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 fathers to the conflict fought every day between soldiers and Boko Haram Islamists. The children and victims of the religious crises are suffering in silence, victims of post traumatic stress, with many having watched their parents bring killed just because they were taught in a western school.
The photos below are ones we have taken of schools just around us that have all been destroyed by the crisis. Remember that children of arms or religious conflict are usually the forgotten victims. I have met children as young as ten who have been turned to become suicide bomber because of their vulnerabilities. The challenges faced in the core Northern states where this crisis is unfolding are very daunting.
I am the Director of a foundation, Future Prowess, which has been able to bring together orphans whose parents are at the various end of the divides under one roof in a school using Taafiz Quranic (faith-based) teaching. That means we welcome children of Boko Haram fighters, and 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, an hour’s flight from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. We also provide support to 365 former pupils of our school who have gained admission into junior secondary schools spread through Northern Nigeria. By bringing together these children affected by the different divides of the conflict and enabling them to study together, we offer a path forward for future peace. We currently have a waiting list of over 1000 pupils hoping to be enrolled.
With the difficult circumstances in recent times we have included activities to meet needs for conflict resolution, peace and state building processes such as human capital development approaches to address exploitative child labor by promoting educational, entrepreneurial, post trauma counseling and vocational training. We face many issues such as negative attitudes of parents towards schooling, and what they consider to be western education, individual and peer resistance to Girl child education.
We work with Post trauma councillors from the Borno State Ministry of Health, with community leaders, interfaith religious leaders and clergymen. The post-trauma sessions should help refocus and redirect the minds of children so they stop believing they are victims and become people ready for a life of productivity and ready to be trained as skilled workers ready for employment. We also help to build the bonds between the children who have been orphaned and their family members and across communities, allowing them the opportunity to interact with others in a neutral and safe environments. This then enhances the community healing process, encouraging interaction between community members and reducing their suspicions left an aftertaste of the insurgency.
The link is so important between these children and their communities, which is why we have a Parents Teachers Association “PTA”, comprising of class teachers and parents of the orphaned children. We need strong cooperation between the home and the school. This also allows us the opportunity to carry out needs assessment and to ensure 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 and to ensure they don’t have to depend on the community they lived with 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 as good citizens.