Malaiku - Survivors of boko haram abduction - PhMuseum

Malaiku - Survivors of boko haram abduction

Ruth McDowall

2014 - Ongoing

Nigeria

Introduction

I am openly embraced by three young ladies running up to me greeting me as Aunty Ruth. During five years living in northern Nigeria, I have seen many haunted faces, but these girls look different, haunted and also broken. I wanted to photograph them looking like the strong resilient survivors they are, but as they sat slumped in their chairs, I had the heart breaking realization that at such a young age these beautiful young people have lost their innocence and experienced the worst of humanity They are just a few of the many youth that have been abducted by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram had been rapidly increasing attacks in Northern Nigeria. Sadly young girls and boys have become a target. Girls are used for tactical reasons and a form of punishment to them and their communities. Up to 500 girls have been abducted since as far back 2009 from the north-eastern Borno and Yobe states.

They have been abducted while, traveling on the roads, attending school, working on farms, and from their homes during attacks on villages. They are put through psychological abuse, forced labor, forced marriage, forced to convert to Islam, and become victims of sexual violence and rape. Boko Haram are taking young people on operations and teaching them to carry ammunition and eventually to kill, even an increasing number of young girls are now being sent out as suicide bombers. Some have been fortunate to escape however many still remain captive.

The Chibok attack on April 14, 2014 was the largest case of abductions, with 276 girls taken, 57 managed to escape. It brought the attention of the world on Nigeria, and to the atrocities carried out by Boko Haram. Escapees of the Chibok attack have received some counseling and educational scholarships however there remains a serious lack of support for girls and boys abducted before and after Chibok. They urgently need post trauma counselling as they struggle with the memories, and many no longer attend school fearing they will be kidnapped again. Many of the girls that escaped are now stigmatized, and often relocate to new towns as they ostracized by their neighbors.

It is not uncommon for abuses against children and youth to go prosecuted in Nigeria. A code of silence prevents justice taking place, robbing them of their rights as the victim.

Background to the series

I got to know these young woman over several years, starting in 2014, visiting them at their places of refuge, playing games, attending some of their school events. I didn't feel comfortable to make quick photographs of them, portraying them merely as victims, or showing up in their spaces and photographing them in their day to day house clothes. They are more than that, they are survivors, individuals with their own unique personality. They were not allowed to show their faces for security and privacy reasons, so we decided to dress up in their favorite clothes for the portrait sessions to show something of their own personality and fashion sense.

Most of them chose traditional dress, with fantastic Nigerian fabrics. They enjoyed the experience, and some came wanting to be photographed in more than one outfit. On the first day of abduction they were all made to leave their own clothing, and wear a dull gray or black head covering, which they have all since burnt after being released. It was great to see them proud to be photographed, empowered, and with control over what they wore, and how they presented themselves.

In the future I plan to meet more young ladies that have since been released or have escaped, and continue the portraits in this format. I also plan to work together with an art therapist, to collaborate and draw through some of the experiences in the camp, and also their day to day life now. A lot of the girls struggled to explain to me how life was in the camp, and found it easier to talk it through while drawing. I believe the art therapy aspect is an important element to bring to this story, as the wounds are still fresh, and may of them are not receiving the help and counseling they need, and have been stigmatized by their communities. To gather their stories, it helps to do this in a way that does not further traumatize.

The title "Malaiku" is Hausa for Angels

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  • Sarah, 20 years old
    On May 7th 2013 I was travelling in a public bus with my friend. A Boko Haram member stopped us on the road, he entered the vehicle. We also realised the driver of the bus was a Boko Haram member. I was in the camp for three days until they released us.

  • Mairama
    We stayed in some small hut. Everyday there were plenty of insurgents in the camp carry guns. Eventually one day three of us escaped together.

  • Mairama,
    16 Years
    Boko Haram attacked my village and came to my house in the night of 30th September 2013. I was sent to a camp in the Gwoza hills where I spent three weeks in the camp. I would fetch water and cook for the insurgents and spent a lot of time sad and crying. They arranged for me to marry, but I refuse to sleep with the man, so he threatened he would kill me next time. One night a wife of one of the commanders showed the path to escape, so me and two other girls spent two days walking and running through the bush until we reached a safe city. It was just the grace of God that saved me. I am now back in school and would like to become a nurse one day.

