Nusra* is 20 years old. She was abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in 2014 from her hometown Kumshe, under the Bama local government area in Nigeria. Prior to her abduction Nusra was happily married to Muhammad, with a child on the way.
Nusra was abducted during a deadly attack launched by Boko Haram, an experience that she shares with us:
"When people in the village heard the gun shots for the very first time, everyone fled for their lives and hid in the bush. However, I was heavily pregnant and I could not run like them. I was caught by the insurgents. My father and brother were mercilessly killed in my presence, I panicked when I saw my father’s lifeless body falling to the ground, but we didn’t dare to touch them," Nusra lamented.
Nusra, along with the other abducted women and girls, was taken to an insurgent hideout after a long and painful journey through harsh terrains. Nusra was forcefully married off to one of the Boko Haram insurgents immediately after giving birth to her child. She remained in captivity for about four years, during which she gave birth to another child, whose father was the insurgent that she was forcefully married to.
Unexpectedly, a joint operation undertaken by soldiers and vigilantes resulted in Nusra and other women and children being rescued and taken to the army base in Bama town. Here they underwent a process of clearance and rehabilitation for few weeks before they were released to their family members.
Though she was rescued and hoped of starting a new phase in life, especially with her husband whom she was reunited with, unfortunately what she encountered turned her hope to hopelessness. The stigma and rejection she received from her own husband and other family members meant she felt alone and isolated from everyone. Nusra’s husband stated that he couldn’t accept a returnee from Boko Haram and both Nusra’s family and her in-laws were in agreement, as a result they distanced themselves from her and didn’t association with her. The manner in which she was abandoned surprised Nusra because she thought they would show her sympathy, care, love and concern after all this time. Never did she think they would stigmatise her and not support her. Her family refused to live with her under the same roof, abandoning her to live alone with her two children.
It was in the amidst of this that Nusra enrolled into Alert's support sessions for women and girls, she then went on to also joined the family support sessions. These sessions provide a platform for supporting survivors of sexual violence to heal from their traumatic experiences and build support networks within their communities. Moreover, the sessions facilitated by the community leaders, specifically trained to understand and address challenges to reintegration, were aimed at supporting the traumatised survivors to reintegrate and unite with their families by reducing stigmatisation and increasing social cohesion and acceptance.
The journey of Nusra’s acceptance was supported by the project “Hadin Kan Mu Karfin Mu” (Our Unity, Our Strength) funded by UK Government through the Confict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Implemented by International Alert in partnership with Centre for Social Cohesion, Peace and Empowerment (CENSCOPE). This project helped Nusra and other participants undergo a psychosocial assessment that would allow them to access the appropriate help they needed whether that was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, rejection, and/or stigmatisation.
Through the project’s eight sessions of reintegration over a period of four months, Nusra was able to open up and share her experience with others.
Nusra said "after attending a number of sessions I became comfortable in sharing my experience, which I hardly did before now.
I also got to understand that there are a lot of other women and children who went through similar experiences as me and that I was not alone.
The coping strategies identified during the sessions helped to begin healing Nusra’s psychological wounds, and the family support sessions helped to reintegrate her back with her family and her husband. Nusra’s family realised how badly they treated their daughter. Nusra’s husband Muhammad said,
"Truly it is joyous moment for me and indeed, I regret my actions."
International Alert and its partners, continue to work in camps across Borno State, supporting the reintegration and building the resilience of women and girls affected by sexual and gender-based violence and abduction by Boko Haram.
* Name changed for protection concerns.
Alert works on this project with the following local partners,