Hope in Starting Again – A visit to Yola IDP camp

Contributed by Pat Krabacher

Salamatu Billi singing with the women at the Yola camp

Salamatu Billi singing with the women at the Yola camp

We arrived at the Yola camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) and Salamatu Billi (wife of the EYN President, Rev. Joel Billi) seemed very happy to be with the women and she joined them in energetically singing warm songs of welcome to our Fellowship Tour. I could not help but wonder how many of the women were widows (as there were noticeably fewer men in the camp). The women’s choir, nonetheless sang with great joy. )

Michelle Gibel and Palace

Michelle Gibbel and Palace

Michele Gibbel of the Litiz, PA church shared the following “take-away” experience: “During the worship/introduction time at the IPD camp in Yola, a young girl named Palace sat on my lap.  She kept playing with my hands, trying to scratch off my freckles, noticing the small blister, and looking at my uneven fingernails.  And then she started to count my fingers.  She touched each one.  And then she touched each of her fingers. 10 – the same number. For me, this moment was so profound.  Our lives could not be any more different.  BUT, we are both created by the same loving God, who has formed each of our fingers, and calls each of us by name.  And so, we are really not that different after all.  My heart will forever remain with my new Little Sister, Palace.” hands

After the welcome singing and the remarks, we toured the camp and saw the sparse living conditions, but the concrete block homes at least were sturdy and permanent. The children were so excited to show Michelle the new water well which seemed to be a symbol of great hope.  We played games and left some mementos of our love (soccer balls, crayons and paper, Frisbees, etc.) with the camp director, Rev. Jerry Tizhe.)

Children around the well

Children around the well

 

Responses to Care for the Displaced around Yola

By Peggy Gish (Volunteer in Nigeria)

Vinikiling campI had been taken to pieces of land being developed into a settlement of small houses for the Nigerian people displaced by the violence of Boko Haram, and a camp of newly constructed buildings where families will start moving into in three weeks. Both sites were nestled in among trees and brush, on the edge of Abuja. I had heard about displaced families crowding into homes of relatives or fellow church members. Today, however, we were visiting five IDP camps around the city of Yola, considered a safe area, three hours south by car from the villages and towns from which these people had fled.

At one site, in a fenced in area of buildings right in the city, owned by a private resident, 200 mostly women and children, milled around a large yard. In another, managed by a government agency, which felt more discouraging to me, about 4,000 people were packed into large halls in barracks at a former military site, some for women and some for men. Many of the people sat and lay around listless in the shade or inside buildings, in the 115 degree (F) heat, while flies buzzed around. Residents on cooking duty, stirred large pots of mush and stew for their communal meal. At a third camp, workers were in the midst of a boisterous game with the children.

This was in contrast to a small camp in a rural area outside the city where families had constructed their own small, traditional dwellings out of reeds and grasses. Men sat around under shady trees. Children played around or gathered around a water pump helping pump water for other residents. Here, life was very basic and hard, but allowed more privacy and normalcy of daily life.

Our last stop was at an EYN (Nigerian Brethren) Church on the edge of Yola, organized and developed by EYN, but for people from various church backgrounds. Over a thousand people live on the grounds in tents. Leaders described their organized children’s activities, nutrition and economic training programs for women, and medicine dispensary, assisted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). As in other camps, they received some of their food and supplies from Nigerian and international agencies. Playful children crowded around us eager for any attention we might give them. kids in campIMG_5165

There were stark contrasts to conditions and settings, yet all were forms of the wider community responding to the needs of tens of thousands of people who had suddenly fled their homes in fear during the past year. People have been torn away from their homes, school, and work, but are being cared for, until they are able to face the challenges of returning and rebuilding their lives and communities.

Reports from Nigeria: Maiduguri

Maiduguri map

(Photo: AFP)

By Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer reporting from Nigeria

Maiduguri is the capital city of Borno State. It is home to about 2 million residents. It has  the distinction of being known as the birthplace of Boko Haram. It is also home to many churches that belong to EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). The largest Maiduguri congregation attracts up to five thousand people for Sunday worship. Over the last few weeks the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, has attacked numerous villages and towns in the far northeast section of Borno State, including Baga and most recently Maiduguri itself.

There had been a local EYN congregation in Baga at the time of the destruction of the city that made international news recently.  There were many other EYN congregations and preaching points in the area stretching from Baga down to Maiduguri. Those congregations have been in harm’s way as Boko Haram has raided and burned many of these small communities. Refugees fleeing the violence have escaped into Chad, Niger and Cameroon for safety. Many have also fled into the fortified city of Maiduguri.

EYN has a well-coordinated response to the crisis within the city. There are three Christian IDP camps within the city limits and six Muslim IDP camps. Most of the Christians, however, are staying with families and friends, with as many as fifty to seventy people in some of the homes. Though not all the displaced are registered, today (Saturday, 1/24) there was a total of 45,858 Christian IDPs registered in the city and there are probably close to a similar number of Muslims in the six camps. That number has increased nearly threefold from before Christmas and is growing rapidly each day. Federal and state governments have been providing assistance to the IDP camps and the organization of the Christian community has seemed to cover those IDPs staying with families who are missed by the government distributions.

Security within the city is very tight. Persons going to markets or churches are closely screened. Metal detecting wands scan each person at churches before entry. If there is any question people are patted down. No packages are allowed inside the church. A bible is the only thing attendees are allowed to carry with them. The Holy Spirit is the only thing that can pass through security unimpeded. That Spirit seems to be present in abundance as churches are growing under the pressure.

Updates are coming in. Today (Sunday, 1/25) Maiduguri was being attacked by Boko Haram from three directions. In the east they were thirty kilometers away; in the north, 130 kilometers away and the west, ten kilometers away. People inside Maiduguri said it sounded like shooting was coming from all directions. An EYN pastor in Jos has three children in school in Maiduguri and they were the ones that called with the first reports. The city ordered all people to stay indoors so that the military would know who was attacking. The markets were closed. Latest reports are that the military repelled the attacks against Maiduguri but that a city to the north, with Nigerian military barracks, did fall to the attackers. Clearly Boko Haram wants everyone to think they are everywhere and able to attack successfully wherever they choose.

For more information on the Church of the Brethren Nigeria Crisis Response or to donate, visit www.nigeriacrsis.org.