camp is a monthly occasion that sounds like a celebration event for the community who are excited to buy their food provided by World Food Programme (WFP). “It really makes me proud to know that one of us works with WFP. She looks like us, speaks our language and understands our struggles,” says Khadija Souleymanou a refugee customer at the camp WFP assists.
Houreiratou fled the socio-political conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013. Like many refugees in these parts, she waited in line for WFP food distributions. When WFP changed its assistance modality from in-kind food distribution to cash vouchers in 2018, Houreiratou was amongst those trained to manage a store and eventually become a retailer of WFP cash assistance programme implemented in Adamawa region of Cameroon.
Houreiratou is a single mother of six, from Central African Republic who arrived in Cameroon in late 2013 having fled the conflict that displaced more than 300,000 refugees into the Adamawa, North and East regions of Cameroon. Through cash assistance voucher programme, WFP is able to reach the most vulnerable refugees in remote areas of Adamawa, empowering them with diversified food choice. WFP also trains and supports refugees like Houreiratou to become retailers of the cash assistance programme promoting their independence and resilience as they transition out of receiving food assistance from WFP.
Before becoming a WFP retailer, Houreiratou was a member of the food distribution complaint committee of Borgop refugee camp. She had proven herself as a hardworking leader which led the president of the refugee association Oumar Hamadou to choose her to represent the women in the committee. “I noticed she is charismatic, well-spoken and honest, so I knew she would be an excellent representative for the women of Borgop camp.” After a couple of months within the committee, through further recommendations from Oumar and other refugees of her community, Houreiratou was trained to become a retailer.
During her training to become a retailer Houreiratou notes that “WFP taught me a lot of things on organizing and managing. I know how to organize by workbooks, review my inventory, plan my purchases, save money, manage and pay my helpers and serve my customers.” As she takes a ticket and ticks off the approved food order, she reaches into her store and brings out the food and serves her fellow customers.
Before the CAR socio-political conflict of 2013, Houreiratou lived peacefully in CAR with her husband and four children. She was pregnant with a fifth child at the time. She had a small trading business that she managed from home earning on average 40,000 francs CFA ($66) per month. Life wasn’t perfect, but they were happy. That all changed in a swift instance. “The same day my fifth child Sharifa came into this world my life turned upside-down,” she declares. Hers is harrowing story of survival and resilience.
“I remember it clearly, as if just yesterday.” She had just delivered her baby in the local hospital maternity when suddenly she heard commotion and panic. “A group of armed men stormed the hospital brandishing their machetes and firing their guns” she said. Her immediate response was to flee. She ran to her house to meet her other four children. A cousin who worked with her husband called to notify her, they were on their way to pick her up so they could escape the city. No one came. Many days and sleepless nights later, she and her kids crossed the border into Cameroon where they were taken to Borgop refugee camp in Adamawa region. She would later learn at the camp that 13 members of her family including her husband were killed in the minivan that was coming to her rescue.
“Before becoming a retailer, I struggled to buy almost everything,” she says. She could not afford to send all her children to school and even regular meals were a challenge. Today, all five of her school-aged children attend the local primary school including Sharifa. “As a retailer, I no longer wait in line for food. I want all of my children, girls and boys, to complete their education, so they can help others like WFP helped us,” she says beaming with a smile.
As a WFP cash assistance retailer, she can earn on average 120,000 francs CFA ($199 USD) francs per month, sometimes more. She hopes to save enough money to expand and possibly open another shop in the future.
WFP provides food assistance to Central African Republic refugees of the Adamawa region in Cameroon, through monthly food distributions and cash transfers. With the support of donor partners like Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States of America, these cash assistance programmes save and change lives