April 14 marks one year since Islamist militant group Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a Nigerian boarding school. While some schoolgirls managed to escape, over 200 are missing, according to a new report from UNICEF.
The girls’ disappearance is “only one of endless tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region,” says Manual Fontaine, UNICEF director for West and Central Africa.
The crisis in the country’s northeast, fuelled by conflicts between Boko Haram, military forces, and civilian self-defence groups, has forced 800,000 children to flee their homes in search of safety. Many of the displaced find shelter in host communities desperate for basic supplies, clean water, and health and nutrition services.
Haunted by memories of violence and atrocities, the children struggle to forget watching their parents and siblings be slaughtered, or seeing their homes burn to the ground. “They have the right to get their childhoods back,” Fontaine says.
At many of the camps, UNICEF uses drawing during psycho-social therapy sessions to help the escaped children open up about what they have seen and endured, and what they miss most. A new awareness campaign, #BringBackOurChildhood, has celebrity Snapchat users recreating the images in the app. You can check out their renditions here.
With permission, we’re sharing some of the children’s original drawings.
During psycho-social therapy sessions, some children illustrated the trauma they witnessed. Umar, a child refugee in Chad, remembers assailants going into his school and shooting at children in several classrooms.
Another child refugee, Bulus, fled to Cameroon after the Boko Haram burned down his house. 'We lost everything, even our mango tree which was on the court,' Bulus says.
Sona, a child refugee in Cameroon, remembers the Boko Haram bombing the local church while the pastor was still inside.
They broke the legs of Mamoudou's father. 'As he ran, they shot him and his feet were broken and he was transported,' Mamoudou says.
In another drawing, Mamoudou illustrates everything his family lost in the crisis, including their fridge, television, clothes, phones, and livestock.
Fifteen-year-old Peter was separated from his family during the attack in Baga, Nigeria; still alive, they communicate by telephone. The refugee camp in Chad where Peter stays is located in a dry and desert-like environment. He misses the landscape and animals in Nigeria.
Others are left wondering the fates of their loved ones. Rita, 14, and her parents fled to Cameroon after the attack, but they don't know if her siblings survived. 'Even though in our family we all have our differences, if one needs help, family will be always there for you,' Rita says.
Atta Hinna drew her parents. 'I miss them a lot,' she says. 'I do not know if they are still alive or are dead. Since the war began I have not seen them.'
'Boko Haram bombed my computer by bombarding our home in Nigeria, they destroyed everything,' says Idrisa, a child refugee in Cameroon. 'It was my father's computer but we could play with it. We lost our house. Now I miss the books, pencils, exercise book.'
Nothing can rival the loss of a sibling. Saraya says, 'I miss a lot of things, but especially my little sister Lia who died in the attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria.'
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