For the first time since I could put pen to paper, this year I did not write a list of ‘New Year Resolutions’. Why I did not do that is story for another year, but given that I am not feeling very ‘resolutionary’ this year, I decided to just be more intentional in my everyday living.
This was probably why I overtly boycotted the default CDS* allocation system of NYSC ** and sought out a CDS that spoke to me.***
Instead, I joined a group called ‘ENGINE’ which is short for ‘Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises’. Weird name. I know. But what we do in ENGINE is basically to teach and act as role models to specific young girls (mostly girls in senior secondary schools). We mentor them, teach them vocational skills, financial literacy and importantly, lessons on girl stuff and also sexual violence. (Can I just pause here to say that it’s sad that we have teach our girls on how to stay safe from sexual violence. It’s incredibly sad.)
Anyway, we decided to do this week’s CDS at the Gwoza & Bama IDP Camp at Abuja. The idea was to visit the Camp of Internally Displaced Persons and just have fun with the children – talk with them, laugh with them, wash and make their hair, give them gifts and cloths and shoes, and basically just leave all the children there with a smile on their faces.
And that we did!
Here are however some lessons I learned:
- The failure of the Nigerian Government is so horrible that it’s no longer a thing.
I remember trying to gauge my expectation on the bumpy ride to the IDP camp School (called ‘School Without Walls’). In my head, there would at least be some concrete buildings – maybe overcrowded (because I wasn’t expecting any form of excellence from the government in this regard), but at least some small bungalows with bunk beds, a central kitchen and some installed toilets (maybe dirty pit latrines… But toilets still).
Turns out I had such frigging high hopes and fancy expectations.
As we rode, my fellow corp member who is familiar with the Camp pointed to some disappointing clusters of an ongoing fiasco disguising as residential tents and said, ‘This is a part of the IDP camp’. I was like, ‘Where?’ She was like ‘Here na.’ And my heart fell.
Dear elected leaders, do you realize that but for your severe incompetence and general lethargy towards the insurgency going on right under your noses, these people would probably be living in houses they worked for (although that might also depend on whether the economy you so mismanage would have made basic living easy for them). The very least that can be done for these people by the government is to provide decent shelter, food and clothing!
I wandered around the camp wondering how I’d sleep safe if I were in any relevant position of political power, if I knew of this madness they call an IDP camp. See, I’m not even talking about providing psychological and emotional support and facilities for these people who most definitely are undergoing some long lasting form of shock based on the craziness they just experienced. I’m not even talking about basic (but obviously, next level) therapy for these IDPs. But guy, how can they not have sufficient clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet. About three boys met my friend, Sarah, separately to beg her for shoes (we are about 95% girls in my CDS so we basically brought female shoes). One of them explained that he wears his elder brother’s only shoe to school because his elder brother does not go to school. Hence, if both he and his elder brother had to go out, he’d be barefooted! Just writing this blog post has my throat heavy.
The children looked like they could look better.
And why should they be made victims more than the initial act of insurgency made them? It’s really the least the government can do. I feel like I’m ranting, but I’m quite angry.
We really need to do better. I’m tired of feeling like a hero or a ‘good person’ when I share used clothes to people who ordinarily should not be in this sort of situation. It isn’t that we’re good people; it is that the government is bad.
- There is pain and anger… even in small bodies
After our initial introduction to the children in the schools, some of us took the older girls aside to do something we usually call, ‘Safe Space’.
Safe space is basically a one-on-one heart to heart with the younger girls we’re mentoring. The aim is to basically to get them to talk about anything they’ve been scared to talk about. Most times, sexual abuse and general maltreatment are uncovered when we carry out this activity in our respective school clubs.
I was privileged to take one girl (Let’s call her ‘Martha’) aside to have a safe space with her. I talked at first to make her relax, told her I was her friend, cracked some dry jokes (which she laughed to… yes) and asked some preliminary comfortable questions.
