In Nigeria, Some Traumas Are So Deep That People Lose Their Memories

World Food Programme
November 26, 2019
Photo: WFP/Adedeji Ademigbuji

It’s raining and a large crowd of mostly women and children huddle together outside a low-roof building in the town of Dikwa, Nigeria. The aroma emanating from the open-sided building seems to have cast a spell on the crowd. Inside, Amina Abacha is busy issuing instructions to her helpers. Thick smoke clouds her simple kitchen where a team of volunteers labor over giant clay pots filled with sorghum porridge and stewed beans.

For many of those waiting, this will be their first cooked meal in days. Most have made long journeys by foot to get here, having been driven from their villages by the ongoing violent conflict in Northeast Nigeria between government forces and non-state armed groups.

Three years ago, Amina made the same journey to Dikwa. After her experience, she made the decision to help others in the same situation.

“I have walked in the same shoes as these people. I arrived here with nothing,” Amina says. “My village was attacked and I managed to escape with my daughter and sons. We came to Dikwa but found the fighters were here too. We were held for 11 months. They took away my eldest son and brainwashed him. I haven’t seen him since.”

Amina and her family remained in Dikwa when government troops took control of the town in 2015. Since then, thousands of people uprooted by the conflict have sought sanctuary there.

Photo: WFP/Adedeji Ademigbuji

Fondly known as ‘The Chairlady,’ Amina plays a hands-on role preparing meals every day with her team of volunteers.

Amina set up the kitchen to so that people who arrive exhausted at the camp can immediately receive a meal before undergoing the sometimes lengthy registration process. Together with her team of nine helpers, she has been serving up three wholesome meals a day.

Today, over 100 people will be served lunch. The number varies depending on the how many new arrivals turn up in the camp. They can continue to eat at the kitchen until they get settled in the camp and start receiving their monthly food ration from WFP.

The kitchen functions thanks to a regular supply of grains and beans provided by WFP through its partner in Dikwa, Christian Aid. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children also receive specialized nutritious foods from WFP.

Photo: WFP/Adedeji Ademigbuji

Amina’s kitchen is a lifeline for many families arriving in Dikwa from remote locations.

In July 2018, Dikwa received over 2,500 new arrivals from remote areas close to the Cameroonian border. These were among more than 11,400 newly displaced people assisted over the course of the month by WFP and partners in eight locations across Borno.

The violence is exacerbating an already untenable situation. It’s the lean season here and food reserves have run low in some rural areas. Levels of malnutrition are high among children arriving from communities that are cut off from humanitarian support because of the security situation.

In Dikwa, it is not uncommon to see acutely malnourished children from these inaccessible areas who are stick thin with distended bellies and sunken eyes.

According to nutrition experts from UN agencies and international organisations , approximately one in two children is suffering from malnutrition — and one in four is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Amina’s kitchen also serves a porridge made from Supercereal Plus, which is one of the highly nutritious specialized foods provided by WFP to combat moderate acute malnutrition.

Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

Aminat feeds her baby WFP SuperCereal. “I have experienced great misery,” she says. “I lost my husband. I cannot lose my children to poverty and hunger too.”

“Amina gives a sense of hope to new arrivals,” says Grace Mazani, a nutrition officer working with CARE International, another of WFP’s partners in Dikwa. “She is totally selfless and doesn’t expect anything in return for the work that she does.”

The dedication and leadership over feeding the new arrivals has won Amina admiration from men, women and children in the camp.

“I can’t quit this job. People arrive here every day. They all have terrible stories,” says Amina. “Some have lost loved ones along the way and some have even lost their memories because of the trauma they have suffered. They all have stories of hunger and need food on their arrival.”

Amina also lives in hope of being reunited with her son one day. Some of the new arrivals have reassured her that he is still alive.

“People have seen him but say he is afraid of coming here. I am still living in pain knowing that my son is still out there with the fighters,” she says.

Amina will run the kitchen until he returns.

Will you help?

Conflict is the #1 cause of hunger in the world, and WFP is doing everything in its power to deliver food to people like Amina. Join our fight today.