Meet the uprooted children and families of Borno State, Nigeria

An estimated 2.6 million people internally displaced in north-east Nigeria and the Lake Chad region

Kent Page
Displaced people walk around a puddle in Shuwari 8 camp, in Medinatu, Borno State, Nigeria
19 October 2016

BORNO STATE, Nigeria, 19 October 2016 – Since 2014, the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency has caused insecurity and massive displacement in north-east Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. An estimated 2.6 million people are internally displaced – more than half of whom are children.

UNICEF and partners are working together to address the many aspects of this humanitarian crisis, including alarming rates of malnutrition, a recent polio outbreak, limited school access, deteriorating health and water services, and the psychosocial impacts of living through violence.

The epicentre of the crisis is in Borno State, where more than 1.4 million people have been displaced as a result of Boko Haram violence. Read on to hear the stories of some of the many people who have been affected by the crisis.

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Meet Maryam Sandabe

Maryam was one of many victims of Boko Haram insurgents in Bama, Borno State. Her home, car and all of her personal belongings were burned and destroyed during an insurgent attack. Maryam, her husband and five children had to trek on foot to Maiduguri, 67 kms away, to save their lives. Now living at the Dalori camp for internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, she is a volunteer teacher at a UNICEF-supported school that has 1,272 pupils. “I have a National Certificate of Education [and] I have dedicated myself as a volunteer, teaching math, English and science to these internally displaced children.” Committed to improving her life and the lives of children, Maryam is also studying part-time for a Health Education degree at the University of Maiduguri.


Meet Maryam’s students

All of Maryam’s students ended up in the Dalori camp after being forced to flee their homes by insurgent attacks on their towns in various parts of Borno State. “Despite the setbacks they have experienced – some of these children have been out of school for up to two years and many have lost family members – they are all happy and proud to be back in school,” says Maryam, who is internally displaced herself. Now they can attend classes sheltered from sun, wind and dust in one of several large UNICEF-supplied tents serving as a temporary learning spaces in the Dalori camp. In addition to providing school bags, desks, school uniforms, learning and teaching materials, UNICEF has provided more than 130 tents like this one that are used as temporary learning spaces in several camps in Borno State.

“Despite the setbacks they have experienced... they are all happy and proud to be back in school.”

Meet Zara, Falamata and Aicha

These three women play a key role in containing the recent outbreak of polio in north-eastern Nigeria. Zara is a polio vaccinator, Falamata is a UNICEF-trained volunteer community mobilizer, and Aicha is a data recorder. Working together as a polio vaccination team, they were part of a massive emergency immunization campaign from 15-18 October. UNICEF Nigeria supported the campaign by helping to procure vaccines and engaging the public via mass media and grassroots mobilization. The campaign includes nearly 39,000 health workers deployed to deliver polio vaccines to children under 5 years of age in high-risk areas in Nigeria, as well as in neighbouring Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Central African Republic.


Meet Zainab Mohammed

This is 3-year-old Zainab’s first – and possibly most important – visit to a UNICEF-supported primary health care centre in the Dalaram community of the Jere Local Government Area (LGA). Zainab is suffering from severe acute malnutrition and is now being treated with ready to use therapeutic foods as a first major health intervention, along with micronutrients and antibiotics. Zainab’s 18-year-old mother is also receiving infant and young child feeding counselling. Both will be monitored as Zainab’s health and weight recover over the next eight weeks of the treatment programme. Zainab is one of 89,178 children under 5 years of age suffering from severe acute malnutrition who have been admitted into UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding programmes in Nigeria’s north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

Meet Alhaji Goni Abatcha

Originally from the Monguno LGA in Borno State, Abatcha fled his home with his family after attacks by insurgents caused insecurity throughout north-eastern Nigeria, including his hometown. Now Abatcha and his family live at the Bakassi camp for internally displaced persons, where he plays a critical role as the Secretary supporting overall camp management. UNICEF supports camps and host communities – where the majority of displaced people now live – with health, nutrition, education, child protection, water and sanitation activities, including polio and measles immunization campaigns.

“They dragged me to a car... I was held there for two months and then I was forced to marry one of the insurgents.”

Meet ‘Aminata’

Aminata (not her real name) is a 17-year-old girl who was abducted by Boko Haram. “They dragged me to a car. They had taken me and another 14 girls from my neighbourhood. I was held there for two months and then I was forced to marry one of the insurgents,” she said. UNICEF estimates that more than 7,000 women and girls have been held and subjected to violence by the militant group. Most are believed to have been raped or forcibly ‘married’ to their captors, and many, like Aminata, became pregnant as a result. UNICEF-supported partner International Alert provides psychosocial support for girls and women who have experienced sexual violence, including their children born as a result. UNICEF also provides psychosocial support for children and families affected by conflict in Nigeria, including through child friendly spaces, psychosocial training of teachers and provision of education services in protective and safe learning environments. Hear Aminata’s full story. >

Meet Iisa

Five-year-old Iisa is one of many internally displaced children who are now living in the Muna Garage camp in Maiduguri. She poses here with her blackboard outside of the UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space in the camp. UNICEF’s child protection and education teams are working together to support children aged 3-18 years in Child Friendly Spaces with educational support, school supplies and teachers through the State Universal Basic Education Board. This approach ensures that Child Friendly Spaces are also safe learning spaces for children like Iisa.

Meet Aisha

Aisha Bulama is a polio vaccinator, and one of the most popular women in Maiduguri during the polio immunization campaign. “My team has already vaccinated over 500 children in just a few hours this morning,” she said proudly, before marking the fingernail of a young child she had just vaccinated. The purple mark on the fingernail is something that many mothers are proud to show their family, friends and neighbours - particularly after a recent polio outbreak in north-eastern Nigeria. Polio vaccination teams in parts of Borno State, Nigeria will also conduct simultaneous malnutrition screenings to identify severe acute malnutrition in children under five, referring malnourished children to therapeutic treatment programs.

“We can only provide very limited health care for our people because our health centre was so damaged.”

Meet Hajiya Bashir

Hajiya Bashir is the Chief Nursing Officer of the Gamboru Primary Health Care (PHC) centre, which is currently being rehabilitated by UNICEF. The centre was in serious need of repairs after being attacked, looted and bombed by insurgents, reducing access to health and maternal care for Gamboru residents and the many displaced people living there. “Right now, we can only provide very limited health care for our people because our health centre was so damaged,” says Hajiya. The Nigerian Government reports that nearly all health facilities in newly accessible areas in north-eastern Nigeria have been looted, vandalized or destroyed. With UNICEF support, 2,777,579 conflict-affected people have already been reached with emergency PHC services, including therapeutic feeding and provision of micro-nutrients for children, maternal care for pregnant women, routine immunization, and the treatment of diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.