The Christian Science Monitor : 2019-02-11

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VFROM PREVIOUS PAGE military. Yet Bosah estimates that more than 10,000 children and young adults require support in Borno alone. “There is a huge, huge void,” he says. Counseling programs get just a tiny fraction of the funding that other initiatives do. The humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria is so acute that most international aid goes to food, shelter, medicine, and other life-saving needs. As of December 2018, programs aimed at addressing so-called gender-based violence in northeastern Nigeria had received only 6.2 percent of their funding from the international community. That’s about $2.5 million out of a total of $1 billion requested for the crisis overall. “I am completely dumbfounded” that it can be so low, IRC’s O’Connell says. An even tougher problem looms – the return of boys and young men who were abducted or persuaded to join Boko Haram and became fighters. While community members and families can sometimes be convinced that the women and girls who were seized were victims, it is far more difficult to get locals to accept the return of Girls participate in a bonding and reintegration activity, organized by the nonprofit Neem Foundation, at the Bakassi camp. accepted them. But then the mother met a man who wanted to marry her and take her from the camp. When he learned her daughter had been with Boko Haram, he would not let Asamau join them. Her mother left without telling her. Asamau’s baby died at age 1. She now lives alone, isolated. Her only friend is Fatima. “She should not be alone, with no one to talk to,” says Shikson. She was hoping to find the young woman a foster family, but the day we talked, Asamau was still waiting for her mother to come for her. Since then, Mr. Bosah says, Asamau has been in one-on-one counseling at Neem. She still lives alone, but the suicidal thoughts she has been struggling with have ebbed, he says, and she is now more hopeful. With its intensive approach, however, Neem can reach only a fraction of those in need. The Yellow Ribbon Initiative that Fatima and Asamau are part of has helped 1,500 young people who were scarred by violence and associated with armed groups, not just Boko Haram but the vigilante group that has sprung up to fight them and also the boys and young men “who willingly picked up arms and who came and slaughtered people,” as Chungong puts it. Indeed, some of them have been killed when they return. But, UNICEF’s Ms. Kidane emphasizes, no matter what crimes they committed, any child is still a victim. Aid groups are beginning to recognize the importance of reintegrating boys back into communities. Neem is spearheading one such effort at Bakassi camp. On the day we visit in August, we see a group of about 15 young boys sitting in a circle facing inward, with their bare feet touching. The children have all been held by armed groups and have been used as child soldiers or domestic servants. The space created by their feet in the middle symbolizes unity, Shikson explains. The boys are singing: “Together we can overcome. We are brothers. We are still one. By coming together we have conquered.” And they are smiling. r 30 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY FEBRUARY 11, 2019 | PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW

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