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Boko Haram orphans: We ate grass, drank urine

•Survivors sordid story!
•Our ordeal with the military while evacuating children — Pastor Folorunsho
•’How we keep them alive’

By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City

It may be difficult to feel the pains of these over 1,300 victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, until you visit the children where they are camped in Uhogua community, in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State. The camp is situated on a large expanse of land   acquired by the President of the International Christian Center for Missions, Pastor Solomon Folorunsho, in 2005, with a view to rendering assistance to less privileged children in the area, but unknown to him, a Herculean task was ahead of him. The camp resembles a monastery where you see missionaries who left their families to dedicate their lives to the service of humanity. A 28- year-old German lady, who identified herself as Linda Shoes, works in the camp. Sunday Vanguard saw her at the kitchen assisting the natives to cook for the children.

The German, who disclosed she has been in this camp since 2005, said she left Germany to help humanity in Nigeria. She said, “I am working with the children in need here especially from the North East. So many of them have seen their own parents killed, their families slaughtered. For three weeks they were hiding in the mountains, no food, no water, they ate stones and sand to survive. So many of them, when they came here, the clothes they wore were the same clothes they fled with the day Boko Haram came. No pants, nothing on their feet. Some even came here naked. I am here because this is my calling, that is God’s plans for me. The camp is wonderful. I am happy that we are able to assist these children, about 900 of them from the North East and we have about 1,300 in total. They are orphans, children that have no body to care for them. I am happy God is using people like us toassist them”.

*Improvised  school staff room in the camp
*Improvised school staff room in the camp

Due to lack of funds to build big and modern halls, you have wooden houses and many uncompleted buildings, where the displaced children are housed. There is a section where chicken pox victims are quarantined, they only move to where others are housed when they are certified okay by volunteer doctors and nurses who routinely come from the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Faith Medical Complex and   the Catholic Church in Benin. But notwithstanding the obvious poverty in this camp, Pastor Folorunsho tried to build sports facilities for the children in primary and secondary schools. The facilities are made of wood. The teachers and head mistress of the primary school (Chistlike School), Mrs V.I.Uche, have no office. They operate under the trees which is properly swept so as to make the place as conducive as it can. Anytime it rains, Mrs Uche and the teachers run into the classrooms for cover.

Sunday Vanguard saw 10-year-old Esther Habila weeping ceaselessly and tried to inquire about the problem with the little girl. One of the missionaries explained, “She spent one month, two weeks with Boko Haram in Gwoza, Borno State. She escaped with some people and they trekked to Cameroun for four days, and then to Yola. Her parents were butchered in her presence, so the trauma has been there. She hardly talks, just cries and screams. We are doing everything possible to help her”.

Over 80 of the children are squeezed into one classroom. But the irony of it all is that they learn with joy and pray to God to bring helpers to them in the camp. Majority of the kids are either orphans or have lost contact with their parents as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. Pastor Evelyn Omigie, one of the missionaries at the camp, who took Sunday Vanguard round, told of the challenges they face in taking care of the children. She said: “When these children were brought here from the North East, they came with different sicknesses; many had been feeding on grass, muddy water, their urine. Because of this, we took them to UBTH when they came. So the UBTH decided to bring their mobile clinic here under their community health department and they actually took care of the children’s health needs. Thank God we were able to tackle those sicknesses including chicken pox. Medical doctors from UBTH came, doctors from Faith Mediplex also came to take care of the children. Many have been quarantined and it helped so much because the chicken pox is no longer spreading.

 Paying WSSCE fees and feeding

“We also have some of these children writing SSCE and NECO exams. We spent   over N400,000 on both exams. The money was raised by our missionaries, particularly our pastor. We have over three hundred churches in our ministry and they raise special funds every Sunday to help. Some people also come around to help financially. We appeal to the Edo government to accredit the school because if the school is accredited, we don’t need to pay huge amount of money to enrol our students for SSCE

“We cook six bags of rice daily to feed the children. If we are making garri, we use four bags of garri. If we are making Tuwo, we use three full bags of grounded corn. The day we cook beans, we cook two full bags with so many tubers of yam. We spend a lot feeding them actually. Right now we need a big kitchen because the kitchen we have is small and delays cooking because we have to cook, remove the food and start cooking a fresh one due to lack of space and cooking utensils.

