Offering hope to the hungry and displaced — Dikwa’s Chairlady
It is raining and a large crowd of mostly women and children huddle together outside the low roof building in the town of Dikwa in Borno State. The aroma emanating from the open-sided building seems to have cast a spell on the crowd. Inside, Amina Abacha is busy issuing instructions to her helpers. Thick smoke clouds her simple kitchen where a team of volunteers labour over giant clay pots filled with sorghum porridge and stewed beans.
For many of those waiting, this will be their first cooked meal in days. Most have made long journeys by foot to get here, having been driven from their villages by the ongoing conflict in Northeast Nigeria between government forces and non-state armed actors.
Three years ago, Amina also made the same journey to Dikwa. After her experience, she made the decision to help others in the same situation.
“I have walked in the same shoes as these people. I arrived here with nothing,” Amina says. “My village was attacked and I managed to escape with my daughter and sons. We came to Dikwa but found the fighters were here too. We were held for 11 months. They took away my eldest son and brainwashed him. I haven’t seen him since.”
Amina and her family remained in Dikwa when government troops took control of the town in 2015. Since then, thousands of people uprooted by the conflict have sought sanctuary there.
Amina set up the kitchen to ensure that people who arrive exhausted at the camp where internally displaced people (IDPs) are received, can immediately receive a meal before undergoing the sometimes lengthy registration process. Together with her team of nine helpers, she has been serving up three wholesome meals a day.
Today, over 100 people will be served lunch. The number varies depending on the how many new arrivals turn up in the camp. They can continue to eat at the kitchen until they get settled in the camp and start receiving their monthly food ration from WFP.
The kitchen functions thanks to a regular supply of cereals and beans provided by WFP through its partner in Dikwa, Christian Aid. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, and young children also receive specialised nutritious foods from WFP.
In July 2018, Dikwa received over 2,500 new arrivals from remote areas close to the Cameroonian border. These were among more than 11,400 newly displaced people assisted over the course of the month by WFP and partners in eight locations across Borno.
It is the lean season before the harvest and food reserves have run low in some rural areas. Levels of malnutrition among children arriving from communities that are cut off from humanitarian support because of the security situation are high.
In Dikwa, it is not uncommon to see acutely malnourished children from these inaccessible areas who are stick thin with distended bellies and sunken eyes.
According to nutrition experts from UN agencies and international organisations who gathered data from 10 reception sites in Borno State, approximately one in two children is suffering from malnutrition — and one in four is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
WFP is working with UNICEF to ensure the nutritional screening of all children among the new arrivals and the immediate referral of women and children to preventative nutrition programmes and treatment for the malnutrition cases.
Amina’s kitchen also serves a porridge made from Supercereal Plus, which is one of the highly nutritious specialised foods provided by WFP to combat moderate acute malnutrition.
“Amina gives a sense of hope to new arrivals”, says Grace Mazani, a nutrition officer working with CARE International, another of WFP’s partners in Dikwa. “She is totally selfless and doesn't expect anything in return for the work that she does.”
The dedication and leadership over feeding the new arrivals has won Amina admiration from men, women and children in the camp. She has even earned the nickname of ‘chairlady,’ a fitting testimony, as she is firmly in charge of the kitchen.
“I can’t quit this job. People arrive here every day. They all have terrible stories,” says Amina. “Some have lost loved ones along the way and some have even lost their memories because of the trauma they have suffered. They all have stories of hunger and need food on their arrival.”
Amina also lives in hope of being reunited with her son one day. Some of the new arrivals have reassured her that he is still alive.
“People have seen him but say he is afraid of coming here. I am still living in pain knowing that my son is still out there with the fighters but I can’t see him,” she says.
WFP assists 1.2 million people each month in northeast Nigeria. This includes most of the 185,000 people who have been newly displaced since last October. WFP recognizes the support of donors for its food assistance activities in northeast Nigeria. Canada, European Commission (ECHO), Finland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (DFID), the United States (USAID), and private donors have contributed significantly to WFP Nigeria this year.
To continue its emergency operations in northeast Nigeria, WFP urgently requires US$ 54 million to provide emergency food assistance, prevent malnutrition in young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, support livelihoods and retain the flexibility to respond to further displacement through March 2019.
Find out more about WFP in Nigeria.