During the recent ACN visit in March 2017 to the diocese of Maiduguri, Bishop Oliver Doeme highlighted the main challenges for his diocese, which include a humanitarian crisis, a lack of food, a lack of education (schools were destroyed), but also, what he calls, a spiritual crisis. The majority of people in his diocese have been severely traumatized. The bishop went on to explain that most of those killed by Boko Haram were men, which leaves the diocese with over 5.000 widows and 15.000 orphans to care for. The pontifical foundation ACN (Aid to the Church in Need) has approved an urgent grant of 70.000 € to support these victims of Boko Haram.
“Boko Haram fighters came to my home early in the morning” – explains Esther in her local language Hausa – ”they started to loot everything, then they took my husband and told him to convert to Islam, and when he refused, he was slaughtered in front of my eyes.” In the same way, Rose’s husband “was shot right in the forehead” for refusing to convert to Islam. Grief overwhelms Agnes, 40 years old and mother of 9 children, when she laments that she was unable to bury her beloved husband. “My husband was a builder; he was working outside of a house when Boko Haram surrounded all the people and gunned them down. The terrorists didn’t allow anybody to into the place to recover the bodies. No burial was possible, no funeral could be celebrated. They just left the bodies to rot there”. When she finishes speaking Agnes dries away her tears with the apron of her colorful typical dress. These stories are but some examples of the thousands of traumatic experiences that Nigerian women in Maiduguri have endured in recent time. Kathrin, Helene, Justine, Juliette, Hanna… and so on up to the 5.000th. Behind each number there is a face and although their faces appear composed, their hearts are full of pain. In order to assist these highly traumatized widows part of the ACN grant will be used for healing-sessions.
Besides that, the widows are also trained in how to take care of their basic needs, now that they are alone. Before the attacks, they relied on their husbands’ income . Life has not been the same since losing them. Most of the widows have more than six children to feed and educate. Most of them refuse to marry again because they still feel very close to their husbands, who were killed under terrible circumstances. A big number continue to grievely mourning their missing spouses, because the corpse was never returned for burial. An open wound remains that is hard to close. Bishop Oliver has created the “St. Judith widow association”, with the aim of better adapting the aid to the particular circumstances of every individual in need.
Another part of the project is related to school fees & the feeding of orphans/half-orphans. As bishop Oliver pointed out, “it is mostly the children living in the eastern part of the diocese, who will benefit from this, as this part is the most affected and the poorest”.
The Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri is located in the north eastern part of Nigeria. It is not only the place of origin of Boko Haram, but also the worst hit by its attacks. The three north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa lie at the center of Boko Haram activities. The Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri covers two and half of these states. Since 2009, over 200 churches and outstations, numerous priests’ rectories, 25 schools, 3 hospitals, 3 convents, countless shops, personal houses of lay people and business centers have been destroyed on this territory.
According to data collected by the pontifical foundation ACN during its recent trip to the affected area, Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people, 26 million people have suffered directly from the conflict and 2.3 million children and youth have been deprived of access to education.