· Vatican City ·

The Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret in Cameroon

Fighting poverty, prostitution and tuberculosis

 Fighting poverty, prostitution and tuberculosis  ING-013
28 March 2024

In Ngaoundal, in the centre of Cameroon, the religious of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret run a training centre for women and two clinics. Sister Claudine Boloum: “Ever since we have been here, there have been improvements in the conditions of women”.

Almost all the young women who arrive at Ngaoundal’s training centre for women in central Cameroon’s Adamaoua Region, are fleeing from early marriages or the streets. The Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret, who have been in the African country since 1987, chose this village to launch their project, which has the aim of providing support to these young women, who are at risk of being forced into marriage by their parents, or of ending up in a prostitution ring from as young as the age of 12. “Once you have helped them become independent, it is difficult to trap them”, says Sister Claudine Boloum with conviction. Originally from Chad, but living in Cameroon for the last four years, the woman religious explained that “school opens the eyes of these young women, which makes them reflect”, and at that point, their families are no longer able to make them marry before their time. Moreover, once they are independent, it is difficult to make them fall prey to prostitution.

Nomadic Groups

Most of the women who arrive at the Sister’s training centre are Muslim and part of the Foulbé or Mbororo ethnic groups, nomads who “work and live with animals, which are their priority”, Sister Claudine explained. In these groups, “women are not highly valued, men often have more than one woman and women have no jobs and are often unable to feed their children”. Over the years, the Sisters have tried to support the families and there have been some improvements, Sister Claudine continued: “Even the women want to work now. They have understood that they can be responsible and they have started to send their daughters to school”. These young women are taught sewing and bookkeeping, and by the end of their formation, they are able to express themselves in both English and French.

Ina and Nadia

Ina is one example of these brave women. She is a married woman who decided to study in order to be able to leave the house and to one day be able to work, a goal she will only be able to achieve with the permission of her husband and her parents. Nadia’s story is quite different. She is from Ngaoundéré, which is located very far from the school. Sr Claudine explained that her parents “did not have the means to send her to a normal school, so when she heard about our school, she decided to enrol in the sewing course, and was able to come up with the money”. After completing her training, she will be able to return home and make her dream of opening a small shop come true. However, all this will only be possible if someone will give her a sewing machine as a gift, which is what the Sisters of Charity do for young women who come from very poor families.

The challenge of traditional healers

The Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret also opened two outpatient clinics in the same area, “Pietro Pecora” and “Santa Agostina”, entrusted to nursing staff. The clinics treat patients with less severe cases of malaria, administer vaccines to children and provide care to pregnant women. “The reason for two clinics is due to the fact that many do not believe in modern medicine”, Sister Claudine said, anticipating the question. “Before they come here, they go to see traditional doctors, who treat them with traditional medicine, that is with herbs. It is only when they realize that someone is risking death, that they decide to take them to hospital”, which however, is located five kilometres from the village. Hence, the presence of the two clinics among the people has helped save several lives thus far. Malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis and malnutrition is what most of our patients are suffering from. Many of them are very young children. “They drink only raw milk, they become sick with tuberculosis and they cannot get enough nutrition”, Sister Claudine explained.

The issue of medicine

Here at “Pietro Pecora”, explained Nestor Sadoli, a nurse and the head of the centre, we have a vaccination program, we assist in prenatal care and deliveries, we have labs for testing and we also provide vaccinations in villages. We have cases of malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, typhoid fever and sometimes hypertension and diabetes among the elderly”. One of their most serious problems is the availability of medicine.

The Role of ‘Gruppo India’

A well, a training centre, two clinics, the purchase of medicines and no support from the state, which made many promises throughout the years. “Materials, sewing machines for the school — we receive all this thanks to the yearly subsidy of the “Gruppo India” (an ngo founded by Jesuit Father Mario Pesce), which helps us give the women a better life”, Sister Claudine concluded.


Francesca Sabatinelli