20-year old Bintu* lived with her husband and two children, and supported her family as a petty trader. She was known to have an outgoing and very friendly personality in Malari community of Konduga Local Government Area, northeast Nigeria, where she lived. During Eid celebrations she would cook food and share it with family, friends and neighbours. This all changed when Boko Haram abducted her entire family to Sambisa Forest where her husband was forcefully conscripted by Boko Haram. Bintu managed to escape captivity after four and a half years, but her husband was not as lucky. He was captured by the military and later died in detention.
After escaping, Bintu was reunited with her extended family at Sulumri Host Community but suffered disdain, rejection and stigma like many other women who survive captivity. On hearing the news of her husband’s death, Bintu became hysterical, causing her to live in denial from the shock and even arguing with anyone who affirmed his death. Her family could no longer recognise the friendly and warm Bintu they once knew. Bintu’s mental health was slowly deteriorating due to all of this – this included not looking after her personal hygiene adequately, despite the care the family had provided her. This made them avoid her and eventually meant that she was ostracised and secluded from everyone because of the stigma attached to people with mental health problems.
International Alert started implementing its social cohesion project in Sulumri Host Community in April 2019, aimed at reinforcing the resilience and reintegration of conflict affected women and children to promote communal peacebuilding. The project uses a community-based approach where local leaders are equipped with relevant skills and knowledge to facilitate dialogue, with the aim of reducing stigma and rejection of survivors by their families and communities, and to encourage all to make steps towards building social cohension within their own communities.
Bintu was invited to the dialogue and support sessions by one of the leaders who knew about her situation. At the start, she showed very little interest in the sessions, not wanting to attend or engage. When she did go along to the sessions she was aggressive when answering questions, making contributions, or interacting with other women participating in the sessions. One of the trained leaders took an interest in Bintu and begun to pay extra attention to her during the sessions — trying to help her to participate and feel safe to share her pains and grief.
The sessions covered topics such anger management, trauma healing, how to handle grief and the purpose of forgiveness, with psychosocial specialists providing support during each of the sessions. International Alert monitored the progress of Bintu over the course of eight sessions, we could see her slowly recovering from her traumatic experiences and even begin to seek closure over the death of her husband. The sessions helped her with life skills that enabled her to heal, forgive and reconcile with her family members.
Today, Bintu has been reintegrated with her family and is no longer aggressive and confrontational. She has begun to invite and encourage other women and girls, with similar experience to hers, to attend the sessions. Bintu wants to play a part in uniting her community again and with the support of her family, Bintu has managed to re-enroll into school to not only get an education, but also have a new lease in life that will help her and those around her move forward and build a peaceful future.
* Name changed for protection concerns.
Alert works on this project with the following local partners, Centre for Social Cohesion, Peace and Empowerment (CENSCOPE) and Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre (GEPaDC).