University Feeds 270,000 Taking Refuge from Boko Haram

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American University of Nigeria, founded in 2005 by Atiku Abubakar, the former vice president of Nigeria, is now helping to feed 270,000 displaced people, who were pushed out of their own homes by violence.

Here, Margee Ensign, the university’s president describes the humanitarian crisis unfolding around her.

At the edge of Boko Haram controlled territory, sits the American University of Nigeria (AUN), located in Adamawa state, one of three northern Nigerian states in a state of emergency with a curfew. Yet the capital Yola remains safe until the infiltration of the 400,000 internally displaced persons.

Children gather at a camp for displaced people in Yola.
Children gather at a camp for displaced people in Yola.

This is a region where thousands of citizens have been killed, villages have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. In March 2014, we were asked by the Emir of Mubi to bring food and clothing to a group of displaced women and girls. When we asked, “Where are your boys and husbands?” the women cried and then turned quiet. Finally one said: “They were burned or forced to join Boko Haram.” Since then, we have been trying to raise the alarm by sharing the story of these women who ran with their daughters and lost their husbands and sons to Boko Haram.

President Ensign handing out succor to internally displaced women and children last year.
President Ensign handing out succor to internally displaced women and children in 2014.

The population of Yola, which is normally 300,000, has more than doubled with the addition of people who have fled the horror of Boko Haram. Most arrived only with the clothes on their backs. Only a small percentage of them are living in government-run refugee camps. This leaves the vast majority of the displaced living in our community with relatives or on church grounds. The university gave them food and blankets. Then 5,000 more came and community leaders rallied to help them.

The rice, maize and beans are passed out to the hungry with the help of local bishops, other imams, our university students, faculty and staff. Only women come to the church grounds to receive food because the men were disorderly and at times unruly.

Crowds come to the university for food and clothing.
Crowds come to the university for food and clothing.

Despite the hard work of the joint forces, this will not last through 28 March without sufficient funding. Therefore the university is appealing for additional support to help the displaced and provide scholarships. Even if Boko Haram were to be suddenly defeated, people will still seek shelter in Yola because most have no homes or villages to return to and many no longer have husbands or sons to provide for them.

There are more than 400,000 refugees in Yola being helped by the university and Muslim and Christian leaders.
There are more than 400,000 refugees in Yola being helped by the university and Muslim and Christian leaders.

President Ensign expressed her concern as well as hope, “Many have witnessed Boko Haram’s gruesome atrocities. No child is in school. With a few vans, tablet computers, books and the dedication of our students and staff, we could create a mobile education program to ensure the learning future of Nigeria, but this too requires funds.”

Almost a year ago, Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from their school in Chibok. Yet 10 months later, they are forgotten by world but not by the AUN community, now home to 21 of the “girls” who escaped after being kidnapped. These girls, who are actually strong young women of 16-19 years old, inspire us every day.

Waiting for their children: A mother of a Chibok schoolgirl abducted last year.
Waiting for their children: A mother of a Chibok schoolgirl abducted last year.

They are continuing their education and aspire to become teachers, lawyers, dentists and doctors and go back to Chibok to help their families and rebuild towns. They are in classes throughout the day, preparing for the exams that they were about to take when they were kidnapped last year.

I asked them recently if they would write me what education means to them. One of the young women, Grace said, “Education gives me the wings to fly, the power to fight and the voice to speak.”

Finally, to the question- “How does a university not only survive, but also enable its students to thrive under such circumstances? ” President Ensign replied,

“We all are obsessed with peace in Yola. Perhaps that is why we are safe in the midst of violence and anarchy and our students are growing the wings to fly.”

(Courtesy of Margee Ensign: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31663910)

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