Finding a new family in a refugee camp in Chad

Dar es Salam camp in Chad is home to more than 7,000 refugees from Nigeria. Each person here has fled horror and violence in their home country. Recently, I met two residents of the camp: 10-year-old Ibrahim and 38-year-old Adamu Yahaya, whose courage and resilience exemplifies that of so many of the people here.

In Nigeria, Ibrahim has been living with his grandmother, after his father died of illness and his mother drowned trying to flee when Boko Haram attacked a neighboring village last year. On the morning of January 3, 2015, tragedy once again entered Ibrahim’s life when his small town came under attack. He was forced to flee his home alone, leaving behind his grandmother who was unable to make the journey.

©UNICEF Chad/2015/CherkaouiOver 1.4 million children like Ibrahim have been forced to flee the conflict in and around Nigeria.
The same morning, not far away, Adamu woke up to the sound of gunshots, and together with his wife and three children, fled in a hurry.

Ibrahim finally arrived in Chad, in the border town of Ngouboua. “A woman took me with her, but after a few days, she said she could not afford to feed me anymore. She took me to another man I knew from my village, but he also said that he could not look after me. Finally, I came to the camp, alone again. ”

Ibrahim eventually ended up at the Child Friendly Space set up by UNICEF in the refugee camp. Community workers and psychosocial counsellors deployed by UNICEF gathered the community leaders to see if they could recognize Ibrahim. A woman in the crowd recognized him and informed the counsellors that one the boy’s neighbors was also in the camp. That neighbor turned out to be Adamu.

Adamu, who is now Ibrahim’s guardian, told me about the day they met at the camp: “They came to pick me up, I remember, it was a sandy afternoon. I saw Ibrahim, his face lit up. The community workers asked me if I could take care of him and I said yes immediately. You know, we all went through the same experience, that’s why I feel responsible for him.”

In turn, Ibrahim smiled and added: “When I was in Doro, I was friend with Adamu’s children, we were neighbors. Now, when I feel safe, it’s like a new family to me.” UNICEF community workers pass by his tent regularly to monitor his health and well-being.

The last time I met up with them, Ibrahim was about to head to the Child Friendly Space where his friends were waiting for him – the day’s activity was drawing – his favorite. I joined Ibrahim at the drawing session and was greeted by around thirty children who could not wait to get started. Their drawings show the horror of the conflict but they also describe what they miss from home: their friends, their clothes, their toys or simple things, like eating pineapples. They are just children – but where are their childhoods?

©UNICEF Chad/2015/CherkaouiAdamu and Ibrahim.
Ibrahim told me that he had never been to school before because the one of his village was closed. More than 300 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed in northeast-Nigeria since 2012 as a result of the conflict. Over 1.4 million children like Ibrahim have been forced to flee the conflict in and around Nigeria. This figure is just growing every month and it made me wonder: How many children will continue to draw the horrors they have seen? How many children will not go back to school this year?

Earlier this month, on 15 September, Ibrahim went to school for the first time and started the journey to discover letters and numbers.

“When I arrived, I did not want to go to school, I was scared. But this year I’ll go and I hope to learn to read and write” he said.

After speaking with Ibrahim and Adamu, I stayed for some time in the Child Friendly Space, chatting with the children and looking at their drawings. I realised how challenging it is to bring hope out of despair. Only education can offer them the skills they need when they grow up to build a better future for themselves and their communities.

Badre Bahaji is Communication Officer working for UNICEF in Chad.

The Child Friendly Space in Dar es Salam refugee camp provides recreational and psychosocial activities to more than 1100 children. 174 unaccompanied or separated children have been registered through the Child Friendly Space. According to OCHA, in Chad only, more than 77,000 people, most of them children and women, have been displaced by violence since the beginning of the conflict in northeast Nigeria. Despite insecurity, UNICEF works with its partners to provide life-saving support to the most vulnerable children and women. However, nearly 70 per cent funding gap prevents children from receiving emergency assistance.

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