EXCLUSIVE: Refugee children have scores to settle with Boko Haram
from NGALA KILLIAN CHIMTOM in Yaounde, Cameroon
YAOUNDE, (CAJ News) – A drawing exercise organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for Nigerian refugee kids living in Cameroon has revealed the depth of the innate hatred minors have developed for the Boko Haram terrorists.
At a school attended mostly by children of thousands of refugees that have fled the insurgency in Nigeria, kids were asked to portray their future ambitions, such as their dream jobs, in pictures.
A majority of the children in the school of 600 pupils drew themselves in army uniforms and helicopters attacking the insurgents.
They painted imaginary scenes of Boko Haram insurgents slaughtering people.
Only a few of them wanted to be teachers, medical doctors, builders, herdsmen and journalists.
Their mindset is borne out of the sheer barbarism of Boko Haram insurgents, who have either killed or maimed their parents or sent them scurrying for cover in Cameroon.
The children have vivid memories of the cruelty with which militants slaughtered their parents and relatives.
Bienvenue Ngatsebai (15) makes a nail-biting demonstration of how his parents and two brothers were killed by the terrorists while he watched the gory scenes helplessly from the safety of a tree.
With his left hand, he pushes the head of his younger brother, Gouldé Kouteh backwards, and swipes his right hand on his neck.
“That is how they killed my parents and brothers,” he recalls how their throats were slit.
“They came with guns, but decided to use machetes to kill them.”
That was in 2014 in the Cameroon village of Mabasbaru. With his younger brother, now seven years of age, they both live with their grandfather at Baigai, 40 km from home.
And it took them seven days of trekking to get here.
Gouldé Kouleh and Bohoy Tekoltom, aged eight and seven respectively were also in the same village when the terrorists struck.
Pointing to a sturdy-looking military general he had just drawn, Gouldé told CAJ News he would want to be a soldier.
“Only a soldier can stop Boko Haram from killing people,” he explained.
The two children were playing football when the militant Islamic sect members overran the village, forcing them to disperse into surrounding bushes. They would only come out after the killers had gone, and begin their long trek to the village of Baigai, vast kilometers away in Cameroon.
The four children now form part of a 600-pupil strong Government Primary School Baigai, the lone accessible school out of the 25 earmarked to benefit from a European Union-funded education programme for Nigerian refugees and internally displaced children in Cameroon’s Far North region.
Others the others are still marked as high risk zones.
The minors all took part in the recent drawing exercise organised by the UN agency.
During a similar drawing exercise at the Minawao refugee camp where some 14 000 Nigerian refugee kids are being offered elementary education, the commitment to pursuit of revenge against terrorists was a dominant feature in the pictures the school kids drew.
Ndouvna Hecheked, a 13 year old, pupil showed off his painting. It portrays a terrorist slitting the throat of a man but is sprayed by bullets a soldier is firing.
“These people killed my parents and forced us out of our home and country. I would like to become a soldier and fight them and return home,” he said.
His brother, Bele would rather become a military pilot for the same purpose: to fight Boko Haram.
These limited options for the kids have persisted, despite repeated efforts by the school teachers to let them know that the world still offers them a wide range of options.
“But whenever the question is asked of what they would want to become in future, almost all of them say ‘Soldier’ or ‘BIR’ (Batallion d’Intervention Rapide or Battallion of Rapid Intervention, an elite force of the Cameroon army specially trained to fight against terrorism),” said Veronica Mokojo, a teacher in the camp’s school.
“In class, some of them recoil into themselves, probably overwhelmed by the events they witnessed.”
Psychologist, Fernand Pokam who works with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees and Catholic Relief Services to provide psychological care to urban refugees, said such reactions were understandable.
“These are kids who saw their parents, brothers and neighbors butchered. They might have been raped either by the attackers or by security forces. When you go through such hardship, the psychological trauma carries on for a long time,” he said.
But there are sparks of hope.
Wandala Djakome, a pupil in the Baigai Primary School has a near-perfect picture of the post-war era.
His painting shows the military shooting down the remnants of the insurgents and then looks into the challenge of rebuilding destroyed territory.
“After this war has ended, I want to become a builder. Boko Haram destroyed so many things. They killed people. They destroyed homes and burnt down markets. I will like to become a builder to start rebuilding all these facilities.
The drawings were part of educational activities targeting over 30 000 children refugee children that have fled the crisis in Nigeria and the insurgency in Cameroon’s Far North Region.
Part of the exercise involved setting up safe learning spaces for the kids and providing them with psychological support.
The European Union’s Children of Peace Initiative funded the exercise to the tune of $700 000 to support education projects for children in emergencies in some 17 countries around the world.
It trains teachers in the host schools on how to detect the psycho-social needs of the kids, promote peace and social cohesion as well as prevent discrimination and stigma.
Daniela Luciani, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF, noted the exercise could help exhume deep-rooted psychological problems the kids now face.
“It’s important we understand what they are going through,” she said.
“UNICEF and other humanitarian NGOs have set up centers within and outside the camp for refugee and internally displaced children. When we discover that some children in these centers have special needs from the way they behave, we send them to specialized centers where psychologists take them through special counseling sessions,” she said.
UNICEF and partners put traumatised children through special programmes that rehabilitate them.
The Boko Haram insurgency, the biggest humanitarian crisis in recent times, has claimed the lives of over 20 000 civilians and displaced an estimated 3 million in Nigeria.
The insurgency has spread to neighbouring countries.
– CAJ News
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