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MY NAME IS AISHA: DISPLACEMENT IS NOT A CHOICE.

“I liked life at home, it was very peaceful before the attacks.”

Life was peaceful at home before BokoHaram invaded our town and I look forward to going back home someday. We had to leave everything behind, enduring a long and dangerous journey to escape our attackers. The first few years living in the camp were very tough; we were exhausted, frequently experiencing flashbacks, feelings of isolation, depression, and hopelessness. It was hard to understand why this happened to us – we did not choose to be here. We were faced with our new reality which was hard to accept; everyone had lost someone or something they loved dearly in the violence, and many of us had lost the zeal to go on with life. Here we were, several miles away from home and expected to start all over again.

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Uncategorized

MY NAME IS AISHA: A COLLECTION OF STORIES FROM INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

How it all started…

It started off as a typical day in Gwoza, located in a Local Government Area of Borno State, in North-East Nigeria. The rocky and hilly terrain, providing beautiful scenery. My parents were at home, and my siblings were playing outside as usual. I was washing my clothes inside the house when I started hearing gunshots. I called out to everyone, and we tried to see what was going on. That was when we noticed men moving into our village in large groups. At first, we thought they were soldiers who had come to protect us because they came in trucks, but later, we realised that the gunfire was coming from BokoHaram militants who were engaging soldiers in battle. Everyone was running, and we knew it was no longer safe to stay in the house. So, I left with my siblings and parents; we ran to the hills and stayed there hoping that the militants will retreat, but they did not – they had taken over our town. They killed our men, destroyed our property, farmlands and went away with valuable items. Living in the mountains, we ran out of food and water and survived by eating dry Guinea corn and Millet. It was not long before we realised that we would not survive much longer if we continued to stay, so we decided to leave the village. We had heard of people being killed as they tried to flee town, but we were left with no other choice.

We left in the rain carrying only some of our belongings and followed a path that had some people on it. We dressed my brothers in female clothing and covered their heads because if they were identified as men, they would have been killed. We helped to disguise many other men, but some of them were discovered and killed – my brothers were able to escape. We were stopped twice along the way by militants; they collected our identity cards, phones and the little money we had and were allowed to continue our journey. At some point, they started chasing us, and we ran for our lives.

Many men were killed, and some died of hunger while hiding from the militants.  Young girls and women were taken away.

Finally, we got out of the village trekking by foot from Gwoza to Madagali, a local government area about 15 miles away in Adamawa State; we were tired, thirsty, hungry and dirty. Our feet were swollen and pierced by thorns. We stayed there for two days and did not have money to continue our journey. Later, a bus was sent, and we were brought to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camp in Area 1, Abuja. The story is not very different for many of us. My family and I have been displaced since 2014.

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Dignity

Creating a Multisectoral and Coordinated Camp Management System for Internally Displaced Persons

IDP Camp Management_Diagram_JPEG

The on-going insurgency and displacement situation indicate that we need to evolve from providing spontaneous solutions to deliberate and well-structured plans. The increasing number of displaced persons puts pressure on existing facilities, negatively affecting living conditions and causing avoidable ill health amongst the people.

Ideally, camps should be temporary settlements until people are resettled in their areas of origin (“return home”), within local communities (“local integration”), or in other states within the country (“outside integration”). However, many people have been living in camps/camp sites for over two years because they are not resourced, skilled or adequately equipped to move on even when the security situation has improved in their areas.

Currently, a solution gap exists between the early phase of displacement and long-term rehabilitation. I believe that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), need to be prepared while in camps on how to create and sustain life outside the camp. They need to be equipped through counselling, psychosocial programs, education, skill acquisition and training – they need to develop sustainable means of livelihood, as well as regain their dignity. This can be achieved with a structured camp management system which involves:

  • Creating a coordinated working system within the camps. Humanitarian, governmental, non-governmental, and social organisations, have complimentary roles and will need to adopt a harmonised approach to executing operations that will help achieve early-phase settlement and long-term rehabilitation. This will reduce inefficiencies, resource mismanagement, duplication and wastage.
  • Governments defining a framework, providing durable structures, and infrastructure within which other organisations can effectively work together to achieve stated objectives.
  • Creating a process that links early phase settlement to long-term reintegration needs.
  • Carrying out a comprehensive, collaborative, and multi-sectoral needs assessment to identify the full range of requirements and gaps. This will support the implementation of a “needs-driven” response.
  • Defining core priorities and identifying the lead actors based on their expertise and mandate – social and humanitarian workers, health workers, counsellors, security agencies governments, psychologists, etc.
  • Assigning clearly defined responsibilities to agencies/organisations to improve accountability.
  • Regular meetings/feedback process involving all organisations.
  • Monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment.