  • Lydia, 1994
    I was travelling in a public bus after paying my school fees on the 7th May 2013, while on the road a Boko haram member stopped and entered the vehicle. Everyone was telling me to say I’m a Muslim, otherwise I will be killed. We entered a Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa forest, I stayed there for three days and each night we would sleep under big trees. I saw young boys in the camp carrying guns, some even as young as 10 years. I ddin’t eat any food for three days, I was thinking it could be human flesh, because there are rumours that Boko Haram eat human flesh, so I would throw the food on the ground each day and pretend I ate. Eventually some insurgents asked which village I was from, and realised they knew my fathers brother. So they decided to let me go, and dropped me off at a main road, they made me wear hijab and gave me 2000 naira. My family are now taking refuge in Cameroon, but I am not staying with them. I burnt my hijab after I escaped, I have dreams of Shekau in the night, coming to kill me.

  • Landscape in new place of refuge

  • Hauwa
    Me and my friend were tied up in my mothers friends house, where she would try and force us to convert, and beat us when we refuse. One day when the lady was out, my friend sneaked into the other room and got the key for the front door. When the lady came back she broke free, and hit the woman on the head with a brick. The lady feel down, we quickly ran out of the house, and locked her inside the house with the key.

  • Blessing, 19 years.
    At about 8pm on the 30th of September 2013 Boko Haram came into my brothers room and shot him. They took his wife and put a gun to her head, they asked for all the ladies in the house to come outside. They took me away with my sister and sister in law. When we reached the Boko Haram camp they asked me to denounce Christ and accept Islam, if not they will slaughter me. Out of fear I agreed and then they gave me a hijab to wear. After converting I was then made to married a insurgent called Abul. I suffered so much during the three weeks in that camp. While Boko Haram were outside gather ammunitions a wife of one commander showed me how to escape. I ran away to safety with two other girls.

  • Martha, !4 years
    On the 7th of Spetember 2014 while I was travelling to a wedding I was captured by Boko Haram. They killed my brother in law and my sisters fiancé. They carried me and my two sisters to their camp in Gulak. I stayed there for four months. I suffered greatly during this time, sometimes there was not enough food and I hardly bathed. They told me not to walk around outside, and when I did they would beat me, they told me not to talk, and I would talk, so they would beat me, they told me not to sing, I would sing and they would beat me. They taught me how to use a gun, and I went on two operations with them where I would carry ammunitions, but I could never bring myself to kill anyone. I met some of the Chibok girls, and they had been taught to kill people. They tried to force my sister to kill an old man, when she refused they shot her instead, I watched people being slaughtered like ants .They were planning to marry me to one man. A week before the wedding I escaped. I had tried to escape four times but failed every time. An old woman in the camp who spoke my tribal language explained directions of how to escape through the bush. So that night while pretending to go to the toilet, and sneaked away in the night with another girl. I still think about the experience all the time, when I sing in my tribal language I forget, but if I sit quietly I remember everything and will just cry.

  • Martha, !4 years
    On the 7th of Spetember 2014 while I was travelling to a wedding I was captured by Boko Haram. They killed my brother in law and my sisters fiancé. They carried me and my two sisters to their camp in Gulak. I stayed there for four months. I suffered greatly during this time, sometimes there was not enough food and I hardly bathed. They told me not to walk around outside, and when I did they would beat me, they told me not to talk, and I would talk, so they would beat me, they told me not to sing, I would sing and they would beat me. They taught me how to use a gun, and I went on two operations with them where I would carry ammunitions, but I could never bring myself to kill anyone. I met some of the Chibok girls, and they had been taught to kill people. They tried to force my sister to kill an old man, when she refused they shot her instead, I watched people being slaughtered like ants .They were planning to marry me to one man. A week before the wedding I escaped. I had tried to escape four times but failed every time. An old woman in the camp who spoke my tribal language explained directions of how to escape through the bush. So that night while pretending to go to the toilet, and sneaked away in the night with another girl. I still think about the experience all the time, when I sing in my tribal language I forget, but if I sit quietly I remember everything and will just cry.

