Nigerian girls return to school after insurgents’ terror

Plan International is supporting girls like Salma*, 16, to return to school following the upheaval caused by Boko Haram attacks.

Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is forbidden”, has made no secret of its strong opposition to education. Schools are often among the first targets when the terrorist group attacks communities.

Salma’s story

Salma*, 16, is among 1.5 million children who have been forced from their homes in the region over the past 7 years.

Originally from the Gwoza area of Nigeria’s Borno state, she fled with her family in 2012 after Boko Haram attacked the local market, killing and injuring many. After a few days they ended up in the north-eastern town of Madagali but within weeks Boko Haram struck again.

This time Salma’s elder brother was killed for refusing to join the insurgents.

“People were slaughtered and houses burnt down,” she recalls, tears flowing down her cheeks. “It was a horrific and traumatic experience.”

A desperate escape

With the remainder of her family of 7, Salma fled on foot overnight, walking for 5 hours to escape the attacks. They slept at the side of the road before travelling by vehicle 150 kilometres north to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, the next day.

For the next 5 years, the family settled in Bulumkutu alongside other families who had been forced to flee their homes. Salma missed out on several years of education as her parents, having lost their livelihoods due to insecurity and displacement, became too poor to pay their children’s school fees.

I am so happy to return to school

As the eldest girl, Salma stayed at home taking care of her younger siblings and helping her mother with her business making and selling traditional Nigerian doughnuts in the local market.

“I was very sad not to be in school,” she says.

How we’re responding

Plan International Nigeria is implementing emergency education and food security programming in Bulumkutu, in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, to enable children and adolescents like Salma to claim their right to an education once again.

We’re providing safe spaces for children and are distributing free school materials and training head teachers to encourage communities to return their girls and boys to school.

Households are also being identified to receive vocational training to help people replace their livelihoods and bring in new income. Salma’s mother received a grinding machine that has boosted productivity of her bakery business, allowing Salma to return to school.

She hopes to become a nurse one day and work with women in Gwoza. “I am so happy to return to school,” she says. “I’d love to go back to my hometown when peace returns. There is nowhere like home.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity