Badawiya* was 14 when her father was killed in an attack – her mother died shortly afterwards. Alone in the world, she was forced to turn to prostitution to survive. And to cope with this, she began to take drugs:
“I was completely alone and had nothing and nobody. I just wanted to forget about everything that had happened and it was the only thing that gave me the courage to go through with selling myself.”
Her friends gradually began to fall away, and she became increasingly isolated and depressed. One day, she was approached by a stranger on the street, who gave her food and money.
Badawiya didn’t know it, but the man was a member of Boko Haram.
“Over the next few weeks we talked a lot. He told me my father had been killed by the military. He kept saying it and I began to believe him. He said I should punish them for what they have done.”
The man gave her a vest full of explosives, told her to wrap it around her body, find some soldiers, and detonate it.
"I was completely hopeless, I was depressed, I was angry and I had given up on life. I put the vest on three times and walked around the town with it on. When I put it on, I just wanted everything to be over, but deep down I knew it was wrong.”
The third time Badawiya wore the vest, walking through the bustling marketplace of her hometown, an old classmate approached her. He began to tell her about a new community youth group he was part of, and asked her if she wanted to join:
“I wasn’t really listening and said I wasn’t interested. But he wouldn’t let me leave, so eventually I showed him the vest. I was shocked – he didn’t run away or scream, he carried on talking to me.”
Her friend helped her to remove the vest, and as he did he told her more about the Youth Peace Platform he was part of. These groups, set up by Conciliation Resources and our partners, are helping traditionally marginalised and vulnerable young people to take a lead in building peace in their communities. They provide a safe space to talk, training on how to deal with conflict non-violently, and support to rebuild relationships with their communities:
“At the first meeting, I sat and listened, but then I began to talk. Everyone knew what had happened, but this group called me their friend and sister and showed me love. Deep down I knew everything that got me into that situation was wrong but the group have given me the support to actually give it up.”
Badawiya is no longer taking drugs or involved in prostitution. Her new friends helped her to find her uncle, who she hadn’t seen since her father’s death, and she now lives with him in a different part of the city:
“Every day, the others in the group check on me to make sure I haven’t fallen back. I don’t know how my life ever came to this, but I feel like I have the chance at a new life now.”
*Not her real name.