Fatima Askira is the founder of Borno Women Development Initiative; a Maiduguri-based NGO working with women victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in Internally Displaced Persons camps and host communities in Borno state. In a chat with with Women of Rubies , the 26 year old graduate of Botany speaks about her efforts of alleviating the sufferings of the women, most of whom have lost their husbands
Growing up with a Passion
Actually no. I grew up with an ambition to be a medical doctor, unfortunately, growing up, I find things changing and I start to develop passion through looking at how people live, from their day to day activities especially from the poor perspectives. I really do not have an idea of how or what I want to do with that, but I feel I should do something.
Fatima Askira was born and brought up in Maiduguri, I attended my primary education in Maiduguri, Secondary school at F.G.G.C Potiskum, Yobe state and University of Maiduguri, where i studied Biological science, Botany. She single living with her family in Maiduguri. From this little background, you will understand that my childhood didn’t in anyway prepare for the work I am currently doing now. But growing up, life changes its faces and then, one has to make a choice of being who is.
Inspiration Behind Borno Women Development Initiative
Borno Women Development Initiative was inspired by my passion to protect/support women and make them independent. As a result of insurgency, people from surrounding towns and villages of Maiduguri found themselves fleeing from their homes, into the state capital (Maiduguri). My observation at the time was, the majority of the people coming in were women and children, and they come in half covered, because they had to run for their lives. This situation made posed for a second to think of a way I can be of help to these vulnerable women. Then, IDPs mostly lived in an under-resourced camp, before the camps become official. I started to collect clothes from family and friends to donate to some of the displaced women and their children. With the help of a social media campaign, my charity drive took a turn from a small-scale local collection into a national volunteer network which brought about many people reaching out to me to donate clothes, toiletries and food to the internally displaced persons from across Nigeria. As a result of the network I was building, I felt the need to formalize the process, so that people will feel safe, and through the process access wider network of support. Then I started an organization “Borno Women Development Initiative’ (BOWDI).
Rehabilitating the women
Rehabilitation and Reintegration is quite a difficult program to run, especially looking at it critically from challenges of stigmatization and fear in our communities today, but if you hold to your mission, gradually you get to a point where you convince people to accept reality. In some cases, it has been successful as some of the women were reintegrated into camps, and those who are successfully returned back to their communities. But in other cases, some of these women are still being kept safe in isolation, until further arrangements are made for reintegration.
Activities of BOWDI
BOWDI is currently running many projects like; 1. mitigating and preventing Sexual and Gender Based Violence(SGBV) within camps and communities around MMC, Jere, Konduga and Mafa Local Government Areas of Borno State. The consequences of every war has its negative effects on the society, as a result, young girls, boys and women are vulnerable to all acts of violence . Child labour, rape, exploitation, domestic violence and many more are few to mention among many other effects. Therefore, BOWDI felt the need to protect the vulnerable groups through sensitization and educating these groups by conducting interactive sessions focusing on effects and ways to protect themselves from falling victims of abuses, we also provide them with the referral pathways to report all cases and get medical and all forms of support for victims. After every Session, we provide them with basic materials for their immediate needs. 2. BOWDI is running 24 non-formal learning centers in Konduga Local Government Area, under education intervention, providing access to education for children, Adolescent girls and youth. From this particular project, I believe that it is not the people who do not want to go to school, but it is lack of access, or necessary teaching and learning facilities. 3. BOWDI is also economically empowering 833 women with business startups as Small Loan Associations across Mafa LGA.
Like every organization, BOWDI apply for funds through call for proposals and expression of interest by donor agencies, Previously, when the capacity of the organization was very low, we solicit for donations from individuals, philanthropists, etc. through fund raising activities and distribution of fliers in various communities, within and outside Maiduguri, and with my personal income to sustain the organization.
Award and Recognition
Over the years, the smile on the faces of those I helped had been my greatest reward. Until recently when I was awarded a peace award by the 2face foundation together with couple of other peace workers across Nigeria.
Being a Young Woman from the Northeast
Some of the challenges I have faced through this work was how to start and moving forward, especially being a young woman from the Northeast, it was very difficult for me trying to get people support the process, as most people initially thought it will not work out. I had to prove that determination leads to success by trying and trying harder until I was successful. Another Challenge is in trying to finance some of the organization’s activities at the beginning.
If I have an Audience with the President
If I have an opportunity to ask the President one thing on behalf of these women, I will request on their behalf for a social investment platform created specifically for their benefits, a project that is sustainable which would exist from gov’t to gov’t. Some of these women are young girls that happened to be victims of early marriage, some of them have a bright future, some can be enrolled back to schools, some are business oriented, they can be supported with startups, some have already existing skills, they can be supported with basic equipment for support. Such platform I am requesting on their behalf will serve both as empowerment and a method to prevent violent extremism in our communities, especially now that we have thousands of unaccompanied children, roaming on our streets because their female parents cannot afford to cater for all their needs.
Support from Nigerians
To be honest, Nigerians have been supportive to our people, but to be precise about the women, there haven’t been specificity in looking at their situation. I can say this may have happened because of the overwhelming situation of insurgency in the region, which left everyone in need of support. But, for these women, i personally feel there is need for a special intervention and support from everyone, especially our women representatives both in government and private entities. I was hoping to see a movement from women all over the country standing out to bring smiles and hope to the faces of these broken women. I am still yearning to see such and optimistic that women all over the world would realize the need to assist.
I am a Woman of Rubies Inside Out
I grew up looking at successful women and hoping to be like them somedays, but in a way I define my success as the ability to touch the lives of the less privileged in a way no matter how little, put a smile on a woman’s face. Even though, I am not only inclined to women, BUT I give them a priority because I see them as a backbone of development that are always neglected or sidelined, and therefore, the society suffered from the consequences of leaving them idle. My work to inspire women and build them into independent/resourceful women, and also a role model to most young women makes me a ‘woman of rubies’.
Advice to Women
I would love to close by telling all women around the world that, we all are responsible for our growth, We are responsible in making our societies prosperous and violent free by empowering and supporting each other through our little different ways. Also, we have to form a bond of sharing our innovations and ideas which i believe will help us transform each other and build more on our individual work in our various fields and communities. And lastly, for our elderly women to consider young girl’s contributions and carry them along as we may have great ideas to share.