A chance to change lives
I’m happy when someone comes up to me and asks me to intervene and help them reintegrate with their family. I’m helping to change their lives, as well as change my own life.
Amina is a Project Officer for a partner organisation that International Alert works with, the Herwa Community Development Initiative. She aids in the reintegration of women and girls that have been abducted by Boko Haram. Through open dialogue and training sessions for local leaders, organised by Alert and partners, community members are able to begin to accept the women and girls back into their lives.
The women and girls are often stigmatised or rejected by their communities due to misconceptions surrounding the victims and their experiences as survivors. Amina shares her thoughts about the communities she has worked with:
If she comes into the society, she would be pointed out as a Boko Haram wife. They don’t know whether she is here in the community to spy, maybe she is going back to Boko Haram. They don’t know if she is coming with a suicide bomb or something like that, so people keep their distance from her.
These assumptions are voiced in the community dialogue sessions and allow for the community members to hear about the victims’ experiences directly from them.
A new point of view
Amina has seen first-hand exactly how a community can learn to reintegrate with the survivors and help rebuild after so much trauma and hardship. In the dialogue sessions, Amina has heard stories of community members becoming more tolerant, trusting and open to reintegrating with the returning women and girls, she shares one of those stories with us:
“Someone was telling me at a session ‘please madam, I cannot accept the women as my wife. Even if I accept her as a woman, I cannot sleep under the same roof as her’ I asked for his reasons and he said, ‘because I’m afraid, most of the suicide bombers are women and girls.’ As we continued to talk about acceptance, dialogue and the importance of reintegration, he said ‘I am ignorant of what you have said but now I am not, and I understand that I am supposed to accept my wife and that there is nothing to be afraid of’.”
Now, when women and girls return to their communities they are met with less judgement and more open hearts.
“When she comes back to the community and if she says she has family in the camp, we will now integrate her with her family members and the family as well are now ready to accept them because of what we have been teaching them in the dialogue sessions,” says Amina.
Amina looks forward to the possibility of more dialogue sessions in other communities and continuing to create lasting impact in collaboration with Alert and other partners.
“More dialogue sessions need to be done because more people are asking for it. If this dialogue can continue like this, in a large number within the community, they will be able to learn from it."
Communities themselves are testifying that this dialogue has helped them to accept women and girls back into families and communities.
"We should increase them so that more of their community members will come away enlightened on such kind of issue … we now have survivors with their family. Because of the sessions, they now accept the survivor with a child. Before it was not like that.”