Four years ago, Hauwa’s world was turned upside down when insurgents stormed her village in northeast Nigeria’s Michika Local Government Area, leaving a trail of destruction and despair. The violent attack took the life of her beloved husband and other family members, and Hauwa was taken captive in the chaos that ensued. Although she later managed to escape and reunite with her five children, she found it hard to make ends meet. She fled to Yola, Adamawa’s State capital, leaving behind a painful past, hoping to rebuild her life in safety and dignity.
Three and a half years after moving to Yola, Hauwa’s fortunes have begun to change. She sits in a circle, cross-legged, at an empowerment centre with several other women who have become the closest thing to family. The atmosphere is one of comfort and ease, a moment of tranquillity in a world often marked by chaos and uncertainty. The women’s voices rise and fall in conversation, the sound of their laughter echoing off the walls—a moment of respite from the tribulations they have endured in recent years.
“I was desperate when I arrived in this community with my children, and I could not afford a whole house, so I became a subtenant, renting a single small room for my family,” she says. “I, however, soon found refuge at the safe space, where I received counselling to cope with the traumatic events I had faced. I have also acquired valuable skills and made lifelong friends who support and uplift me,” she adds with a smile.
The women and girls safe space is a community centre in Yola North run by UNHCR partner Borno Women Development Initiative (BOWDI). The centre supports vulnerable women who have faced traumatic experiences, including gender-based violence.
“For the women who walk through our doors, the centre is a beacon of hope in a world that can seem bleak and unforgiving. It’s a place where they can heal, grow, and thrive, and it serves as a reminder that they are not alone”, said Esther Chama, Programmes Officer BOWDI.
Hauwa is a woman of fiery determination, running her own business and caring for her children amidst the challenges of high living costs and scarce accommodation.
She firmly believes in the power of women to surmount even the most daunting of obstacles and refuses to let the tragedy of her past hold her back from building a better future for herself and her children.
Despite having to relocate five times since moving to Yola, Hauwa perseveres, refusing to be defeated by setbacks such as a recent 50 percent rent increase. For her, every challenge is an opportunity to rise stronger and more resilient.
Hauwa’s life is about to change again as she prepares to relocate to the UNHCR shelter, livelihood, and economic inclusion Labondo Local Integration Project site in Adamawa. The project aims to improve the lives and welfare of 452 households, comprised of IDPS, Refugee returnees from Cameroon and their host community.
It will not only provide new homes for these families but also 216 square metres of land for agriculture and other purposes. It aims to reinforce and expand the local school, health post and market to cater for the increased population. By doing so, it will not only enhance the resilience and social cohesion of the population but also alleviate the pressure on existing socio-economic infrastructures.
The project aligns with the UN Secretary-General’s action agenda on internal displacement. It adopts a comprehensive nexus approach by interlinking humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding efforts. It seeks to provide support that goes beyond short-term relief to help people rebuild their lives and become self-reliant. This will involve finding ways to provide access to permanent housing, economic opportunities, and government services to help with recovery, resilience, and inclusion.
“Forcibly displaced women like Hauwa have repeatedly demonstrated their resilience, strength, and determination to survive in the most difficult circumstances. On International Women’s Day, we remember our responsibility not only to help them survive but also to create opportunities for them to thrive. Through initiatives like the Labondo Project, we can work together to empower displaced women and create a brighter future for them and their families”, says Magdallene Kilemi-Kuhn, UNHCR Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the project.
Hauwa and her friends use these times of communal connection to remember that no matter how hard things get, they are never really alone. She seizes the opportunity to emphasise again how they are all excitedly awaiting the project’s transition to the next phase that will see them move into their houses and intensify their livelihoods and economic inclusion activities.
“We look forward to further improving our skills, be it in cap making, local pasta production, tailoring, and expanding our market base in our new homes”, she concludes.
The session is over, and the women rise from their circle, their faces glowing with warmth and affection. They hug and say their goodbyes, already looking forward to their next gathering to continue their journey towards empowerment and self-reliance together.