Twenty-one-year-old Erline Nkouamo is exuberant and excited as she faces the camera to explain how her life has completely changed thanks to a project in Cameroon to teach women of their worth and value from the Scriptures.
Erline reveals that Project Esther’s unique Bible-based trauma healing program helped her to be free of the pain, anger and bitterness she had nurtured from being sexually abused and betrayed.
The abuse of young girls is a little-known horror in Cameroon. According to UNICEF, one in five girls aged between 15 and 19 has been raped or sexually abused. Even this may be vastly under-estimated. The issue is rarely talked about. But the attitude to girls in Cameroon is so bad, that it’s not unusual for them to be ‘lent out’ and used as prostitutes among male family members.
Run by the Bible Society of Cameroon, Project Esther teaches sexually exploited young women and girls to see themselves through God’s eyes and learn about his unending love for them, all in a safe and secure environment.
“Before coming to Project Esther, I was someone who liked being alone, someone who is reserved. I had a lot of anger in me, a hard bitterness. I was depressed and my thinking was just negative all the time,” says Erline.
When she heard that holding on to bitter and angry feelings can lead to sickness and depression, she felt the teacher was talking directly to her.
“When you’ve been hurt or you’re lost, or you’ve been heartbroken or been betrayed by people, you need to speak out the thing so that you can be relieved – you need to let go,” she says.
“And I learned that for you to let go, you need to have a good person to talk to; that is, you need to find the right person because you cannot talk to anybody you meet, you need to talk to someone that understands you and someone who can advise you on what to do.”
“We were taught how to let go and how to put our problems in front of God.” – Erline Nkouamo
Erline says she found what she was truly searching for – forgiveness.
“It’s good to forgive. We were taught how to let go and how to put our problems in front of God,” she says.
She relates how at the end of the week the girls and women attended a ceremony of forgiveness in which they brought themselves to God.
“We took our souls, me particularly, I took my soul to the foot of the cross. I felt a pain leaving my spirit, I felt relief, detachment. The hurt was burned into ashes, I saw my problems, my anger, my hatred, being burnt into the air, and I said, ‘thank you, Lord Jesus, I am free, I am stress-free, heartbreak free, I am emotionally free – in fact, I am healed!’”
As well as trauma healing programs and workshops, Project Esther also teaches practical employment skills and Bible studies in an atmosphere of love, care, and encouragement.
“For once I felt real love and true love from the mothers.” – Erline Nkouamo
Erline said she enjoyed everything about the program.
“The warm welcome by the mothers who provided food for us, they were like family. For once I felt real love and true love from the mothers who were cooking food and showing us how to earn money.
“Because apart from being taught how to forget about the past and love yourself, you also learn entrepreneurship. How a woman can manage, she can become a truly strong woman. We learned how to make hand sanitiser, how to sew, how to make yoghurt, how to make sheets – all these things to show that women are talented enough and there are things we can do to set up our own enterprise.
“Women have to be independent, not be dependent on men only, because God gave a task to both men and women, He did not give it only men.”
She thanks God that the project has helped her become a new being and one with dreams that can be fulfilled.
Bible Society Australia has been supporting Project Esther for more than five years. In that time, it has had amazing results, with some of the women who were once participants in Project Esther returning as facilitators in the program, to share the hope they received with girls who find themselves in the same situation they were once in.