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Coronavirus – Nigeria: The dedicated few protecting children at north-east Nigeria’s frontlines

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Shadrach, alongside other humanitarian workers like him, are ensuring children in north-east Nigeria are safe and kept together with their families, especially during emergencies

Making a difference can have its moments of peril. For Shadrach Adawara, one such moment came in 2016, when working to reunify children who had been separated from their parents due to the armed conflict with Boko Haram.

“Our NGO was the only organization cleared to conduct family tracing and unification in Borno State at that time. That meant that our work could extend beyond Maiduguri to Bama, Monguno and Dikwa – much more remote locations,” Shadrach recalled.

He and his team waited for months for clearance from the military to travel to the area. When it finally came, they discovered to their alarm that they had no military escort – key to protecting them in the conflict-ridden area.

They persevered, and at one point the team’s vehicle was hit by a landmine. Miraculously, nobody was hurt, and the mission ultimately resulted in 120 children being reunited with their parents.

For Shadrach, who now works for UNICEF as a senior state facilitator based at government-run Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Centre in Maiduguri, taking such risks is worth it for one simple reason.

“I love children,” he says. “I care deeply about ensuring children are safe and kept together with their families, especially during emergencies.” The emergency he is referring to is the 10-year conflict that has killed thousands in north-east Nigeria and uprooted millions of children, women and men from their homes.

The 32-year-old has been tracing parents of displaced and unaccompanied children and reuniting them for the past five years.

In addition to reunifying families, he also helps children who have been in forced contact with armed groups to rehabilitate and reintegrate with their communities.

“I love to help children survive and overcome the challenges life throws up against them in conflict situations,” he says.

Supported by UNICEF with funds from the European Union (EU), the Bulumkutu Centre in Maiduguri serves as a transition and rehabilitation point for children who have been in contact with or displaced by Boko Haram.

When children eventually leave the centre and are reunited with their parents or caregivers, Shadrach follows up with visits to their communities to see how they are faring.

But with the outbreak of COVID-19, Shadrach’s work at Bulumkutu has expanded to include ensuring the children know how to protect themselves from the virus.

“I teach them how to wash their hands with soap regularly, to avoid shaking hands, and to practice respiratory hygiene,” he says. “I also tell them to practice physical distancing by avoiding crowded spaces, including during meals at the dining hall.”

The work can be frustrating at times, and he and his colleagues on the frontlines often face hurdles such as vehicle breakdowns, lack of air transport, and detailed military protocols that must be followed when trying to get children released from IDP camps.

But Shadrach doesn’t worry about the hurdles. When things get tough, he draws on support from his “amazing and supportive” colleagues, and also from his faith.

Shadrach does, however, worry about the long-term effect on children from the prolonged conflict. Like many, he would like to see a quick end to it. While he finds his work rewarding, he would be happy to be made unnecessary and to instead spend his time playing chess.

But until that happens, he finds plenty to keep him motivated.

“That joy, that happiness you see on the face of parents who are reunited with their children — children they gave up on, thinking they were dead. The delight in such a scenario makes you feel like you’ve made a difference.”

 – Samuel Kaalu, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Nigeria.


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