How this woman escaped when Boko Haram came to town

Nigeria

April 25, 2016

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  • When Boko Haram claimed her town, Jummah, third from the left, immediately fled for safety. During her escape, she found five children also fleeing and took them with her. "How could I not?" she said. They pose with her here. Photo: Amy Fairbairn/Mercy Corps

As we sit in the shade underneath a tree and shelter from the blistering mid-day Nigerian sun, we face Jummah who is opposite us sharing her story. Beside her sit five children, ranging in age from 11 to 17. None of them are her children.

Jummah tells us that around 11 a.m. one morning about a year and a half ago, Boko Haram came to her town of Chibok in Borno State. As she was serving food in her small café, they showed up shouting and screeching on their bikes and pick-up trucks and placed their flag in the center of town to show that they now claimed it.

People fled in every direction for safety. They knew what could happen next. Chibok is where 276 female students were kidnapped in April 2014.

In fact, the children who are sitting beside her now had first cousins who were abducted. How Boko Haram recruits youth ▸

Jummah immediately ran home to find that her husband had thankfully already fled with their four children. She then escaped into the bush herself. There, she came across five children sitting, all huddled together, not knowing what to do or where to go next. She took them with her, “How could I not?” she tells us.

Together they trekked for three days without any food, and very little water.

The group were eventually able to reach the town of Yola, over 250 kilometers away, where Jummah was reunited with her husband and four children, and they all began the journey which would eventually bring them to Gombe.

A family of 11 now, they are heavily reliant on what little savings Jummah and her husband have, and the support that Mercy Corps provides.

Mercy Corps has been working in Nigeria since 2012, and is responding to the humanitarian crisis in the northeast of the country where more than 2.2 million people have been displaced, 93 percent of those living in host communities. Gombe, where Jummah and her now expanded family have ended up, is a relative safe haven for people fleeing Boko Haram.

We provided Jummah with an e-voucher card, which is topped up monthly with 9,600 Naira (just under $50) to buy maize, rice, beans, salt and palm oil to feed her family. They also sleep on mats that we have provided as part of the kits for displaced people who often arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

They echo what we keep hearing from people who have been forced to flee their homes in this region, that before Mercy Corps arrived, no one was helping them, they are grateful.

But still, their experience haunts them. And the bomb blast in Gombe’s central marketplace last June will not have helped. The children have no news of their parents and don’t know if they are alive or dead. The 12-year old boy, who hasn’t raised his head once during the interview, tell us he dreams of his mother and father from time to time.

As the six walk off into the distance, with less than a hair’s breadth between them, we think about their futures. Hannah, who is 17, wanted to study microbiology, but there is no money for education. There is barely enough money for food.

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