22 March 2017

Displaced woman brings hope to widows and orphans in Nigeria

A Nigerian woman who has twice been displaced by Boko Haram has started a small NGO to support widows and orphans with support from anti-persecution charity Open Doors.

Rebecca Phillip fled her home in Maiduguri, Northern Nigeria in 2009, and then had to flee her home village of Gavva in 2011, to escape Boko Haram violence. She says of the attacks in 2009, "I awoke one night and saw that the streets were brightly lit by the many churches that had been set ablaze. In the weeks that followed, we heard gun shots every night. It felt like war. The following morning I saw corpses on the streets."

Her home in Gavva was attacked as Boko Haram were driven out of Maiduguri and began to attack more rural areas. Rebecca's house in Gavva was destroyed along with all of her family's possessions.

Rebecca and her family returned to Maiduguri. Although Maiduguri was safer than it had been, many international organisations were evacuating the area, and Maiduguri was effectively cut off from the outside world. Rebecca decided she needed to help those who were in even greater need than her. "We were all refugees at that time and we all needed help, but I saw that many widows needed more help than I did," Rebecca says.

With financial support from a friend who lived abroad, Rebecca began distributing food and paying for medical care for some of the widows she knew. Her work soon grew, and Open Doors along with several other charities began to provide her with financial support too. Today, she has a team of volunteers who care for 2,000 widows, build simple housing and provide school fees for orphans. "Now with this aid, I can give more help to the widows and orphans," she says.

One of the widows that Rebecca supports is Miriam James, a mother of four whose husband was murdered by Boko Haram. She fled her village with her children to escape the militants and came to Maiduguri with nothing. "It is only thanks to the support Rebecca gives that we are still surviving," Miriam says. "I pray with my children every morning to ask God to help us. So far we have had something to eat most days. I can feed my children thanks to this help I receive."

Rebecca says, "The stories of the widows are dreadful, each one of them. For example, the story of a woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram. She had seen them killing her husband. She spent four days sitting next to his body, until some others came to help her bury the body. Then she had to live for one and a half years with Boko Haram and was abused in a small village. She had to do hard domestic work there."

She continues: "Many women ended up in IDP (internally displaced people) camps, alone with their children. They own nothing and do not have any kind of job. Most of them do not have any form of education. That's why I wanted to help. I felt the need to stand with these women who sometimes fought bitterly to survive."

Nigeria is number 12 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, the annual ranking of countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Christians in northern Nigeria have not only faced attack by Boko Haram, but also Hausa-Fulani herdsmen, a traditionally nomadic Islamic tribe. In 12 of the northern states, Sharia (Islamic law) has been implemented, and Christians in these states face discrimination and restrictions in accessing community resources, such as clean water, health clinics and higher education. Displaced Christians often also suffer discrimination when aid is being distributed.

Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen and equip persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria through training, children's education, community development projects, legal assistance, emergency relief and trauma counselling.

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Note to editors:

For more information call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777377, 01993 777346 or 07484 000 441.

Information on Open Doors - www.opendoorsuk.org

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.

Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life- plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually. Its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life - as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: "It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all. You may find very low levels of violence as a result, because incidents of violent persecution are often a response to acts of witness."