17 September 2015: A sharp increase in attacks by the armed group commonly known as Boko Haram has uprooted 500,000 children over the past five months, bringing the total number of children on the run in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries to 1.4 million, according to UNICEF.
In a camp in north-eastern Nigeria for people displaced by violence, a teacher’s dedication helps children learn and to overcome the trauma they have experienced.
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – The Dalori camp, just outside the north-east Nigerian city of Maiduguri, is teeming with an estimated 15,000 people who have been displaced by violent conflict in the area. Like most such places, it is not known as the most cheerful of destinations. But there are always bright spots, and the singing, dancing and games at UNICEF’s child-friendly space in the camp, where more than 2,000 children gather every day for recreation, is the place to go for a jolt of positivity.
Yafati Sanda, a resident of the camp, supervises the sessions at the child-friendly space. She used to be the principal of a secondary school in Bama, the second-largest town in Borno State, after Maiduguri. She says she and her teachers were threatened by students at her school who were members of the armed group commonly known as Boko Haram. Yafati considers herself lucky, as she heard about an impending attack on her city early enough to escape before getting caught in the fighting. On the day she heard the news, she was told the group would marry her daughters and recruit her son. She later learned that the militants had burned down her house and killed her brother.
Yafati and the other families living in the camp are almost all from Bama. Their town fell to the militants in September 2014, and although some people, like Yafati, managed to escape before the town was captured, many were held by Boko Haram until government troops retook the town in March this year. With the destruction of homes and livelihoods that the fighting caused, the remaining population fled to take refuge in and around Maiduguri. The impact on the children was massive. Many were injured, and many witnessed parents, other family members and friends killed – both in the fighting for control of the town and during the months of occupation.
The activities at UNICEF’s child-friendly space at the Dalori camp, supported with funding from the European Union, provide psychosocial support to these traumatized children.
“Keeping negative feelings bottled up is a road to mental illness,” says UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Mohaned Kaddam. “It can lead to a vicious cycle of violence on the part of those who harbour such feelings, especially children. Recreation, play and learning offer the right therapy to help to deal with this condition.”
The insurgency in north-east Nigeria has caused a major increase in population displacement, with more than 2 million people forced from their homes by the violence, nearly 1.2 million of them children.
The importance of education
Despite her personal tragedies, Yafati brings passion and experience to her work at the child-friendly space. She uses the UNICEF-supplied teaching aids and recreational toys to allow the children to play, to express their feelings and to have some basic education. She is motivated, she says, because she wants to help the children of her community.
“Bama is my life. It is my town. I got everything I needed from there,” she says. “If I don’t help these children, who will help them?”
Yafati has even inspired other teachers to volunteer at the child-friendly space. “I mobilized other teachers to help my people,” she says, “I told them not to expect any pay.”
Yafati belongs to a network of 474 trained community volunteers in the three states most affected by the crisis. Together they are able to provide psychosocial support services to nearly 43,000 children in camps and communities where the displaced are living. They all know there is still a very long way to go.
But of the children she is able to reach, Yafati thinks they are enjoying their lessons and that they are performing well in spite of the trauma and the stress they have experienced in recent months.
“Most of the children had never even been to school,” she says “They have illiterate parents who did not send them to school. The parents do not resist their learning conventional subjects now, because the terror of Boko Haram has taught them the importance of education.”
By Geoffrey Njoku - Source: UNICEF.org