Camps should be run by groups of dedicated agencies and professionals who understand the nature of the crisis, pulling on their collective strength and experiences to help create an effective system within which IDPs can effectively and more efficiently, go through the phases of displacement and reintegration.

 

 

 

Purpose

Who am I?

I remember being approached by Leading Ladies Africa about three years ago to be part of the “30 Days of Gratitude” series. I recently stumbled upon my write-up and every word still rings true today.

So, who am I?

Certainty and security of purpose have been my safety guards for as long as I have known myself.

I had cherished so often, the protection that planning my future brought and I pleasured in the success of those plans becoming a reality and celebrated the achievements.

Suddenly and without warning, real life and purpose began to fight for relevance and the more I tried to hold-on to my own idea of a perfect career, life and plan, the further it slipped through my fingers.

While I find myself pushing forward towards accomplishing what I call “my purpose”, the constant need to jump off high walls, walk through unknown paths, and veer off the tarred road to the dusty road can really be unnerving.

I turned 30 this year and had imagined a totally different me at this age but today, I find myself more involved in causes that drive positive social developmental impact, change and making a sustainable difference:

I find myself awake at night writing a report on the long-term rehabilitation plans for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in North-East Nigeria;

I find myself worrying and writing a report and letters to the UK Government on how to eliminate knife crime amongst teenagers;

I find myself being emotionally disturbed by videos of a teenager being beaten up on the street and decide to write a letter half way across the world to ensure he gets justice;

I find myself bothered about young boys growing up on the streets of Lagos, violation of young women and the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria;

I find myself stopping while driving in Lagos to ensure that a traffic official doesn’t take unfair advantage of an unsuspecting driver who is unsure of the rules and cannot fight for himself;

I find myself at job interviews being asked, “What is most important to you; money, fame or power? I find myself responding, “None of the above, I just want to make a difference”. The potential employer jokes and tells me that I should be applying to charity organisations instead;

I find myself pushing for social impact investments in Nigeria that will create jobs, boost development and change the lives of people;

I find myself wanting to make a difference because that is what brings me real happiness and joy.

As I fight the battle between what I imagined I will be and the journey my purpose is taking me on, I am gradually finding myself and following a path; one that will hopefully lead me to who I really am.

So I say:

I am grateful to God for leading me through the unknown;

I am grateful for the strength and resilience God has given me to take on so many diverse projects;

I am thankful for the journey; the bumpy roads and the smooth drives on the highways;

I am thankful for my great family, friends and mentors;

I am super grateful for a relationship with God that makes everything else pale in comparison;

I am grateful for lessons learned, thankful for the disappointments that turned out to be real blessings and strength of character that I have built in the process;

I am thankful every day for another chance at life and determined not to be a waste of space on earth.

I look forward to 2016 with both excitement and nervousness. The path is completely unwritten, and I look forward to writing the story as the days roll by.

My name is Toluwalola Kasali and I am determined to make a difference in the world. I want to be me and still change lives while being at it. I want someone to go to bed everyday thankful that the Lord has kept me here for another day.

I am thankful for the opportunity to lend myself to causes that matter to me otherwise, life will have little or no meaning. I am therefore and in essence, thankful for life and living.

 

Dignity

The Dignity Kit Project

On the 28th of July, we set out to support 1000 displaced women by providing dignity kits to meet their basic hygiene needs. We had beautiful and clear skies despite the rainy season and the great opportunity to visit 4 IDP camps in Abuja; Area 1, Kuchingoro, Wassa and Waru.

To get the dignity kits packed, I had the support of amazing volunteers who gave up three consecutive Saturdays to be part of the team. The process of getting to the final stage of distribution was just as amazing as experiencing the smiles on the faces of the women as they opened their kits to reveal its content.

I sincerely hope that the pictures and videos  below, speak a thousand words to your heart as they did to mine.

PICTURES

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VIDEOS

The videos are about 30 seconds each and show women across different camps:

1.Surprised and Thankful

 

2. A Woman Discovers Her Towel Fits Perfectly 

 

3. Take a Look at What I Got

 

4. Thanks for Coming

 

5. Young Ladies Compare Dignity Kit Content

 

6. What is in my Kit?

 

7. They Can’t Stop Smiling 

 

8. The Women are Happy

 

9. The Female Heads of Families

 

10. The Dancing Woman of Kuchingoro

Mental Health

Mental Health and Displaced Persons: The unseen scars of conflict

 

In preparation for a recent event on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), it became clear to me that psychological effects of displacement arising from situations of conflict and violence, create challenges in rebuilding the lives of IDPs. While mental and emotional scars are easily dismissed because they cannot be seen, the effect on their daily lives is evident.

