New Life for Children Orphaned by Boko Haram

Boko Haram targets girls and boys, women and men. Yes, they abduct and rape and sell women and girls. Yes they kill women and girls, sometimes by using them to detonate bombs. But they also abduct and kill boys and kill men. When the Lovatt Foundation, based in Kano, worked among the Internally Displaced People who fled to Kano because of Boko Haram, 96% were women and children. The males simply didn’t make it to Kano.

When the Foundation set up the Children of Borno (COB) home in Maiduguri ten months ago, with a local staff to provide care and an education for 30 children orphaned by Boko Haram, it welcomed girls and their brothers.

Today, as we remember the girls abducted from Chibok two years ago, New Zealand educator and poet Fiona Lovatt of the Lovatt Foundation reports on her recent visit to the Children of Borno home, 314 miles east of Kano.

by Fiona Lovatt

Ten months since our Children of Borno house for orphans opened. This girl, like the 29 other parentless children here, has shelter, education, a garden, goats, hens, pigeons, clothes, shoes, a library, drums, song, poetry, science, and three meals a day. O, such beauty and good work in the COB House. Our children — part of Borno’s future — have the best of manners, brightest eyes, keenest intelligence, kindest hearts!

A few months ago this child barely raised her head. Now she is oodles of fun. The smiles come easily. The smiles are explosive and joyful, a beautiful transformation in a garden of learning and love.

Our alternative to beggary and Internally Displaced People camps employs three displaced people as caring staff, working across four languages. The children’s progress has been wonderful under the care of Amina and Ruqqayah, as mothers and teachers, visiting teacher Umar and the new maths tutor.

A child learns best when the gaps between home and school are closed, the mother tongue is used as the language of instruction in the early years and the teaching materials validate and affirm the culture. So our children learn fast.

A set of six books means that six children can read along together in their Arabic classes.

The lights really came on once we had developed enough materials in the mother tongue. Flash cards with Hausa on one side, English on the other, are used half a dozen different ways in games where the children can ultimately teach each other. Instead of guessing, the children use the letters to read the words.

We picked beautiful words: words that mean grace, abundance, gardens, honesty, food, fruit, animals, kindness, generosity, laughter, knead…the children quickly click on to the idea that the letters are visual cues for sounds.

Sets of high interest words can be shared and used in many ways.

The intimate learning circles that the children form in the unscheduled parts of the day are a key to the progress I witness with each visit, whether they sit on several dozen pieces of cardboard, protected by sellotape, or on a mat under a tree in the cool of the evening.

“I” is for insect. We overcame some fears to sit and observe a praying mantis who turned up for the teachable moment. Great mouth parts, clear eyes, countable legs…

A friend mentioned it’s the only insect that can turn its head. That explains why there’s no need for compound eyes.

I remain addicted to the liberating power of literacy. Seeing it take root in the heart of another is an absolute joy.

‘Let me hear you read,’ I asked and everyone chose something from the library boxes to read in Arabic, Hausa or English. They were able to discuss the stories and spell the words.

You know the library is too small when all the readers have memorized the books: Dr. Seuss, Jack Ezra Keats, Margaret Wild, agricultural text books, hadith.

Then 12-digit multiplication. Why not? We pretended we were working with the state budget.

Three days of compost mixing involved scavenging manure and organic waste from the goat and cow markets, mixing sand and clay, soaking, turning, and finally the planting of thirty guava trees on a bed of good stuff.

Bintou, a young nanny goat, has been warmly welcomed and well tended, tethered for a few days while the children complete the goat pen.

The children have built an adobe pigeon house as a memory of village pigeons and the residents have arrived.

The gift of local poultry means we have hens well suited to the climate and conditions.

There’s been joyful acquisition of skills using simple materials for authentic purposes. A shoemaker came to work with our beautiful Kano leathers.

He let us help and observe and interact over several days as he turned the raw materials into sandals.

The heel pieces for sandals that will have ankle straps.

There’s been sewing, too: a beautiful session where everyone got to make a cap or a cushion cover. The covers conceal the blankets and other cold-weather items that the children won’t need for another year.

The arrival of drums brought out memories of songs and celebrations from moonlit nights in the village.

In the background you can see our growing library of resources and books.

The children are thriving.

The gardens are thriving.

In the long shadows as the rising sun peeks over the walls, the children tend their orchard: guava, paw-paw, citrus, mango… The daily tenderness will ultimately bear fruit, and the orchard is a metaphor for the work we do.

Rainy season will bring the opportunity for vegetable gardens. We would love a gardener to work as a teacher for 8 hours a week.

The animals are coping with the heat.

Bintou & Ibrahim

COB costs less than $0.80 USD per child per day. The Lovatt Foundation is supported by individuals around the globe and by some groups and individuals in Nigeria. You can help too, as our work expands.

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Tomatoes ripening behind! Local tomatoes aren’t staked. It’s almost time to sow new crops.

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)

Latest story

COB home #2, for 17 widows and 62 children.

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