Growing up, Feka watched her mother pursueher dream of becoming a nurse. Today, Feka is inspired to help women and girls in her mother's honor.
“Because ofall of my mum's challenges, I told myself I was going to make a difference in the lives of women and children, especially the girl child.”
I grew up in a complicated home. My father came from a wealthy family. His father, my granddad, was a "big man" in his day, working with the Cameroon Development Corp. His children grew up on the coast of Cameroon and had the best life could offer, from an excellent education to good jobs.
My mum, however, was from a poor family that had very little to live on. My dad worked as a soldier in the Cameroonian military, and when he visited the village where my mum was a pupil in elementary school, they fell in love. One thing led to the next, and my mum got pregnant by my dad. She had no choice then but to marry him.
She married my dad and gave birth to four children at a very young age, but my mum was not loved by her in-laws. They insulted her, calling her an irresponsible woman, an opportunist, and a whore. They made her life miserable, I believe because she was from a lower class.
On top of this, her marriage to my father was hell. Yes, hell! My father was a wife beater. Often he would beat my mum and then leave us without money for food. I had to run after him to collect money. He would always hand it over to me reluctantly.
When we were still young, my mother decided to go back to school. She wanted to get an education and a job to better her condition. Initially, my dad did not like my mum’s decision to go back to school, but he saw that she was determined, and in the end, he let her. She began by starting up small businesses selling bread and patched groundnuts and cooking food to sell to laborers. Eventually, she raised enough money to support herself through school.
My mum was in the same class as my elder brother and sat for the First School Leaving Certificate exam with him. This was not easy for us, her children. We couldn’t understand it and would laugh at her. That didn’t stop her, though. She passed the exam, continued on to secondary school, and attained her Ordinary Level degree.
My mum had dreams of becoming a nurse. After she completed secondary school, she did not have enough money to continue her education so she began to study women’s reproductive health on her own. She visited hospitals to see what was going on there and read so many books on health. My mother loved reaching out to women and talking with them. She helped them with their problems, especially their health issues. Though she didn’t have proper training, she eventually became a midwife to many.
Women would call on her to take them to the hospital to give birth, but most of the time their babies would come mid-journey. My mum would deliver their babies and most were healthy. When they would arrive at the hospital, the nurses would examine the women and babies and were always satisfied. That’s how my mother became a "nurse" to most women in our community.
This assumed role pushed her to acquire more skills to be able to help people. She continued her education and eventually joined the Red Cross where she rendered her services to humanity as a nurse and woman’s advocate. She encouraged women to take proper care of themselves, to get an education, and to start up small businesses. There are women who tell me today that, were it not for my mum, they would have died. Some of these women now run successful businesses and others work with the state, because after my mom’s encouragement, they actually did go back to school.
Though she was helping so many, life was still very difficult and complicated for my mum. My father, believing what his sisters told him about my mum, eventually took all of us away from herand distributed us among his siblings. He told us she was a bad influence on us, and that she was not allowed to see or talk to us. Our father’s family kept reminding us of how much they hated our mum, and sadly, this hatred eventually influenced us too.
When we were living with our relatives, we were treated more like the house help than children. Their children treated us meanly as well, and to this day we do not get along. Our own children don't even know each other.
Though I was forbidden to see my mum, I used to visit her in secret. I would share my worries with her, and she would encourage me to focus on my education. She gave me her shoulder to cry on when the stress was too much.
In the end, my mum couldn't withstand the trauma of losing her children. She developed high blood pressure that killed her some 18 years ago, when I was 18 years old. I remember after her burial my elder brother asking me what would become of our lives. It was a very difficult moment for us.
Because ofall of my mum's challenges, I told myself I was going to make a difference in the lives of women and children, especially the girl child. I would advocate and fight for their rights. And that is exactly what I’m doing today.
Through my organization, Hope for Vulnerables and Orphans, I work with local schools to start Gender Clubs. These clubs teach boys and girls to love and treat one another as human beings and equals. Here students are also taught about sexual health and reproductive rights. In addition to this work, I empower women and girls through life skills training and education. I train women on how to produce local products to sell from what is available around them. I teach them how to have good self-esteem, to become public speakers and leaders.
Some men in my community believe that all women do is eat and defecate. They believe they are of no use because they do not bring in income to assist the family. I want a Cameroon where women will not be looked at as merely consumers and toilet fillers; a Cameroon where women and children are treated as human beings. If my mum had the opportunities I have today, she would have accomplished even more than she did and may not have died young.
She remains my inspiration and I'll continue fighting for women, girls, and children in her honor until we achieve safety for all children in Cameroon and equality for girls and women.