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‘I visited Nigeria to support, provide care to IDPs’


Sienna Miller, an American actress is famous for her life on stage. At 36, she has not only featured in several films and nominated for different awards, she is also a movie producer, fashion designer and model. Some of the films to her credit include, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cabaret, After Miss Julie, Layer Cake, Stardust, Alfie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Live by Night. But beyond the stage life, Miller is also an activist and has served as Global Ambassador for International Medical Corps since 2009. Since then, she has visited the organization’s field programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ethiopia and Lebanon, with a view to highlighting the plight of the displaced and most vulnerable people in crisis and conflict zones. In view of her commitment to the refugees and the vulnerable, International Medical Corps honoured her with its Global Activist Award in 2011. However, Miller was in Nigeria for similar reasons. She visited the most dreaded part of the country, Borno State, not only to highlight the plight of the Boko Haram devastated people but also to provide care to them in the various Internally Displaced Persons camps. In a chat with Bridget Chiedu Onochie, on her return from Borno State, she spoke about her impression about Nigeria and her people as well as the motivation for leaving her comfort zone for a violence-stricken area in spite of potential risks. 

What motivated your passion to travel from your country to a conflict terrain you were not familiar with?
Firstly, I must say that I trust the organization that I work with – International Medical Corps, and I wanted to support them because they are working in dangerous conditions to provide aid to people who are in desperate need. And having worked with this organization as long as I have, I trust they will do everything possible to see that we are safe.  I didn’t mind about the danger aspect, I believe this is the part of the world that we need to support, and I am happy to be part of it in any way that I could. Again, seeing the programmes that are being run, and how desperate the people are, how much in need they are, I am happy that we are making input too.

When you talk about people working in dangerous conditions, are you referring to the generality of all the aid providers in the North Eastern part of Nigeria?
I can only speak about International Medical Corps because that is where I am the global ambassador and I believe in them wholeheartedly. Although, there are other organizations providing aid but as I find in many places, International Medical Corps is always at the forefront. We work in about four major sectors in Maiduguri. We are working together with the core group, which is a consortium of other local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), directly with the government to help eradicate Polio in Nigeria.

Beyond this, International Medical Corps (IMG) is a very strong organization in nutrition programmes – prevention and treatment of malnutrition.  We are also working to assist those who experience gender-based violence. In any high-conflict zone, there is always a high propensity for gender-based violence. Last but not the least is the water, sanitation and hygiene programme known as WASH. It was aimed at providing water to thousands of community members as well as those who are in the IDP camps.

Have you visited Nigeria before now?
No. This is my very first time of visiting Nigeria.

You heard about Nigeria and her people. You may have also heard some negative tales about the country, how would you judge the country and her people based on your previous information?
Before I came to Nigeria, there was an incident in Maiduguri that happened in one of the IDP camps about a year ago, which resulted in the death of many civilians. We had conversation about it and my family was concerned when I said I was going to Nigeria. But I found out when I got to the place that it feels like life is usual. People are incredibly resilient, going about their normal businesses. I did not feel any sense of danger. I was considering the fact that it is a conflict zone but we did not feel any impact of that. The focus is really on supporting the people and providing care. Aid workers go to work everyday and they are delivering aid to people in need. If they could do it every day, why shouldn’t we? There are so many local people working in the zone. About 85 per cent of the workers are from Nigeria and they risk their lives potentially everyday to help people. So, I felt that if I can support in any small way, I would. But it is interesting knowing that people are optimistic, they are resilient, they are so brave that you wouldn’t know that the people in IDP camps – the refugees have lost everything, forced out of their homes. There were trained professionals among them who have nothing left; yet, smiling and gracious, warm and loving. It is really inspiring to be around people who have been in the most unimaginable situations, those who have absolutely nothing to provide to you but have held on to their spirit. That is something I want to support. I live in America but I am in Nigeria because Nigerian people want support, they need help.

From your personal experience in the camps, what would you say the IDPs need most?
They need food. From what I saw on ground, the first thing they need is food. They are very, very hungry. Then, they also need those things that are basic such as water, health care, and protection of their fundamental rights. They also need other things such as soap, and skills acquisition so they can get back on their feet. The people had something doing before the activities of insurgents – some of them were doctors, some drivers, some fishermen, others farmers.  They had professions, they had incomes, crafts, they had lives, but now, they have nothing because Boko Haram came and they are devastated.

From their mood and actions, do you think there is still life ahead of them?
Yes. Most of them have hopes; they don’t want to give up hopes because if they do, it means they have given up everything. I think that is what they have learnt. If they know that we are around them, that people are coming and offering them support, and that they have not being ignored, that they are not forgotten, it is a very encouraging thing to them. And we will endeavour to raise more funding to support them in anyway we can.

How much has your visit shaped your impression about Nigeria and her people?
The people that I met in Maiduguri are some of the warmest, most loving and the most optimistic people I have come across. The only problem is that at the moment, meal distribution is always complicated. Families with 10 children are given the same portion as those with three children. I have been to most parts of the world where there are conflicts and people are in camps, people with less children share the food among the people with large families. However, one thing I discovered here is that there is a huge sense of community support; and people are dancing, clapping and smiling with nothing left. Most of them have a kind of story you cannot even imagine. Stories about loved ones being murdered in front of them, people running from their homes, children dying. You can imagine the suffering the people have endured, yet, they are hopeful and imploring us to do more.

Does it not beat your imagination that part of these warm and loving people formed the terrorist group – Boko Haram and destroyed even their own people?
I don’t have enough information about the Boko Haram Sect All I know is that Islamic extremism is an idea, and that its ideology comes from discontent and it is very, very hard to fight. I cannot comment on that now. The people I met on ground are Nigerians like you, and it is really hard to understand how radicalism happens. It is affecting everyone. In London, Islamic radicalism is also devastating the country. It is hard to understand but it is something we all have to acknowledge, that it is a global problem and it takes global support to fight back.

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IDPsSienna Miller
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