Nigeria: childhood in a protracted crisis
The conflict with Boko Haram has uprooted more than two million people in their own country, 80% of which are children and women. Displaced through attacks on their hometowns, families have been dependent on humanitarian aid for years. Terre des hommes makes sure children get the opportunity to enter the formal education system and improves their access to services in direct collaboration with their community.
In Nigeria, the crisis started in 2009, when Boko Haram – which means ‘no to western education’ – took up arms against the government. More than 10 years later, the insurgency is ongoing. The armed group has split into two factions, one of which is affiliated with the so-called Islamic State. They have spread their influence over a vast part of Borno state in northern Nigeria. Villagers are still chased out of their homes, girls and boys get abducted, their parents killed or recruited.
“One day, we were sitting at home. We heard gunshots. People told us that Boko Haram was abducting girls. That’s when my father decided to leave. We were on the road for three days,” says Fara*, a 15-year-old girl who had to flee some months ago. “We ran away through the bushes with some children on the backs, and the others on the hands. We came across the military who rescued us,” recalls her mother, sitting next to her on a mat covering the sandy floor of their small tent.
In one of the biggest camps in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, white tents, in which around seven people share an overcrowded room, are lined up one after the other. Most of the 6000 school age children who live here have never been in school.
Attending school despite the crisis
The wind blows dusty sand into the clothes of children walking to the Tdh temporary learning space. Asma*, 12 years old, was one of the first to register for our literacy and numeracy classes. As a farmer, her grandmother who looks after her never had the possibility to send her to school. After they had to flee their farmlands, they fought a lot to keep themselves alive. Now Asma can attend the Tdh temporary learning space which prepares her to make the step into the formal education. Since 2019, Tdh has provided education services to more than 2200 displaced children.
In the 25 classrooms of Tdh’s temporary learning space in one of the biggest camps in Maiduguri, children sit on colourful mats and listen actively to the Tdh volunteer teacher. It’s Asma’s turn to go to the blackboard. She counts the row of 2 on a number sheet and everybody repeats in English: 2 – 4 – 6 … 98 – 100. Nobody would have thought that 6 months ago, she was illiterate.
Working with the community to help the most vulnerable
A lot of risks for children to be abused, neglected, early married or suffer violence exist in the Nigerian society, but the situation of being displaced aggravates it. We address protection issues of children in the camp in close collaboration with community volunteers and leaders. We follow them up individually, give them space to talk and follow them with psychosocial activities.
15-year-old Fara was sexually abused by her neighbour when she was alone at home before her family had to flee due to an attack of Boko Haram. When her father, the community leader, found out she was pregnant, he feared for his reputation. “My father told me to stay in the room,” Fara recalls. The teenager was not allowed to talk with her classmates nor attend school. “But then, he told me I can meet Tdh.”
One of our casework officer explains the sensitive work: “People from the community told us that their leader’s daughter was locked up at home. To not point out the case directly and make them feel bad, we started registering teenage pregnancies. Fara’s father then informed us that his daughter is pregnant.” This was the first step into helping the girl get back to a normal life.
After a one-to-one counselling with a Tdh casework officer, Fara’s father agreed for his daughter to be taken into care. Fara was referred to a health clinic and had a safe childbirth. She then got enrolled into our basic literacy and numeracy classes and participates in our support group where she gets emotional support and can talk about her problems. The Tdh volunteer teacher is optimistic: “I pay special attention to her because if you educate a mother, she will teach her children and from there on, her community.”
Dreams for the future
Fara is holding her baby and tells us: “Before I was pregnant, I didn’t plan to have a baby. Now it happened and I am very happy with my little girl. I gave her the name of my mother. I want to see my daughter grow, go to school and be somebody. My dream is to work in a hospital as a doctor to help women deliver.” She looks up with a sparkle in her eyes, smiles, and gives her 3-month old baby into her mother’s arms who will look after it for the next hours. It’s time to go to school now.
Read the full report in our Courage magazine (available in French, German and Italian).
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Photo credits: ©Tdh/A.Akande