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.
Recently, 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.
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 or sexual health. 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 Wasida who lived the Boko Haram crisis and whose live has changed after his involvment in I-SING:
What is your name and how old are you?
My name is Wasida Suleiman and I am 17 years old.
Who do you live here with?
I live here with my family.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, I have seven siblings.
Are your parents here with you?
My father works in a village called Mada, but he comes home from time to time. Four of my siblings are in school outside of Biu, while my mom, I and two other siblings are here.
How long have you lived in Biu and where did you live before?
I have been in Biu for about five years and was in Maiduguri before.
What brought you to Biu from Maiduguri?
My dad was transferred from Maiduguri to Biu.
Are you in school right now?
I just graduated from high-school this year.
What is your normal day like?
When I wake up in the morning, I usually go to the farm in a town called Zee, after which I return home to rest. Since I am done with school now, I just visit my friends or go for the Boys Brigade practice.
What is the Boys Brigade?
It is like a band in the church where we learn how to play drums.
How long do you spend at the farm each day and where is it?
About five to six hours every day. It is located in Yuganda, and I do go there by foot, which takes me about one hour. I plant groundnut and rice.
Is the farm yours or for your family?
We have four farms, two are for my mother where she planted corn and beans. One is mine, and the other one is for my sibling. We had them because my neighbors weren’t using their farmlands, so I asked them for it for the time being and they gave it to me.
What motivated you to that?
I was motivated by I-SING, and the inability of my father to meet all my needs.
What do you do with what you grow?
I would like to use the income to obtain a JAMB form [a test for higher education] and if I pass I would join my elder ones at the University of Maiduguri.
Tell me a bit more about the I- sing program. How did learning those things have an impact on you?
In the program we were taught topics like dream big, how to save, why to save, etc. It really had an impact on me. For instance, from the topic “dream big” I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to do. Also, I learned how to save money.
Before the program, what did you think your future was going to be like?
I wasn’t thinking of anything reasonable, especially because we relocated from Maiduguri, a big town where there are many opportunities, to Biu, a small town with less opportunities. I was also spending time with bad influences, until I came in contact with I-SING. I think there were good chances I would have probably followed the advice of my bad friends and drop out of school.
What are some problems young people like you face in this community?
The major problems are lack of means for livelihoods, which makes them engage in bad behavior like stealing and taking hard drugs.
Was this community affected by Boko Haram when you came?
Yes, it was very terrible, people were slaughtered on a daily basis. Heavy weapons were used to kill people. At that time, I gave up on life, as I thought everybody in Biu was going to die soon.
How long was the Boko Haram crisis in Biu?
The crisis started when we came, and it lasted for around three years.
What has life been like since the crisis was resolved?
Now it is much better unlike before, when people didn’t trust each other.
What motivated you to join the I-sing program?
I was motivated by my brother’s friend who was a teacher.
What is your favorite thing you learned in the I-sing program?
I really loved the topic “dream big” as it motivated me a lot.
What has been the response from your family?
They are happy because they have seen the impact on me. [In the past] there are some house chores I run away from, but with the coming of I-sing I have learned to help at home.
Would you like to further your studies?
Yes, I would like to study mass communication because I love the idea of passing information to people and on the television.
What are your plans for your future?
I would like to be a very rich man so that I could help my family.