16 days of activism: How an IDP woman got separated from her son in flight years ago, and still has hope to see him again.
In the ensuing panic, her 11-year-old son first hid with an uncle and was later kidnapped. Three years later, his whereabouts remain unknown. Over 1,000 long days and nights, many hours of prayer and tears for a mother who fears the worst. But also 1,000 days of hope that this nightmare comes to an end and she can take her son into her arms again.
Rahama also vividly remembers how non-State armed groups killed Nigerian soldiers and took all boys and men into the bush, and how women and young girls were flogged for refusing to marry the insurgents.
Due to the insurgency in North-East Nigeria and counter-insurgency military operations as well as criminal activities, many Nigerians have fled their towns and villages and are currently living in several IDP camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.
While there are some pockets of relative stability and safety in North-East Nigeria, the overall security situation has deteriorated in 2020 and 2021 with illegal checkpoints on major roads, including for the purpose of abduction and ransom claims, killings and other serious human rights violations. 2.2 million women, men and children currently live as IDPs in North-East Nigeria.
Rahama is one of some 17,000 IDPs that stay in Stadium IDP Camp in the Borno State capital Maiduguri. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supported her with dignity kits, mattresses and other non-food items. Most importantly, the Agency tries to empower internally displaced women, especially the most vulnerable ones like Rahama. UNHCR provided them with a training in tailoring skills and a sewing machine (which Rahama shares with another IDP), implemented by UNHCR’s NGO partner American University of Nigeria. This allows Rahama to make a bit of money by repairing clothes and tailoring child wear. “We want vulnerable women to acquire skills to support themselves and meet the needs of their families. If they have something to do, they have something to live for even in the darkest of times”, says Cynthia Mooke, UNHCR Associate Protection Officer in Maiduguri.
“The insurgency has caused untold suffering. Those affected will most likely live with the trauma of the atrocities for their entire lives”, she adds. “UNHCR will work to lighten this load and make life more bearable for them.”
In addition, UNHCR raises awareness about how to prevent and address violence against women and girls, including among boys and men. Its activities target IDPs, refugees and host communities in line with the 2021 theme of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence against women and girls: “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”
Rahama has three dreams. Her biggest one is to be reunited with her son. “I also want to finish school”, she says, as there had not been any formal education in her place of origin. The third dream is to become a master in tailoring that can train others.
The reaction of her community also gives her hope for her biggest dream to get Ahmed back: “People are still searching for my son”, says Rahama.
*Name changed for protection reasons