Accommodation

“If you look at our buildings, there are some up to lintel level while some are still at the foundation level. Two years ago, we actually had money to roof the ones at lintel level but that was when the insurgency problem became bad in the North East and they brought the children here. So we said that the children surviving was more important after escaping death in Borno. And then we had to divert the money towards accommodating and feeding them. We are praying that God should touch individuals, governments to come to our aid and help these displaced persons”.

Commenting also, the headmistress of Christlike Primary School, Mrs Uche, who disclosed she has three children staying with their father somewhere in the community, said the task of teaching the pupils and students had been very challenging due to lack of infrastructures.

“It has been challenging because of the large number of children we have in the camp. The population of the children increased but we have limited classrooms, so it is very challenging. We really need classrooms and staff room. Our teachers don’t have anywhere to stay except under the trees. And when it rains, it is hell for us. When it rains, we run to the children’s classrooms to hide and the place is always jam packed due to the number of people there. We need structures, people should help us. Some of us left our families to come and serve humanity and we believe God will help us to succeed”.

Pastor Solomon Folorunsho gave details of how the camp came about in this interview:

“We, as a church, started in 1991. We also started a Christian home for the needy like orphans, vulnerable children, the handicapped in1992. When we started, I did not see it as a big deal because I believe that every church should care for the needy. We started by renting a room in the city to keep the children after we observed they were homeless, abused, no education, nothing. So we increased to three- bed room flat, from there to eight flats, until we added an upstairs to it. We found out that the children increased to 400, then 450, a lot of them have graduated in universities, some of them are lawyers. But when we could not afford the money to put the children in private schools, we decided to see how we could set up a school. So when we got some donation,   we used it to pay the staff. That was what gave birth to Christlike School, that they are attending today free or charge. Then our landlord started disturbing us that we did not tell him we

were opening the place for children, that the children were disturbing peple. So we prayed and asked God for help and we were able to get this land from this community. In fact, the Enogie of this community is such a kind hearted person. But after we purchased the land, we realized that we needed houses, we needed school to relocate. We started talking to people. So we went to sawmills and bought planks and started building wooden houses; the children were happy that they now have a bigger place to play around. That was how we relocated to this place.

“About three years ago, there was a Christian brother from Borno State, who we knew through Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association based in Jos. He would tell us what they were passing through in Borno. He told us how Boko Haram started robbing them. Then they started kidnapping their wives and daughters. Boko Haram fighters will come, surround their houses, ask women to come out and they will select the beautiful girls and leave with them. We heard how they raped women in the presence of their husbands. Later, Boko Haram started taking territories, so we had to relocate this brother about three or four times. He told us how they killed a fellow pastor and other people and he had to adopt about ten children to add to his own children to make 13. So we had to be sending aid from here. One day he called me about 2am crying. I could hear explosions in the background. I asked him where his family was; he said he did not know. I wept through out that

night thinking of what to do. And I was informed about many displaced persons in the North. I had that feeling to help but I said how could  I do that? The children I had here could barely feed once a day. For more than two weeks, it was difficult for me. I could not bath because I was feeling for the people in Borno. This was moreso when my pastor colleague was telling me how some of these people lived in  caves.   People will run to the mountains, eat grass. Some fled to Cameroun, many started dying of cholera. I felt why couldn’t we stretch our hands and help? Then I called all the children and our pastor in the camp and told them how our people were suffering in Borno. Some of the children wept as I narrated the story. They told me the children suffering should come,   that they could share their food with them. We all agreed that we should help. So two years ago, they brought 34 persons from Borno. When they came, we tried to embrace them, they did not smile. It

looked  like the whole world hated them. You could see their eyes deep inside. One of them went straight to the field to eat grass; we had to rush after him to pull him back. We have been treating them and trying to re-orient them to eat food instead.