  • Hannah
    We were kept in a room all together, the room next to us was full of ammunitions. Outside Boko Haram members would be praying on their matts. We escaped down several paths through the bush, the bush was scarey.

  • Ladi
    I was abducted from my hometown of Gwoza in 2013 while farming. I spent three months in a Boko Haram camp. They were about to slaughter me by slitting my throat. One of them begged me not to resist, so I relented and converted to Islam. I read from a Koran, and they put a veil on me. They made my bride price to be 15,000 naira $75. One day I preteneded to have stomach pains, so an old lady escorted me to a nearby hospital. Once we were in the town, I threatened to turn her into police so she ran and left me there. That is how I escaped. I am not in school anymore and I still remember everything from my experience which is very upsetting.

  • Hauwa, 15 years
    In 2009 during a crisis in Maiduguri city my friend and I were taken by my mothers friend who lived nearby. The woman and her husband were Boko Haram members. The wife locked us inside her house and wanted us to become her ‘Muslim daughters’. The woman tried to force me to convert to Islam and change my name, when I refused I would be severely beaten. After one week passing, while the woman was in the house, my friend held a brick and hit the lady in the head, and then we grabbed the house key and locked the woman inside. I ran away back to my house only to discover my father had just been killed during the crisis. The ladies husband impregnated my friend that was with me, so how she has a child born to a Boko Haram member. I no longer live in Abeokuta and I miss my family. I have to work hard so that eventually I can support my mother and my siblings.

  • Martha, !4 years
    On the 7th of Spetember 2014 while I was travelling to a wedding I was captured by Boko Haram. They killed my brother in law and my sisters fiancé. They carried me and my two sisters to their camp in Gulak. I stayed there for four months. I suffered greatly during this time, sometimes there was not enough food and I hardly bathed. They told me not to walk around outside, and when I did they would beat me, they told me not to talk, and I would talk, so they would beat me, they told me not to sing, I would sing and they would beat me. They taught me how to use a gun, and I went on two operations with them where I would carry ammunitions, but I could never bring myself to kill anyone. I met some of the Chibok girls, and they had been taught to kill people. They tried to force my sister to kill an old man, when she refused they shot her instead, I watched people being slaughtered like ants .They were planning to marry me to one man. A week before the wedding I escaped. I had tried to escape four times but failed every time. An old woman in the camp who spoke my tribal language explained directions of how to escape through the bush. So that night while pretending to go to the toilet, and sneaked away in the night with another girl. I still think about the experience all the time, when I sing in my tribal language I forget, but if I sit quietly I remember everything and will just cry.

  • Landscape in new place of refuge

  • Hannah, 15 years
    Boko Haram stormed into my house on the night of the 28th of September 2013. I was in a deep sleep, they asked my sister, mother and I to come outside. My father was not around at the time. They asked our names and upon hearing our Christian names they decided to take me away. I am the daughter of a pastor, and at the time I was only 14 years old. When I left the house with them, they burnt a church and then journeyed for two days to reach their camp in the Gwoza hills, it was a long and difficult journey. Once I reached the camp I was forced to join Islam, given a new name and they married to one man. I managed to escape one night with two other girls. I am still struggling with the memories but I am trying to focus and to continue with school and become a business woman.

  • Landscape in new place of refuge

  • Hannah, 15 years
    Boko Haram stormed into my house on the night of the 28th of September 2013. I was in a deep sleep, they asked my sister, mother and I to come outside. My father was not around at the time. They asked our names and upon hearing our Christian names they decided to take me away. I am the daughter of a pastor, and at the time I was only 14 years old. When I left the house with them, they burnt a church and then journeyed for two days to reach their camp in the Gwoza hills, it was a long and difficult journey. Once I reached the camp I was forced to join Islam, given a new name and they married to one man. I managed to escape one night with two other girls. I am still struggling with the memories but I am trying to focus and to continue with school and become a business woman.


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