For nearly 10 years, violence perpetrated by Boko Haram has displaced families, destroyed livelihoods, and contributed to chronic underdevelopment and marginalization in Nigeria. More than 2 million people were reportedly displaced at the height of the conflict, and nearly 1.8 million remain displaced today.
Evidence shows that girls in humanitarian settings are at an especially high risk of violence as social structures and protective systems disappear. Girls are often responsible for meeting their own basic needs, taking care of siblings or their own children, getting to and from school, and earning income, all while facing threats of psychological and physical violence. Additionally, Nigeria has one of the world’s largest youth populations, but one that faces a soaring rate of unemployment.
In recent years the Nigerian government has made significant gains in the conflict with Boko Haram, and security has improved in places like Gombe (which was reportedly taken over by the group in 2015) and Biu (which suffered sporadic attacks and devastation in surrounding communities), paving the way for rebuilding and recovery.
The towns are now relatively bustling, their busy, dusty streets lined with small businesses and market stalls hawking everything from fruit to electronics to passersby.
Goats and cattle amble freely, picking at the ground and paying no mind to the motorbikes zipping and weaving around them with anywhere from one to five people on top. Everything is dusty and most things are beige; even the odd blue, green or red building is faded and washed with sand.
And people are out: men huddle in pairs or small groups, lounging in doorways and under awnings, while women in brightly-colored abayas drift gracefully along the streets, large buckets and bins full of goods perched on their heads. Life has returned, and people are anxious to put Boko Haram behind them, recover what they’ve lost and focus on the future.
Mercy Corps is working with the support of the EUTF to ensure adolescent boys and girls in these formerly-conflict-ridden areas don’t fall through the cracks and are empowered to be productive and contribute to their communities.
The I-SING program offers safe spaces, which provide a place for them to feel physically and emotionally safe and learn health and life skills, including financial literacy, sexual health, developing healthy interpersonal relationships and how to set goals. The safe space curriculum is taught by a local mentor. I-SING also provides vocational training and livelihood grants for beneficiaries to develop their own source of income and stand on their own.
Below is the story of Fatima who lived through the Boko Haram crisis and whose live has changed because of Mercy Corps’ interventions.
Fatima is poised and still, fighting back a smile and motioning with small gestures of her hands as she speaks. We are in the entryway of her home, private save for the sounds of her family’s life — children crying, water splashing as her mother does the dishes — clattering in the background and the odd goat or chicken trotting past her feet.
Fatima’s mother died in childbirth, so she was raised by her father and grandmother in the home she shares with them, her father’s other wife and 17 siblings. It’s difficult for her father to meet all the needs of the large family, and he is especially struggling to put Fatima through school.
But her education is critical to her, she says. She consistently receives top marks and is determined to finish, no matter what.
Fatima participated in Mercy Corps’ safe space, and after learning the financial literacy lesson was motivated to start her own business and develop her own source of income.
She purchased sugar in bulk and now sells it in smaller quantities from her home and from her father’s retail shop, saving the income in a home back and the savings group (VSLA) she is part of (also through Mercy Corps). She thinks women’s independence and self-sufficiency is the way to boost development in her community, so she’s focused on being an example for others.
Fatima is incredibly proud of her business and also savvy — in one conversation it’s clear she is whip smart with boundless potential. She says her savings group is paying out next month, so she’s planning to expand her sugar operation with the interest she’s made. Fatima dreams of becoming a midwife when she is older, so she can help other women.