Celine’s Story, Cameroon

15 year-old Ahmadou

15 year-old Ahmadou sits in the truck that will bring him back to his mother in Mbile refugee camp in Cameroon. Photo by UNHCR/C. Schmitt/2014

One of the reasons I became an aid worker is a bit sentimental. As a child, my grandfathers used to tell me stories of WWII, how they suffered and how they were helped by the Red Cross or by ordinary people they met during the war. One of my grandfathers turned 18 in a battle field. He had nothing to eat, but met on that particular day a woman living in a nearby village. He told her that it was his 18th birthday. Despite the fact that she had very little to eat herself, she prepared a rice cake for him. He was 70 when he told me the story and he was still crying remembering that day.

For me, a recently memorable moment was when I met 15-year-old Ahmadou refugee from the Central African Republic (CAR) during my visit in May to Gbiti, Cameroon. He arrived in Cameroon after 4 months of walking and hiding from attacks in the CAR’s bush. He had been separated from his parents during the flight. When I met him, he was very quiet, standing next to his father who had come all the way, 110 kilometres, from Mbile refugee camp because he had heard that his son had been seen in Gbiti. He was waiting to get registered by UNHCR to board one of the buses to Mbile refugee camp to be re-united with his mother and six siblings. He looked at me and I was touched by his vulnerability.

I didn’t know anything of his story, but looking into his eyes was enough to see that this boy had gone through something terrible. He did not move. He was just looking at me. I asked whether I could talk to him and he told me his story:

“I was tending the cattle when our village came under attack. I just followed a group of people who were fleeing to escape the attacks and ambushes of the anti-balaka [militias]. My family fled. Because I was with the cattle in the field, I could not flee with them.

We fled into the bush where the anti-balakas were attacking us. We spent four months in the bush before arriving here. We were only running, fleeing the anti-balakas. Everywhere we fled, we found another group [of anti-balakas] and then when we fled again, we found another group again. We ate cassava roots. Every day, we were trying to find cassava roots in the fields.

I feel a lot of joy to see my father and to know that I will see my mother. I don’t want to go back to Central African Republic. I don’t even want to hear the name of Central African Republic.”

Despite the happy reunion, I could see that Ahmadou had difficulties in expressing his joy and that he would need time and support to overcome his trauma.

Celine Schmitt
UNHCR Senior External Relations Officer

1 family torn apart by war is too many

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