Displaced several times in her short life, 15-year old Astana holds on to her dream to become a medical doctor and help her community.
For 14 years, Asta has lived like an orphan after her parents left her in the care of her aged grandmother, Aisha Mohammed, when she was barely a year old. She became a refugee as a little child when they fled to neighbouring Cameroon in 2012, running from attacks by non-State armed groups (NSAGs) on their village Auno in Rann, Borno State. While in Minawao refugee camp in Far North Cameroon, she could not continue her education because the local authorities told them refugee children would not attend school. Three years later, they returned to Rann, and she started school up to class 4 in primary school at the age of nine.
Asta Mohammed is one of many vulnerable young IDP and refugee returnee girls suffering because of the persistent insecurity, uncertainty and unresolved conflicts in North-East Nigeria. Girl children endure living conditions that deny them their rights and kill their career dreams.
After her return to Rann, Asta’s ordeal of displacement was far from over. In 2018, NSAGs attacked the community again and she fled to Gubio IDP camp in the State capital Maiduguri together with her grandmother. There, she continued her education in class 5.
One day, her relatively stable life faced another disruption. In the camp, Asta’s dream of becoming a medical doctor flashed before her eyes when an irresponsible 20-year old man impregnated her and escaped before she delivered a baby girl. She could only get help from her grandmother with whom she had lived all her life.
Thanks to a child protection project supported by Muslim World League (MWL), an international NGO that provides humanitarian assistance to disadvantaged populations, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is supporting Asta and other vulnerable teenage girls. Implemented by Caritas Nigeria, the project has helped to boost Asta’s educational dreams. She cannot wait to wean her baby and continue her studies to help her community and other young girls whose situation trapped in an environment prone to gender-based violence Asta knows too well. Her daughter Amma, now eight months old, is growing up without a father as the 20-year-old man remains in an unknown place, which forced Asta to drop out of school.
Not only early pregnancy, also early marriage deprives IDP girls of the chance to live up to their potential. This is where UNHCR’s project with MWL funding comes in, explains UNHCR’s Head of Sub Office Maiduguri, Mohammed Irfan Adil: “The child protection project in four locations in Borno State seeks to ensure that early marriage is discouraged, and displaced children are given the opportunity to achieve their educational dreams.”
“My parents preferred to marry me out at an early age against my wish.”
“My parents did not encourage my education but preferred to marry me out at an early age against my wish,” Asta says, tapping her baby as she sits with her 60-year old grandmother in their makeshift shelter. But she blames her late start of education also to frequent NSAG attacks on her community, which forced them to constantly move from one place to another.
Even with little Amma to care for, Asta does not give up her dream. Recently, she went to the school authorities to find out whether she could resume class, but she was told she could not because of the tender age of her baby. Her greatest worry now is whether her grandmother, who sells grains and firewood for their upkeep, would be able to support her education throughout.
The child protection project, too, is supporting Asta. “The passion with which she talks about her education tells that she is determined to pursue her dreams to the finish,” says Munakur Sammiyu Peter, Assistant Child Protection Officer with Caritas, that accompanies her and refers her to the appropriate organisation for assistance to realize those dreams.
Asta also thinks that returning to school and becoming a medical doctor will help tell her story and encourage other girls never to give up. “I strongly believe that if I return to school and become a medical doctor, I will be able to help other young girls who are trapped in similar situations like mine,” she says.
She advises them to avoid being lured into unhealthy relationships, but rather hold on to their dreams.