Many children like Ibrahim and Mustafa have had terrible experiences at the hands of the insurgents and are receiving counselling to deal with the trauma.
*Names of all beneficiaries have been changed to protect their identity.
Ibrahim* is 17 years old. When he was just 5 years old, his mother died and so he and his siblings went to live with his aunt in a neighbouring village. There he went to Islamic School and helped on his aunts farm, helping growing groundnut, beans and sorghum. When he was just 12 years old Boko Haram militants attacked his school.
‘When Boko Haram came we were in school. They came into the school, picked us up and covered our faces with masks so we wouldn’t see the road they were taking us on. They took us to the bush and they dropped us there. There were so many of them and so many of us I couldn’t count.’
Ibrahim was asked to carry a gun to become a shooter [soldier] and when he refused he was severely beaten and forced to learn the Koran. Throughout the four years Ibrahim was held by Boko Haram, he was kept in a room about 5m x 3m large, with no toilet, he was fed a meal twice a week, and was continuously beaten, leaving horrific scars and wounds that have still not healed. On multiple occasions he tried to escape with his sisters.
‘They even forced me to marry. She was 24 years old (twice his age at the time) with three children of her own. There was a ceremony, but I refused to spend the night with her, so I ran away, I was not going to pass the night with her.’
‘Every day I used to cry. I always cried, I wanted to see my parents. I wanted to come home. Every day I was thinking of running away. For four years. Then, one night I whispered to my sisters that I was going, and I jumped over the wall and I started running. I spent three days running south to make sure I got far away from them.’
When Ibrahim arrived at a particular village, he found somebody he recognised from his own village, who took him to the military in the hope of reuniting him with his family.
‘They took my photo and asked me where my father lived. They said they were going to take my photo and if he said he was my dad, they would take his photo and bring it back to me to identify him.’
After identifying his father in Maiduguri, Ibrahim was asked to identify his fathers photo in return, and then an arrangement was made to reunite Ibrahim with his family; ‘When I saw my dad again, I was so happy.’
For his father, it was an emotional experience: he cannot express his happiness. He had lost hope that would meet his son again.
Ibrahim would like to go back to school soon and has just started receiving counselling from Street Child as part of our psychosocial support programmes.
Mustafa* was just 7 years old when Boko Haram entered his village.
Initially his mother hid him under blankets as if he was a corpse to protect him from the insurgents taking him away. They would call all the women to come out of their homes to preach to them, usually by force. She would attend these sermons but leave Mustafa hidden, bringing him water and food when it was safe, but one day he peeped out and was spotted.
The soldier who spotted him tried to carry him away, and he called out for his mother as they did. A tug of war ensued, both parties fighting for him. The soldiers threatened to shoot her because she had hid her son, but still she would not let go. Despite her struggle, the soldiers eventually took hold of Mustafa.
Mustafa was held captive by Boko Haram at a camp, about 25 km or so away from his home. After three days of being held captive, he tied his shoes around his arms so his steps would not make any noise, and during the evening prayer he and another boy made their escape. Their run home in the dark was long, using a dirt road as a compass.
Remarkably, when he made it home, Mustafa returned his friend home first, and only then did he then look for his own mother. His legs and feet were full of thorns by the time he had got back.
With Mustafa home the family left their village, leaving everything behind: their possessions, their money and everything they had harvested. They have been living in the IDP camp for 5 years now.
Mustafa, now 12 years old, attends the Street Child TLC (Temporary Learning Centre) within the camp he is living in. Although his stay with Boko Haram was mercifully short, the experience has had a clear impact on him and so he is also a recipient of counselling from Street Child to help him process his experiences.