Children of Borno #2: Our New Home For Widows & Children

by Fiona Lovatt

A few years ago this neighbourhood in Maiduguri was over run with Boko Haram. The community has cleared them out. But the hospital, privately owned, has been gathering dust for several years. The owners very generously offered it to us, rent-free. Donors and contributors were waiting to do something meaningful. So we moved into the empty former hospital and transformed it within 24 hours. It is now the Children of Borno (COB) #2 home.

The hospital is too big to be a home for orphans: these Children of Borno are with their mothers. Their fathers were slaughtered in front of them. They have suffered and now they rise.

Seventeen widows and their 62 children registered with us. They selected their rooms and accepted our offer to support them with free accommodation, education, and enterprise grants so they can run their own facility as a cooperative, and be emancipated from the cycles of sorrow and deprivation that we see.

Everyone wants something better, and this is cheaper per capita than an Internally Displaced Persons camp. It takes just a few thousand dollars to establish, a few more thousand in annual operations and the rest in gardening, productivity in crafts and catering shared responsibilities, and education.

Everyone was ready to play their part, they just needed to see how to turn a hospital into a home to share, with spaces for family privacy, communal cooking and dining, education, and enterprise.

On Saturday we had five enormous water pots delivered so that drinking water would be purified and cooled in this natural way. The pots have a pointy bottom and so each one needs a small hole excavated so the pot can go in the ground. On Saturday this was the kind of thing where everyone knew what needed to be done, but they held back waiting for someone to do it, as if there was some money to pay someone to do it. A quick demonstration and the children did it, and we had a shift in thinking ripple right across the house: if there is something to be done, do it. Then ‘amazing’ was unleashed. Ingenious solutions and partnerships were born in the shared labours.

Everyone pitched in after years of stagnation and idleness in camps and squalor, hidden around the state capital.

It was beautiful to witness how quickly the women reclaimed their dignity and their status as mothers. Initially they were going to do all the work. We showed the children that they also had a role to play in making this facility a home where everyone plays their part. We want them to honour their mothers wholeheartedly and to be at ease.

A truckload of firewood was delivered.

Stacking and packing it, around to the kitchen area, became a game of problem solving and cooperation.

A thorough spring clean from top to bottom.

Hospital equipment was cleaned and stored.

The older girls have their own dorm, full of light, upstairs.

Older boys have their dorm downstairs so that the women can all be free upstairs, and yet the family remains intact.

On the lower floor there are a couple of families with members who can’t climb the stairs.

Someone asked: With the mothers obviously being ‘in charge’ but the boys dorm separate, who will be a leader or older presence the for rowdy boys? I answered: Different type of child here. There are only a handful of boys over 10 and they are shining with the responsibility of being the guards at night. 
Any issue can be dealt with in the evening meetings. Those boys would be very ashamed to be demoted back to being ‘children’. (I remember being inspired by kids who could build a medieval British town or a tropical island inside a classroom in an afternoon, or organise themselves to have hot milk drinks before school in the winter. I have learnt a lot from children.)

It is beautiful to witness the cooperative of widows turning their heads, their hands, and their hearts towards the shared life they can have as a rather special family. Women who have not been able to cook or shop for themselves made up their own shopping list. Fresh fruit and vegies after years of rice and oil, and very little. When the shoppers returned, all items were displayed and accounted for. This is the level of transparency and responsibility the widows carry.

By Sunday we had smiles in the family portraits.

Our first family to register. In four days, mother and children transformed from being timid, passive and withdrawn, into a group that is blossoming with the security of COB #2 .

Imagine how nice it is for them to have their own room and their own bathroom and to be able to keep it how they like it. And to feel that their major struggles are over.

Formal lessons are increasingly child-centred as our teachers learn to manage multiple groups of pupils.

All the children learn to express themselves in writing.

The days of regurgitating someone else’s words are fading away, and our children are given a voice.

They are gaining increasing accuracy in measurement.

A sewing machine is assembled and ready for action. A gift from Like Minds and the children loved the lesson in engineering as they helped put it together.

It’s a beautiful thing. All the sadness is lifted off them in the simple facility and structure we have provided.

Very few of our village women had the opportunity to experience state education yet each one has some knowledge and skills that can bring a small income to add to the pool of money that feeds everyone.

Five soap makers are newly graduated, thanks to tutors applied by Like Minds.

$3 US purchases materials that can in 9 days become a basket smelling of sweet grasses, made in the shade of our large verandah.

$25 buys the supplies for making high quality incense in the traditional style.

$60 buys a sack of peanuts that five women turn into the liquid gold of pure groundout oil, and healthy snacks of kulikuli.

$10 is enough for the fabric and thread that, across several weeks, becomes a fine Hausa cap.

And daily we have a troop of women who prepare and cook beancakes, fried tofu, pancakes, beans and other street snacks that keep the city’s workers nourished. Sales are good in the morning and again in the evenings in an area where not everyone has access to fuel for cooking their own meals.

We need to start seeing each displaced person as a human being with their own rights to dignity, family, education, personal and private property, and freedom of conscience. Let us listen to them.

We need to stop supplying tinned fish and give out the fishing floats and nets. People are capable of doing things for themselves, as our experiences confirm.

In Kano, I recently had passing encounter with one of the women who had fled from the east a year ago.

Lovatt Foundation had paid rent for a year, provided her with some basic provisions and an enterprise grant and here she stands, this beneficiary who has turned that sum of $100 into a livelihood. She has found her own accommodation, gained weight and health, and continues as a businesswoman.

COB#2 is supported by the supporters and volunteers in Purple Hearts, Like Minds, and Our warm thanks to all, and to Fati Abubakar for this photograph from her Bits of Borno project.

Reading continues through the evening, thanks to solar lights from Like Minds

Earlier Stories

Kano Life — with New Zealand poet and educator Fiona Lovatt (Marian Evans and Fiona)

Northern Nigeria. Early 2015 (Jack Vince and Fiona)

Boko Haram & Three Brave Women of Borno (Fatimah Abba Wakilbe)

Survivors of Boko Haram (Jack and Fiona)

New Life for Children Orphaned by Boko Haram (Fiona)

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