By Zannah Mustapha, founder of Future Prowess
Today, a conference is being held to look at the humanitarian crisis unfolding in north-eastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. I live this crisis every day. I have seen a thousand orphans who have lost both their mothers and their fathers to the violent conflict fought every day between soldiers and Boko Haram Islamists. The children and victims of the religious crises are suffering in silence, often victims of post-traumatic stress, with many having watched their parents being killed just because they were taught in a western school.
The photos below are ones we have taken of schools around Maiduguri, an hour’s flight from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, which have all been destroyed during the crisis. Remember that children of armed or religious conflict are usually the forgotten victims. I have met children as young as ten who have become suicide bombers because of their vulnerabilities. The challenges faced in the core Northern states of Nigeria where the crisis is unfolding are daunting.
I am the Director of a foundation, Future Prowess, which brings together orphans, whose parents are found on both sides of the divide, under one roof in a school that uses Taafiz Quranic (faith-based) teaching. That means we welcome children of Boko Haram fighters, as well as children who are offspring of their victims.
We started with just 36 children in 2007 in my house, and now teach 540 orphans from kindergarten to primary six in Maiduguri. We also provide support to 365 former pupils of our primary school who have gained admission into junior secondary schools found in different parts of Northern Nigeria. By bringing together children affected by the different divides of the conflict and enabling them to study together, we offer a path forward for reconciliation and future peace. We currently have a waiting list of over 1000 pupils hoping to be enrolled.
Owing to the trying economic and political circumstances in which we live, we run activities on conflict resolution, peace and state building. We also run post-trauma counseling and vocational training. We face many challenges such as the negative attitudes of parents towards schooling, and what they consider to be western education, as well as individual and peer resistance to Girl child education.
We work with post trauma councilors from the Borno State Ministry of Health, with community leaders, interfaith religious leaders and clergymen. The post-trauma sessions aim to refocus and redirect the minds of children so they stop believing they are victims and become people ready for a productive life of employment as trained or skilled workers. We also help to build the bonds between the orphans and their family members and across communities, allowing them the opportunity to interact with each other in a neutral and safe environment. This supports the community healing process, encouraging interaction between community members and reducing their suspicions left by the insurgency.
The link between these children and their communities is so important. This is why we have a Parents Teachers Association “PTA”, comprising of class teachers and family members of the orphaned children. We need strong cooperation between the home and the school. This also allows us to carry out needs assessment and ensure that our pupils have a safe home environment.
Our needs are immense, not just for education, but also for health and nutrition. However, the major goal of this project is to help disadvantaged children get an opportunity to study for self-sustenance, health, nutrition so they don’t have to depend on the community they previously lived in before the crisis. The children arrive like empty bags, but we believe that if you fill them with good things through education they will grow into good citizens.