|All Images: Ramatu Ada Ochekliye|
A visit to the Internally Displaced People’s camp in Durumi, Abuja on May 28, 2017 was everything I expected it would be; emotionally draining.
We partnered with Save OurWomen Foundation (SOW Foundation) for the #1Girl1Pad project, a project that saw us advocating for menstrual hygiene for girls and women in the IDP camp. The project entailed educating these girls and women about menstrual hygiene and providing them with sanitary pads to last them at least three months. As many know, May 28 is #MenstrualHygieneDay and globally, individuals and organizations design events to ensure more women get access to menstrual hygiene education and products.
As soon as we got into the camp, we were surrounded by children excited at our presence. They smiled up at us with the true innocence of children; trusting that we were good even if we were total strangers. I quickly took out my camera. The children lit up when they saw it. I smiled at them and they smiled right back. They had already begun to take poses and I was not going to disappoint them.
So I clicked. And clicked.
‘Say kiss! Say kiss!’ the kids kept saying. I thought I wasn’t hearing them well. ‘Say Kiss’? Were they trying to say ‘Cheese’?
I smiled. Of course that was what they were saying. “Say Cheese”!
And then I noticed something else. Almost all the children put up two fingers in the air when posing for the camera. I shouldn’t have been surprised…but I was. It seemed like in spite of all the problems these people were going through, popular culture still seeped into the camp and influenced the young people and children. Even the smallest child put up those fingers when the camera was pointed at them.
And can you see those big smiles?! These children had a lot working against them but they were genuinely excited at having their picture taken. They didn’t even ask to see what the shots looked like. I could have been clicking the flash lights for all they cared. All they saw was a person with a camera paying attention to them. The simplicity of it all was almost my undoing. I turned away to focus on our reason for visiting.
As we educated the girls and women about menstrual hygiene, we began to hear of some of the problems they were facing. One of the problems that I considered a sore thumb was the access to medical care. Most of the women and girls said they ‘managed’ their pain until it rode over because there were no doctors to help them. Again, I looked at the children – gathering at the door because they had been told the meeting wasn’t for them – and I wondered how they ‘managed’ their pain. Looking at them, you couldn’t tell they were going through anything. They were are as carefree and jolly as children are wont to be.
We finished the education part and went into disseminating the pads we raised via donations. As we gave each girl and woman a package of pads and panties, the children returned, clamoring around us in the hopes of getting theirs. Older women shooed them away but the children returned as soon as the women’s backs were turned. They kept stretching their hands to get a package. Even though we insisted the sanitary pads weren’t for them, the children didn’t budge.
|He took a pose after I gave him the sanitary pads|
So I took a packet and broke it open. I gave two pads each to the little girls; even though it was clear they couldn’t possibly be menstruating yet. As I gave them the pads, the crowd around us thinned out and it was at this point I noticed a little boy in the mix, arms stretched out, face almost crumbling. He didn’t want to miss out what everyone else was getting. I told him I couldn’t give him because he is a boy. He crumbled at this point. I held his face and asked what he wanted to do with it. His reply was definitely my undoing.
‘For my mother.’
The tears were a second away from falling so I turned away into the boot of our vehicle and calmed my nerves. I breathed in deeply and willed the tears to go away. I took out two sanitary pads and gave him. He curtsied and said thank you. I knew I needed to take more deep breaths.
Something distracted me and when I turned back, the boy was gone. It occurred to me that I had not asked his name. I was ashamed because until that moment, he was a statistic, a child in an IDP camp, one of many. I wished I had seen him as an individual, one with a story, possible fears and hopes and most especially, a name! I wished that I had focused more on him instead of getting shots of everyone around me. I wished I had dignified him by, at the very least, knowing his name so I didn’t have to refer to him in this post as ‘a little boy’.
But he is a little boy, a child in an IDP Camp, one of many and to some, a statistic. And the longer he has to make do with the problems all the children and women in that camp are facing – problems ranging from rationed meals, poor access to health care, inadequate housing and privacy, little or no formal education and the indignity of depending on do-gooders for basic necessities – the more likely it is that he becomes an even worse statistic; one tied to crime, hate, unproductivity or even death.
The children in Durumi IDP camp look better than most of those from the North East but let’s be clear, it is not in the slightest bit a ‘lesser’ humanitarian crisis. We owe it to ourselves to help out in whatever way can to alleviate the suffering of these people. It is clear that our elected leaders are way too unbothered to be interested so the onus lies on us.
You don’t have to come out to Durumi, Abuja or journey to the North East. There are such camps everywhere in the country. Visit one, talk to the people, ask questions about what ails them and see where you can contribute. You don’t have to give them the world; just a little bit of it.