In the far north region of Cameroon lies the largest refugee camp in the country. Despite being surrounded by dazzling natural beauty, Minawao camp is best known for being the temporary home of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people.

Each week, Minawao camp welcomes victims of human atrocities – notably those fleeing horrific Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. It is in this harsh environment that our acting partner IEDA Relief met Esther.

Read her harrowing story of survival and discover how your support helps people like Esther recover.

The first escape from Boko Haram

“It was a Wednesday, during the month of February in 2018. I was cooking my usual soy donuts while chatting with one of my sisters-in-law. My two eldest sons had gone to get some wood in the bush, the third and fourth child were collecting water in the village and my husband had gone out. I was very focused in my activity when I suddenly heard ALLAH – AKBAR! It was the signal for the arrival of Boko Haram.

“I cannot describe the feelings that overwhelmed me at that moment, but I acted like a robot. I got up really fast and ran to my house to take my little boy. I took him in my arms and shouted the names of his brothers. People were screaming and running all over. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I was panicking and honestly, I didn’t even have the strength to move.

“Some masked and armed men arrived and started shooting from all sides. My elder brother shouted at me to run with the children and follow the people fleeing the scene; so, like everyone else, I started running frantically. I had my youngest son tied on my back and held the hands of the other two. At one point I realised that my two eldest sons were not with me, so I stopped due to my maternal instinct. That is when I saw my brothers murdered; I screamed so loudly that my children started crying. I don’t know how or with what kind of energy, but I started running. Sadly, I couldn’t turn back.”

Esther and her family narrowly escaped and took refuge in the forest, along with other families. For four days, she was on the run; four days during which water, food and all the small details of life were the least of her worries.

Woman smiling surrounded by children
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Esther watched her brothers being murdered – together with her children, she narrowly escaped Boko Haram more than once, whilst being pregnant. Now, she lives in Minawao camp. She said: “I was very relieved, the assistance I received from IEDA Relief and ShelterBox was beyond my wildest expectations'.

Nowhere to go

At this point, Esther was now on her own with her three children, not knowing where to go or how to feed them.

“We slept on the ground, on the grass and avoided lighting fire in the night, for fear of being noticed by our attackers. The nights were freezing as we had nothing to cover ourselves. The majority of those present with us were women and children, because many of the men were brutally murdered.

“My brother was killed in front of me and my children. My two little sisters and sisters-in-law were kidnapped and I had no news of my husband and eldest sons. I actually thought the worst was behind me, but I was taking my dreams for reality.

“We spent two weeks in the bush, hoping that Boko Haram would leave our village, and we could return. We had everything there and were not willing to lose everything. I had decided to return home, mainly in the hope of finding the rest of the family, but once again, our enemies came out of nowhere to terrorise us once again.”

The journey to Cameroon

“My life was now a daily struggle; I once again carried my children and ran away. This time we fled to a village on the border with Cameroon. Once there, an unimaginable surprise awaited me…I found my husband and my two sons, who by a happy coincidence got reunited in their mad escape and found refuge in that village. My husband and children lived in a small makeshift hut that had been made available to them. We lived there for two months.”

Esther was lucky to be safely reunited with her family, but their new life was not pleasant. She lived in perpetual fear of being attacked again. During the nights she could hear gunshots in the distance, explosions and screams that suggested that nearby villages were being attacked.

That’s when Esther and her husband decided to leave for Cameroon in search of safety.

When they arrived in Cameroon, the family lived with two host families. The houses were built behind a military camp, so they felt relatively safe. Esther and her husband worked in the fields and sold wood in order to survive. Her husband managed to save money and build them a small clay house where they lived for more than a year, until chaos struck once again.

“On a dark night when virtually everyone was asleep, we were awakened by deafening noises, recognisable among a thousand: gunshots. Once again, they had found us. I was tired of running, running away and starting my life from scratch. We had to run away without looking back, abandoning everything.

“I had my baby in my arms, I was three months pregnant but I was running like an Olympic champion. Again, we had nothing to take with us, no clothes, no food, no money. We once again took refuge in the forest.”

Woman standing in front of a tent

Arriving in Minawao Camp

In February 2021, after a long and difficult journey, Esther arrived at Minawao camp with her children. The hardest part was done – survive and reach a place where they felt safe.

“I spent about a month at the transit centre before reaching the community centre, then I finally got my own tent. I was very happy to have some space again just for my family. I had the privilege to spend warm nights during the cold rains, I have buckets to stock water and I have enough to light up my house.

“I was very relieved, the assistance I received from IEDA Relief and ShelterBox was beyond my wildest expectations.

“I really enjoyed the cooking set which is beautiful and efficient for my kitchen. I love my tent very much; it is quite spacious and I can even arrange rooms inside. I sleep with my youngest child in one room and the other children share the other pieces. So far, my tent protects me from the weather, even if the temperature is quite high during the day. So I often prefer to sit outside under the tree for some fresh air.”

Woman smiling at the camera holding aid in Cameroon

Supporting families in Cameroon
and beyond

Esther is one of over 1.5 million refugees, asylum seekers
and internally displaced people urgently needing help in
Cameroon right now.

We’re determined to see a world where no family is left
without shelter in the face of disaster or conflict.

Please support our work today.