Then we went into the uncomfortable part of asking about sexual violence, physical abuse and just general problems. She said ‘No’, ‘No’, ‘No’ to each and I was like, ‘Yes! Thank God’. Then I asked her if she had any questions for me on anything. She thought hard and said, ‘No, nothing’. So in my head, I’m like, ‘Badass. Okay. We can wrap this up.’ I then cursorily ask, ‘When did you get here.’, she responded, ‘Erm. Last year’.
Then I asked ‘Where were you before you came here?’ And bam! First sign of concrete emotion… and it wasn’t good. I literally saw the face of my 15 year-old Jss2 girl quiver. It was like I dug up something she had intentionally hid away. She whispered, ‘Bauchi’. I swallowed and whispered back, ‘You miss it yeah?’ She was obviously in too much pains to respond. And I instantly felt stupid for asking. I wanted to open my mouth to talk but I realized that it was too late- I was already mirroring her – and so we both fell silent with tears in our eyes. I knew that if I pushed it, she’d burst into tears, and then I’d cry too. So I forcibly cleared by throat and said, ‘Don’t think about it. It’s going to be okay. Everything will be fine.’
And because the best comfort I know is spiritual, I said, ‘Are you a Christian?’. ‘Yes’, she replied. ‘Great’, I said, ‘And so then you know that God is your father. And he isn’t just your father. He’s a really good father.’ I paused, ‘Do you sometimes just wonder if He’s watching and if He saw all that happened at Bauchi?’
And then I saw a second emotion – anger. Her face darkened and she nodded vigorously. I nodded with her and continued, ‘And you wonder why He did nothing to the people who caused all of this?’
Then I said, ‘I totally understand. But here’s what I can say with confidence – God saw all of it happen, He knows you’re here, and guess what? He’s still your good father. He has a plan and I assure you that you’ll see it unfold’
She looked like she did not believe what I said, so I asked her if she’s ever heard of the story of Joseph. She said ‘no’. So I told her from start to finish while reminding her that ‘This is a true life story o’. I could see that she could totally see herself in Joseph’s story. And I believe that by the time I was done, she was convinced that sometimes, God allows tough and weird stuff happen to us even though he can legit stop it. Our job is to trust in Him and never ever forget that He’s watching us… always.
Finally, I told her to always talk to God like He’s her friend… because He is. She told me she misses all her friends in Bauchi and doesn’t know where a single one of them is. E.g her friend Miracle. And to that I said, ‘That’s something you can definitely discuss with God. And not just discuss sef, you can ask him to keep Miracle safe wherever she is’.
I think she learned a thing or two from our conversation. But I definitely learned about how pain and anger looks.
- I cannot play Suwe:
Don’t ask me why…
I had always been too shy to ask someone to teach me. However, after our different safe spaces, the older IDP girls played suwe with us (their Safe Space facilitators). So I learned it today! Whoooooop! Guess who’s going to have an interior Suwe playground designed in her home to play with her little girl? Meeee!
Generally, today was fun. My CDS teammates are so hardworking and resourceful. My CDS coordinator is a whole blog post of inspiration on her own. And the children? They were such a happy bunch. I think that was my biggest takeaway. And you know, it’s ALWAYS my biggest takeaway everytime I go for an outreach like this – so so so much joy exhibited by people who have far less than I do and who probably have more reasons to be angrier than I am.
So even with my splitting headache, seething anger and the boil smuggly sitting in the centre of my nose, I smiled and laughed and screamed with them. It was an amazing experience.
*CDS is short for ‘Community Development Service’ and it’s compulsory for every corp member undergoing the already compulsory National Youth Service Corp.
**NYSC is short for National Youth Service Corp. It’s compulsory for every Nigerian graduate who intends to be employed in Nigeria
***NYSC would have automatically placed me in the Legal Aid CDS Group because… lawyer
(N.B. My friend just told me that there are some nice IDP camps. I don’t know how true that is. I hope it is. And I hope the other bad ones get fixed)