Samira* was home alone with her three younger sisters when Boko Haram attacked her village three years ago.
They killed a lot of people that night, Samira, 15, recalled recently. She and her three sisters, however, managed to survive by fleeing to neighboring Niger early the next morning.
Today, the three sisters live with their mother and relatives in Niger; their father died shortly after they arrived in Niger three years ago. The sisters are three of roughly 150,000 children in the Diffa region of Niger who have been forced to flee their homes. Many of these children, like Samira, are refugees from northern Nigeria who fled the Boko Haram-related violence.
In response to the growing violence and instability in the area, SOS Children’s Villages, through the generous support of our donors, is providing life-saving aid to children and families both in the border region of Diffa in Niger and in northern Nigeria, the center of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Samira is one of the beneficiaries of the SOS emergency program in Niger. There are more than 500 children who participate in recreational activities every day at the SOS Child-Friendly Space. Samira has taken an interest in the sewing classes provided there.
Samira smiles in front of the sewing machine that she uses during classes given at the Child-Friendly Space, which is run by SOS Children’s Villages in Niger.
A boy dances in front of his friends at the Child-Friendly Space run by SOS Children’s Villages in Niger.
“The support we provide enables these children to recreate an active and friendly environment that every child needs to be happy,” said Benoit Piot, the SOS regional director for Western and Central Africa.
“With this program, we prevent children from having to be in the street where they can be exposed to many forms of violence, including gender-based violence and abuse.”
The SOS Child-Friendly Space also serves another important function—a meeting place for vulnerable families. With so many families gathered in one place, we’re able to—through the support of our donors—provide life-saving aid to the children with the greatest need, including those who are suffering from acute malnutrition.
Children like Samira and their families also receive food parcels and psychological support. For children who have lost their parents or have been separated from them, our emergency teams work with state agencies to reunite them with family.
A nurse examines a malnourished baby at one of three health clinics that SOS Children’s Villages supports in Niger. Many of the malnourished children are refugees from Nigeria, the nurse said.
Families wait to receive food parcels, delivered by SOS Children’s Villages in Niger.
In neighboring northern Nigeria, the center of the Boko Haram insurgency, SOS launched a new emergency program this year to support children and families who have not fled to Niger but instead are internally displaced within Nigeria. The program is expected to deliver life-saving aid to 30,000 children—in addition to women and young adults—who are internally displaced within Nigeria.
According to the United Nations, there are 1.4 million children internally displaced in northern Nigeria due mainly to Boko Haram-related violence.
“Our priorities include child protection, supporting victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and helping to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Eghosa Erhumwunse, the national director of SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria.
In each country, SOS has been building loving, stable families for vulnerable children for more than two decades; in Nigeria, our first SOS Village was opened in 1973. Thanks to the continued support of our donors, we have been able to quickly and effectively launch these new emergency programs that address children’s unique needs that have been caused by this regional crisis.
All photos taken by Vincent Tremeau.
*Name changed to protect the child's privacy.