Becoming a refugee: an escape from Boko Haram

Fatima's story

Fatima lived a quiet life back in Nigeria, where she was born. Her husband earned a living through farming, and her children attended school every day in the village where they lived. She recalls: “I remember at that time I was carefree. We were not rich but lacked nothing, we had a comfortable life. My husband usually did everything possible for us.”

On a sunny Friday morning, Fatima experienced something that would change her life forever. Boko Haram attacked her village, killing loved ones and injuring others. Read on to discover how Fatima escaped, eventually starting a new life in Cameroon.

The Boko Haram attack


“I’ll never forget the day when my entire life transformed into a nightmare. That Friday, everyone had returned from the mosque, talking together in a joyful way, it was just a typical day for us. My children were playing with their friends. I was plaiting my hair at my friend’s house, and my husband was playing songho (a traditional game) with other men”.

“Suddenly I heard an indescribable sound which I had never heard before. I later realised it was an explosion when I saw people running and screaming. That’s when a thick smoke appeared. It was at that moment when my husband started screaming my name. I saw masked and armed men shooting as people were falling everywhere. I saw blood, dead bodies and people severely injured.”

Two women wearing bright blue scarves sat down on the ground

Fleeing the violence in Nigeria


Fatima gathered her family and ran as far as she could. Her mother and cousin were killed by Boko Haram, and her husband was arrested later on and taken away from his family. It was then that Fatima started her journey to Minawao camp, Cameroon.

“I ran away with my family, at least we were alive. We lost everything we had. I did not have time to take anything. I was alone with my children with no support as my husband had been arrested. The other people with me told me that there was a place here for people like us, and they led us to the refugee collective centre.”

The journey to Minawao was long and tiresome, but Fatima had finally made to the camp. The living conditions there, however, were far from ideal.

“Living in the centre was a new experience for us. We were used to our house, with our own space. My daughter was worried and kept asking me when we would go back home, and where her father was. What kind of answer could I give her? We practically had no food, or we ate once a day. We slept on the floor several times as there were too many of us, and not enough mats or blankets to go round.”

Receiving ShelterBox tent and aid


Woman in bright blue scarf smiling

The family spent four whole months living in these cramped conditions, with limited food and under horrible circumstances. When Fatima was finally given a ShelterBox tent and other household items like cooking sets, she felt relieved.

“Waiting during those four months was so long to me, so when I heard that I would have a shelter just for my family I was somehow relieved but also still worried. At least on site, we had food, water, a place to sleep, so how will I take care of my children, send them to school, buy them clothes and so on? I had to start thinking on how to get loans to start a business and stop being a person in need every time.”

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Rebuilding a livelihood


Being able to live in a private space with her children enabled Fatima to get back on her feet and start thinking about the future.

“Honestly, I was afraid to live alone at the beginning. It became a challenge for me to live in my shelter, to look for food every day, but I noticed that so many women were in the same condition and had profitable activities, so I also decided to start my own business.”

“I borrowed money and started selling akara (white beans), and some time after, I started cooking and selling donuts made with akara.”

Woman cooking white beans

Fatima, much like most women in the camp, managed to re-start her life without her husband, and to provide for her children.

She used her hard-earned money to buy more materials for her house, in addition to what she was given by ShelterBox. Her two children could finally go back to school and continue their education.

“There is a big difference between life in the refugee centre and life in the shelter. Now I have my kitchen materials, I can cook and eat as I want.

I have more privacy and can easily go out for my business without being worried about my goods in my house. My children spend more time together and can focus on their education”, said Fatima.

Planning a better future


Woman in bright blue scarf standing outside her shelter in Cameroon

Fatima lived in a tent for 18 months before she decided to build a semi-durable shelter. Through IEDA Relief, our partner in Cameroon, we provided Fatima with tarpaulin and rope. These enabled her to cover the roof of her shelter, making it more solid.

Despite the harrowing time Fatima had to go through, she never stopped hoping. She is planning to increase her business and get a space at the market to get more customers. This way, she can provide a better life for her children. Fatima says:

“The emergency shelter was the first house I got here, I’m so thankful to the organisation and everybody who took part in rebuilding my life. I have no words to express my feeling in front of such kindness. I will face stormy weather with confidence.

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A story of many

Fatima is one of the 63 million people worldwide who have had to flee their home due to conflict.

In 2020, refugees and internally displaced people face the additional threat of coronavirus. This World Refugee Day, we celebrate the people behind the numbers and we are reminded why their stories matter now, more than ever before.

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