This week marks one year since the tragic event when 276 girls were kidnapped from their school in Borno, north-east Nigeria. Since then, scores of other girls and boys have gone missing – abducted, recruited by armed groups or forced to flee. Children have seen their loved ones killed and watched as their homes and schools have been damaged or destroyed.
These are the stories of children and families who have survived the conflict. They are among more than 1.2 million people who have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.
Evelyn was attending church when members of Boko Haram entered her hometown, in the Local Government Area of Michika. They started shooting and killing people, and kidnapping some of the girls from the community. Evelyn grabbed her one-year-old daughter, Rose and ran, but her five-year-old son, Wisdom, was in another part of the church. One week later, she was reunited with Wisdom, but she has not seen or heard from her husband since the attack. “I don’t know if he is alive or dead,” she said. With only the clothes on their backs, Evelyn and her children stayed in the mountains for one month, barely surviving on berries and swamp water, before making the journey to Yola, where they now live in a camp for displaced people. Evelyn, who studied economics before she married, longs to return home, but she knows it will be difficult. “They have taken everything,” she said.
When Alia, 10, still lived in her hometown, in the Local Government Area of Michika, word came on a Friday that members of Boko Haram had attacked neighbouring villages. The next day, the men arrived in her town and her father was killed. Alia, together with her mother and other family members, managed to flee to the town of Mubi, leaving all their belongings behind. Three months later, that town also came under attack. They managed to flee across the border to neighbouring Cameroon before slowly making their way back to Nigeria and ending up in a displacement camp in Yola, where Alia is attending a Unicef-supported school. Her mother suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes before the attacks, and now she is very sick, adding to Alia’s worries. Alia misses her father and her friends, and she is scared that attacks will occur again, but she refuses to give up hope. “I want to be a nurse,” she said. “I want to help people.”
Two years ago, Hajja was shopping in a marketplace in the village of Dagu, in Borno State, when members of Boko Haram attacked. “It was a Sunday morning, and they assembled everyone and then separated the women from the men,” she recalled. “They shot the husbands before our eyes.” She managed to escape with all five of her children, but she lost five relatives that day, a brother and four half-brothers. With the support of Unicef and partners, her children are attending school in the camp, but she misses everything about home — the farm, her neighbours, the marketplace and the other women there with whom she used to chat. “I just want this to end so I can go back,” she said.
“When the shooting started, we ran in panic into the mountains,” said Lydia, 15, about the day members of Boko Haram attacked her village. She walked for seven straight days to reach Yola, where Lydia now lives in a camp for internally displaced people. She misses her friends, six of them remain missing. Like so many others in the camp, she has lost loved ones to the violence; her uncle and cousin were killed during the attack on her village. “I always feel scared when I think of what happened,” she said. Lydia is attending school every day in Yola and wants to be a doctor. “I want to help my community,” she explained.
Thousands of people in Nigeria have stories like Evelyn, Alia, Hajja and Lydia. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of such extreme violence. But for these children – and the millions more across the world who experience violence every day – we mustn’t stop speaking out. Together, we can help to keep children safe.