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Nigeria: Displaced twice by Boko Haram, Rebecca now helps over 2,000 widows and orphans

22 March 2017

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.

Rebecca starts her own NGO

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."

Boko Haram abuse

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 facts

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.

Please pray:

  • For Rebecca and her work bringing aid and hope to women and children
  • For those who suffer and have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram
  • For those kidnapped from their families and held captive by Boko Haram

More News from Nigeria:

Find out more about persecution in Nigeria.