Flying jet  over dead bodies

“I prefer to help them because if I buy a jet as a  pastor and  start flying over dead people, God will never forgive me because that is wickedness. We set up a committee which  went to Cameroon and Yola to bring those of them who escaped  from the Boko Haram fighters. We brought in 70 then , but we ran into problem with security people. They asked where we were taking the children. We told them Benin. They said Benin was known for child trafficking. I was summoned by the Director of  the SSS. Then the  military police came  to ransack this place. I was wondering if it is bad to do good in this country. I became sad  because they were not looking at our efforts but harassing us. I  challenged them, so one of the security men  said, ‘Look, we are doing our job, what we are doing is also to protect you’. That was what calmed me down. One of the security men went to interview the children, and when one of them narrated to him how his parents were killed, we saw the SSS man broke down in tears. He brought out money and gave us to go and get food for that child.  It was after that that we  agreed to collaborate to help these children. Every child we bring in here, we register  him. We have about 900 displaced children here added to the ones we had before.

Our greatest challenge is food. The support we have now is from individuals; some churches have been helping too. Some bring clothes, food, but they are  inadequate because of the number of the children. We have about 1,300 of them. I am challenging every pastor, every individual to come and help. You can see the children are in school, they are happy, they need books, they need towels; most of them came without pants, without brazier. One of the ladies told us she was bathing when Boko Haram came and she fled naked. A lot of them like that. Our toilet facilities are over stretched, we need roof, books and the health care. We run this place on generators because  is no electricity. Running this place has been hectic. But God has really been wonderful”.

Sunday Vanguard spoke to some of the survivors.

Tani Philemon’s husband was killed by Boko Haram before she trekked to Cameroun with her three children for three days.

*Inside the world of displaced children
*Inside the world of displaced children

“We were in the village that day when Boko Haram fighters came to attack us. They pursued us to the mountains and carried our food stuff, animals. But after some days, they attacked the mountains. They surrounded the mountains and shot tear gas. People started coughing and coming out from their hiding places. That was how they started picking people one by one and slaughtering them. It was in that process that they killed my husband. For three days, I was looking for my husband, searching for him in the mountains. I later found his corpse and I used sand to cover his body a bit. Some  days later, the Boko Haram fighters came back and told us not to run or they will kill us. I was there with my children. That night we started a  night vigil, praying and the way God works, they slept off that night and I quietly escaped with my three children. We trekked to

Cameroun for three days; no food, no water. Luckily, government sent a bus to take us alongside other Boko Haram survivors  from Cameroun to Adamawa State. That is how we moved to Adamawa and, from there, one pastor brought us to this place.

Butrus is 14-years-old while Bode, his little friend, is eight  years. Bode’s parents were killed by  insurgents in his presence, but  Butrus escaped with him in the heat of the fight. Butrus narrates their ordeal.

“When Boko Haram fighters  came to attack our village, everybody started running. But I remembered that this boy (Bode) was inside the house and his parents had  been killed. I came back for him. I took a tray and threw it in another direction, so the sound confused the Boko Haram people and they started shooting in the direction where I threw the tray. That was how I took this boy and escaped. I threw him over a fence but while I was trying to jump the fence they caught up with me and injured  my leg, but I was lucky to escape. We trekked  a long distance and  entered one house. I pleaded with the woman we met there to help us so that we could  sleep. She agreed but said she could not  afford to give us  food and water. She helped me to tie  where I had cut. We left the house in the morning and started  trekking to nowhere. So we saw somebody in a vehicle who asked us why was I bleeding. I told him that it was Boko Haram that wounded me that we were running. He carried us in his bus. It was in Michika that I was treated in  an hospital. I took this boy along because he had  no body alive to take care of him”.

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