20-year-old Ganna* (pictured) was sixteen when Boko Haram attacked her home town of Bombem, Nigeria, taking her and several other girls hostage.
She could hear them coming as they searched each and every house in the village, and all she could do was to pray.
"Everyone was crying, not least because we were being abducted but also because we had heard about the atrocities they had committed. We were absolutely terrified," Ganna recalls.
She added: "We were forced to walk all the way to the forest. Without any vehicles it took us two days to reach the camp, which I believe was in Sambisa Forest. At the camp, we were split into various groups. Soon after, one of the Boko Haram members approached me and said he wanted to marry me. I had no option but to obey."
Ganna was subjected to constant sexual abuse by her ‘husband’. She was chastised for not being a good wife and endured all forms of punishment for refusing to comply with his demands. She says she used to cry all day with no one to comfort or help her, as most of her fellow captives were facing similar challenges.
A few months after her abduction, Ganna became pregnant and delivered a baby girl. Sadly, her daughter passed away two months after she was born. A year later, she gave birth to a baby boy, who she is currently nursing.
She says she felt terrible and suicidal whilst under Boko Haram captivity and was constantly looking for ways to escape without much success. Her only breakthrough came soon after her ‘husband’ died.
I was sick and tired of everything: the loneliness, the starvation and the brutish life under Boko Haram. I wanted to escape despite knowing I would be killed if I was caught.
"Fortunately, my betrothed husband died two days after unexpectedly falling ill. His death paved a way for me to escape because widows are allowed to move around freely. One day in the middle of the night I found my way out and ran into the bush,"she recalls.
Following her successful escape, Ganna arrived at a displaced persons camp in Bama where she was introduced to International Alert. "I was invited to participate in a women and girls’ support session, and later I was referred to the family support sessions to reintegrate with my family. The sessions have reminded me of my previous life – living happily with my family and community. The sessions have also helped create a healing space in my mind. I have also been able to share my ordeal with others which is helping improve my mood and helping others understand the plight of those in captivity," said Ganna.
The sessions see that influential leaders within the community use a combination of counselling and awareness methods to not only support Boko Haram survivors, but to help them rebuild their lives and heal their trauma.
During the sessions, Ganna’s mother confessed to having been initially unforgiving towards her daughter. On her part, Ganna was happy to see her mother admit to her mistakes and the two were able to forgive each other and deal with their past. Ganna says she is happy and grateful to the project for reuniting her with her family, and that the family support sessions have improved the quality of her interactions with her mother, as well as changed the negative perceptions against her and encouraged her community to accept her.
I have peace of mind, and to me, this is more than any other assistance.
"My life was full of sorrow. I was troubled with ordeals and could not eat or drink. I am so grateful, and I appreciate everyone’s contribution in making me happy and reuniting me with my family again," she said.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.