Written by Mouslim Sidi Mohamed
It is with great emotion that Rahana, a mother of seven, tells her story about life as a refugee. “In search of refuge because of Boko Haram, my children and I have gone through very difficult times within the past year or so,” she said.
Rahana remembers her children’s life in Damasak – a town located in the northeastern part of Nigeria, near the border with Niger – when the Islamist sect Boko Haram attacked her small town. “It was a normal Monday morning, when the unforgettable happened. I was at home but my husband was away. I had just finished my chores when suddenly I heard gun shots, followed by loud screams. In what seemed like a matter of seconds, I saw many children in the neighborhood running away,” she recalled.
At the time, Rahana had four children, two of whom were at school that day. Her first instinct was to run to the school which was not far from her house. She was lucky to find them among the panicked crowd. She and the children ran back home where they locked themselves in. Days turned to nights and the family was living on leftover food and the little water they had at their disposaluntil we had no more left to eat or drink. Rahana then decided to risk her life by going out to look for food. A few moments outside, their paths crossed with Boko Haram members, who took her and her children with them and locked them in a room with other people they captured. “With all that I heard about them, I was convinced that we were all going to die”, she said.
Life as detainees of Boko Haram was difficult for Rahana and her children. “It wasn’t easy for us especially for my eldest daughter, Hindatou, who at the time was nine. Not a day went by without her crying on my shoulders because of the conditions that we were living in,” Rahana said.
A few weeks into the detention, the Boko Haram soldiers ordered the married women to go out and find their husbands to bring them back to the detention house so families would live together under their version of the Muslim religion. To ensure the return of the liberated women, Boko Haram members kept one child from each family and, unfortunately for Rahana. it was Hindatou who was detained.
Rahana was unwell due to the stress and unfavorable conditions, but soon left in search of her husband with the rest of her children. They could not get very far and decided to go to their house to rest before continuing with their journey. As Rahana lay there, she heard an unfamiliar noise which, to her great surprise, was her daughter, Hindatou, who had managed to escape the detention house. Rahana now felt that she had enough strength to continue the search for her husband. She and her children eventually found him and eventually relocated their family to a camp for displaced persons at Sayam Forage, which is forty five kilometers from the Niger border.
Rahana's family is now facing a tough situation especially for the young Hindatou. Rahana remembers: “When we first got here, Hindatou would have nightmares every night. She would relive the tragic events of the attacks, she would see the dead and the tortured in her dreams.” According to her, her husband, who is a marabout (a Muslim religious leader), devoted all his days to prayer so that his daughter would return to a normal life. But Rahana says that her daughter’s joy in life began to return since World Vision established a Child Friendly Space at the camp.
The Child Friendly Spaces implemented at Sayam Forage Camp provide a safe space for children to play, to learn through various activities and to heal from the trauma they have experienced. This approach also allow children to return to healthy routines and experience a sense of normalcy again. To date, there are 883 children registered in two Child Friendly Spaces.
Progressively, Hindatou’s life has stabilized. “The environment at the camp has favored my daughter’s development. Every day, she goes to the Child Friendly Space set up by World Vision. She has a lot of friends there with whom she plays”, Rahana said.
Today, Hindatou is twelve years old and she flourishes from day to day. Her confidence has grown as she develops her liking to learn. As a refugee in Niger, she learned to speak French. “Hindatou does not have nightmares anymore. My children are now very likely to have a better life than what our circumstances were dictating to us.
Featured image: Rahana in full emotion telling the story of her daughter