Healing through Expression – Stories of Resilience
Sexual and Gender-based Violence is an ongoing phenomenon in the Northeast, most especially in Borno state. This menace has caused the abduction of many women and girls who are forcibly married and constantly raped by their captors. The women and girls who have survived this encounter return to their communities with children born as a result of sexual violence.
Addressing this situation, Neem Foundation with support from UNFPA provides Mental health, psychosocial support and trauma counseling to survivors of the insurgency through its “Healing through Expression intervention programme”. The programme, which is an all-inclusive intervention has supported about 4625 beneficiaries since inception in the month of September 2019, with statistical figures of 786 males and 3,312 females, engaged in the process.
The Story of Fatsuma
Fatsuma Shittu is an 18year old girl from Bolori community in Maiduguri, Borno state. She was forcefully married off by her father and stepmother whom she lived with at the age of 16 after the demise of her mother.
“One fateful day, my father told me to dress up as my suitor would be coming to visit, and a formal introduction would be done. I told my father I am not ready to get married, I prefer to go school and become an adult before I get married, but he ignored me.”
At that time, Fatsuma was 16years old and attending a private school. The suitor kept visiting and every time he did, Fatsuma pretended to be sick because she did not want to see the man she was about to marry.
A few months later, Fatsuma was forcefully married off to her suitor and as a result, she became a school dropout.
“I was not happy on my wedding day and I did not even celebrate, even though people gathered to rejoice with the family.”
“My father and stepmother married me off to a man I do not love while I was in JSS 2.”
After the wedding, Fatsuma refused to entertain her husband nor take care of his needs because she was still a child. As a result, her husband became violent since she refused to cater to his sexual needs.
“I couldn’t endure the physical violence anymore, I had to get the intervention of an elderly woman in my community to talk to him, but her intervention was to no avail as the violence worsened” she narrated
“Sometimes, he will force himself on me when I refuse to have sex with him” recounted Fatsuma
Amidst the violence, her husband did not provide food and her other needs. Fatsuma got tired of her husband’s ill-treatment and decided to report him to her father. Unfortunately, her father ignored her complaints and accused her of lying against her husband because she did not love him. “I became so sad and helpless.’’
She continued to endure the trauma without help from anyone besides her neighbour. Until one fateful day, a lady in her community told her about the Healing through Expression, Gender-Based Violence sensitisation that was taking place in the community.
“I received counseling, which helped me cope with my situation”
“Before the counseling, I couldn’t eat or sleep, I was sad and depressed, and I was scared that my husband will force himself on me.”
Fatsuma decided to start cooking for her husband and taking care of him, as she is now an adult at the age of eighteen. She gradually reconciled with her husband as he deviated from his abusive ways and as he started taking care of her needs.
“If I have children in the future, I will never let them experience forced marriage”
“All I want is to go back to school and my husband has finally registered me in a secondary school. Things are working out well for me and I am so happy to be back in school.”
“My sincere appreciation goes out to Neem Foundation and UNFPA for Intervening and helping me when I needed it the most.”