IDPs refer to persons who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, situations of violence, violations of human rights or natural disasters who have not crossed an internationally recognised state border[1].

There are currently at least 1.8 million IDPs in Nigeria with Ninety-Four percent (94%) of these displacements due to the ongoing conflict in North-East Nigeria. Displaced persons have suffered a great deal; witnessing the death of loved ones, destruction of lives and property and abuse. They endure long perilous journeys to escape their assailants and find themselves exposed and vulnerable. In many cases, children lose both parents in the process, becoming heads of families, providing for themselves and their siblings.

With such traumatic experiences, people report flashbacks and nightmares leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The loss of loved ones usually leads to depression, feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

Too often however, food, water & shelter are defined as the sole primary needs, ignoring the devastating effects of conflict and violence on mental health. Displaced persons experience grief, loss of economic opportunities and a sense of self, a breakdown of cultural identity and family structures. These socioeconomic stressors put an immense strain on the mental health of individuals. We can help to meet their basic needs while also preparing them to survive mentally, physically and economically.

In providing the help they need, poor access to mental health care is a major concern in many of the affected countries – high cost of services, limited number of health professionals, remote locations, etc., creates a treatment gap for mental disorders in IDPs.  The associated stigma and fear of isolation means many cases are unreported. These factors raise the need for psychosocial support to be incorporated as part of the immediate humanitarian response.

From my experience, there are also social and behavioural effects of displacement. Their mindsets are shaped by past experiences and current circumstances.  Their actions are a departure from what might be considered the norm. But how do we define “normal” in a situation where normal has ceased to exist for many? Using an example of two camps for displaced persons I visited, in the first camp, which is close to town and receives regular supply of relief materials, the people were conscious about safety and order and waited patiently for distribution to be completed to collect their share. However, at the second camp, with poor road access and irregular supply of relief materials, a fight broke out immediately after the distribution – there was a scuffle for available supplies and their instinct was to fight for their basic needs.  It was the “survival of the fittest” – desperation, hunger and need.

For the human mind, basic needs are for survival and safety, however, safety can only matter when basic needs of food, water and shelter have been met.

Insecurity in IDP camps where they should feel safe, leaves them with little choice but to flee again and as a result, many have been displaced more than once. For those living in host communities, conflicts arising between displaced persons and the host communities can be mentally and socially unsettling – many times, members of the host communities feel their needs are just as valid and want a share of relief materials, further raising tensions. This situation should not be allowed to linger and for that to happen, we must provide economic opportunities that enable displaced persons earn a living sustainably.

When the period of displacement is prolonged as it is in many cases, a protracted phase of anxiety and uncertainty is created. The drivers of insecurity and conflict must be addressed to make the issues of potential return to place of origin or other settlements sustainable.

Women and children particularly, represent a high percentage of this vulnerable group. The women suffer different forms of exploitation when in need of basic items, with very few channels of expressing or reporting these grievances and abuse. Increasingly, we have a duty to ensure that people are not held under a different form of oppression after fleeing violence and captivity. The effects on the mind are unseen, but nevertheless, detrimental to their ability to recover and regain total freedom.

The issues of displacement are multifaceted and as such, a multisectoral, comprehensive and collaborative approach is required; bringing together social and humanitarian workers, health workers, counsellors, security agencies, governments and psychologists.

Mental assessment and counselling sessions which include trauma counselling, professional, religious counselling, etc., must feature prominently in our solutions. Access to mental health services must also be prioritised for funding.

Unresolved mental health issues have dire consequences which if allowed to linger, can cause greater harm in the future. We can help by choosing to first understand their state of mind; where they have been and what they have been through, working with them to offer needs-driven solutions, not a one- size-fits-all offer.

We must help rebuild their lives so they are no longer viewed as burdens to the society.  IDPs display characteristics of resilience, courage, and strength of mind to thrive, and have employed an admirable set of skills to survive. We must recognise and harness their potentials, empowering them to become contributors to social & economic development within their host communities and State. Dignity can and must be regained for our displaced population.

There are huge costs to internal displacement, not only to individuals affected, but also to the economy, stability and security. The underlying causes of displacement must be addressed with a lot more effort put into preventing displacement, protecting people, and finding long-term solutions.

The road to full recovery and resettlement is long but achievable and the process must begin today. There is no harm in falling but there is great harm in staying down. There is great potential in every individual and they must be given the opportunity to realise their dreams.

 

 

 

[1] Internal USAID document on Internally Displaced Persons