By Peter Duru
UNDAUNTED by the fate that befell them about two years ago when armed herdsmen sacked them from their ancestral homes in Umenge, Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, two very close friends, Mercy Tyolumun and Mercy Tuam both inmates of the Uikpam Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camp have taken their destinies in their own hands to better their lot.
Unable to access their farmlands for agricultural work due to the incursion of armed herdsmen, the duo have taken to pottery making to eke a living and support their respective families in the camp.
When Arewa Voice ran into these mothers in the camp, they said they had to fall back to a craft they learnt during childhood but never took seriously as a source of livelihood until they lost their ancestral homes and farmland to herdsmen who besieged parts of Guma LGA. The herdsmen destroyed their means of livelihood and also killed some of their loved ones.
Although they perch in the camp with pains and agony, they have refused to be weighed down or allow the burden that stares them in the face to dampen their sense of excitement and womanhood. They have rather seen the brighter side of their situation and capitalised on it to attain enviable status in the camp as expert potters. Findings also indicated that the benefit of their activities have rubbed off on fellow IDPs some of whom they support financially and also teach the art of producing clay pots for sale.
The implication is that selected IDPs have also taken to the craft instead of vegetating in the camp and brooding over their situation. Through the efforts of these two women, some inmates in the camp have learnt new trades and look forward to life outside the camp where aside farming, they can also engage in the production of the much sought-after clay pots in the rural communities.
Speaking to Arewa Voice through an interpreter, one of the ladies, Mrs. Mercy Tyolumun, said though it was tough to produce the pot as it required sourcing for clay in the interior communities that were not safe due to activities of armed herdsmen, they had to brace up to the challenge.
She said: “We started producing the pots since we came into camp. Initially, we were just producing to see if we could earn anything from it. But to our surprise, whenever we took them to nearby markets, people rushed to buy them off. Gradually people got to know that some IDPs produced clay pots and we started getting orders from people who demanded them for use to prepare herbs, store water as well as cook soup.
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“With the increasing demand, we had to expand from producing five or six pots to producing up to 30 pieces of different sizes within a week and we now go far into the bushes to source for clay which is the main raw material.
“Formerly we sourced for clay and firewood from nearby bushes but with the high demand we are recording, we are expanding our sources of clay as well as firewood.
“We also ensure that our products are of the best quality because after sourcing for the clay and firewood we get back to the camp where we ensure that the clay is cleaned up to remove all residues after which we produce the pots. Interestingly, some of the IDPs have shown interest in what we are doing and we are also taking time to teach anyone that cares to learn to enable them to venture into the business to support themselves even after life in the camp.”
The potter, who refused to disclose the amount of money they make from the sale of the products, however, said: “We produce them in sizes and quality as well; that is what determines their prices. Some of them are heavier than others and the prices range from N300 to N1, 500.”
She also acknowledged that by venturing into the craft, they are doing well by their standards, assuring that with support from public-spirited organizations and individuals, they could further expand the business and organise better training for the IDPs to help them improve their sources of livelihood.