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“Many people fled their homes, but we have started to come back”: returnees face road to recovery in north-east Nigeria

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Nigeria
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IFRC
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Photos and written by: Corrie Butler

For weeks, Abdalla Erewua, 75, had sat on a mat in front of his small hut in Adamawa state, north-east Nigeria waiting in anticipation. His opaque eyes can no longer see, but he heard Red Cross volunteers buzzing around him, hammering nails, mixing cement and laying brick.

Before moving into his new home with the help of the Red Cross, Abdalla stayed alone in a shanty one-room home. With a bigger house, he now has space to have his daughter stay to care for him.

He feels for his walking stick and pulls himself up, walking around the house and on a path surrounded by tall maize and wheat effortlessly. Even without his sight, he knows the land. Not only was he born and raised here, but also sought refuge in its thick brush when armed opposition groups attacked his community in 2014.

Surviving crossfire, despite being blind

“I was with my neighbour listening to the radio when we heard the gunshots on the main road,” recalls Abdalla. “The (armed opposition) were back. People ran into the bush and I followed them slowly but I fell when I began crossing the river. I laid down next to the river until the next morning.”

The armed opposition group left his community in smoke. Although his life was spared, his house was not. He fled to Gombi town, a 45-minute drive from his village, where his eldest brother lived. It did not take long for the attacks to spread there as well.

“I ran out with my brother’s granddaughter. I fell so she left me on the ground,” he says. “Then I heard a big gunshot pass one of my ears. I laid down right on the street.”

He didn’t dare to move – he had been caught in crossfire and bullets were skimming past him. By morning, the roads fell silent and Abdalla found a friend to seek protection.

“I am so thankful for my new home. I will sleep well again. I am happy.”

Returning home to rebuild

After the fighting subsided, Abdalla returned, determined to rebuild.

“Many people in my area fled from their homes, but we have started to come back, one after the other,” Abdalla says.

When he returned, he lived in a small, temporary house, eating very little each day. The Nigerian Red Cross gave him cash for his urgent food needs as well as helped build him a new and disaster-resistant home. He used the cash to also invest in a few sheep that enable him and his family to earn an income.

“Before receiving assistance from the Red Cross, life was difficult. I now eat two times a day. Eating good food is the reason for collecting the money but I have also used it to invest in my future,” Abdalla explains.

“I am so thankful for my new home. I will sleep well again. I am happy.”

“I was doing mud walls before and did not know the brick masonry skill. I am very happy to get a new skill. I will earn more money now.”

Nigerian Red Cross supports communities as they recover

The Nigerian Red Cross is supporting hundreds of internally displaced people and returnees, like Abdalla, reconstruct their homes in Adamawa and Yobe State. These are no ordinary homes – each is built from the hands of the community and engineered to be resistant to future disasters, including floods, rain and wind storms.

“Shelter is a major challenge faced by these communities because of past armed conflict,” says Idris Mohammed, Disaster Management Coordinator and Shelter Counterpart with the Nigerian Red Cross. “There is also a lack of knowledge on how to construct a safe and durable shelter.”

Red Cross is training local unskilled community members in masonry, carpentry, block making and production of latrine slabs. Red Cross volunteers and community members are also trained to diagnose structural vulnerabilities in buildings and are given practical, local solutions to improve them. With this new skill, they are not only able to help their community but are also more employable for future work. As a community-led process, the knowledge and skills remain in areas where it is needed most.

“Building these houses mean a lot to the communities we serve,” says Idris. “Rebuilding helps reunite them with their family and their community.”

Looking ahead to 2019

The IFRC is supporting the Nigerian Red Cross, in responding to the ongoing needs of vulnerable communities in hard-to-reach and under-serviced areas in north-east Nigeria. We will continue our health, shelter, water, sanitation and livelihoods support work in north-east Nigeria.

We will also look to expand our support to the Nigerian Red Cross beyond the north-east. Programmatic focus next year will include assistance and livelihoods support; disease and epidemic prevention and response, particularly among the displaced and most vulnerable; fostering mother and child health and promoting routine immunization. The people we serve will always remain at the center. Communities, through their own volunteers, will be empowered to build and maintain their own resilience.