“Halima’s story: from war to threat of starvation"

Monday 5 December 2016

An Internally Displaced Person, Halima, 16 tells how Save the Children has been able to provide Pyschosocial support and aid in helping her get a better life despite the crisis in North east, Nigeria.


"Halima*, 16, was taken by the insurgents and married to one of them for around 4 years. She is now staying at one of the largest camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state which currently hosts around 1.5 million displaced people. Save the children provided her with clothes, blankets, mats and soap. Save the Children-supported caseworkers give her emotional and psychosocial support to help her start to recover from her experiences.”

“I’m 16 now. I was captured when I was 13. I was already married and Ali had been born. I was with them for 4 years. 

“It was when Ali was very small. I went to the farm with my father, mother and husband. They killed my father and husband there, then tied my mother to a tree and eventually shot her. When they had killed everyone else they told me to come with them. I resisted so they threatened me with a gun. They tied my hands and tied me to a tree. They told me I would get married to one of them. I told them I never would after they had killed my family. They told me I had no choice. I was married two days later. I didn’t even know who he was. I didn’t even see him during the ceremony. From when I was married all of the other men turned their backs on me as it is forbidden for them to look at another man’s wife.                                                                                           

“The houses were like tents made with thatch. Ali and I were left alone in the house for one week. They gave me food but I didn’t speak to anyone apart from Ali the whole time. All I could think was that my family was dead and I had no-one. The women were all kept in their tents and no-one was allowed to see each other.

“When my husband came I made trouble. I wouldn’t get him water or cook him food or acknowledge he was my husband. So he reported me to the others. They stood outside the house and berated me, and asked ‘why are you doing this?’ I said ‘You killed my loved ones. What do you expect? It would be better if you killed me too’. So they left and I didn’t change my attitude. They warned me, but I continued making trouble. 

“Sometimes my husband and I would talk, and I would say ‘I will escape’, but he said ‘you never will’. Over time there were some better moments between us, when I didn’t think of my family. But then I would think of them again and make more trouble. I was completely isolated the whole time. We stayed in one place and I could only see my husband and Ali. I was not allowed to mingle with others. Sometimes I would go a whole week without food. I could only go between my room and the latrine. The first day I set eyes on other people was the day I was rescued.

“Ali was so quiet, he would never make a noise when he was hungry. I was worried he wouldn’t recover. When I got here at first people thought maybe he was deaf or dumb. But now he is starting to be like other children again. 

“Eventually I became pregnant. When I was 8 months pregnant came the news that my husband had been killed in the fighting, and they brought his clothes to me. Soon after, I heard the sounds of war and I knew it was the military. Others ran to the bush, but I ran towards them. The military were surprised and asked why I didn’t run away. I said I had been waiting for this moment. They gave me bread and water and took me away. Eventually they brought back the other women as well.

“I hadn’t been allowed to leave the house for a whole year before this point. I gave birth in the first place they took me. 

“When I left my mind started returning. I started to be at peace – but recently I’m worried as I have run out of food. I think about going back home again, but I’m worried it will happen again. I’m just happy and relieved to be away from them. My basic problem is our immediate needs, like food. Apart from what Save the Children gave me nothing here is mine. Even the cooking pot is borrowed. I need a trade. But at least I have my two children – they make me happy.

“Fatimah is now 3 months. Sometimes my breastmilk doesn’t flow so I mix sugar in warm water and give that to her. 

“I think about my time with the insurgents a lot. When I see men approach I get scared, and when I hear loud noises I’m afraid people are coming for me again.

“People here know about my situation. They believe it’s an act of God. They grieve with me and sympathise. It amazes me how supportive and friendly people have been 

“In my village I would have been fatter. I would have been quite free. I would have gone to the farm and the market. I could have done business.

“In the future I hope to feed my family. I need a business, or some farmland, or a job with an income. 

“I hope my children get an education and they are protected from ever seeing and experiencing the things that happened to me.

“Save the Children has helped me with mats, blankets, clothing and soap. They talk to me and help me. Talking about things with them has helped me so much – I can start to relax again.”