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Nigerian girl ‘buries’ father in paper coffin through trauma care

15 November 2017

A 12-year-old girl from Nigeria, who has been traumatised by not knowing where her dead father is buried, has received trauma care from Open Doors, making him a coffin out of paper to symbolise his burial.

There is a video of Martina on YouTube

“I was two months old when my Daddy died,” said Martina. “I had never really known him. But I have missed him so very much. Since I have grown up I’ve wished I could have gone to the burial. I wished that I could have seen and known him. I wished to know the exact place of the grave in which they buried him.”

Martina’s father was a policeman. He was killed in 2005 during a riot between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria’s northern state of Kano, and in the chaos that followed the clash, many bodies of murdered people were hastily buried in mass graves. Martina has never known where her father was buried, which has left her without a place to go to remember him, and she has struggled to process his death.

Martina says, “I used to think about my Dad. Sometimes I asked my Mum to take me to the place where he was killed. She would bring me there, but I never stopped thinking about him. When I went to school and heard my friends talking about their Dads, I used to ask God to give me a father.”

Photo of Martina – other photos and sizes available:

Martina shared her story when she was attending a trauma care programme run by Open Doors for a group of children. They were asked to draw the things that worried or scared them. All the children started drawing except Martina, who folded her piece of paper into a square box, and wrote the name of her father on it. It represented his coffin.

Later, she drew a picture of a coffin with her father’s name on it, and a few women carrying flowers. One of the women, Martina’s mother, carried a small baby on her back, representing Martina. She wrote a few sentences about the things she wanted to tell her father: “Daddy, we really miss you. We hope your soul will rest in peace. You are in the hearts of those who love you.”

The trauma counsellors helped Martina understand her feelings through mentally ‘burying’ her father. “She got to the point where she was able to bury him in her own way,” says Patience*, Martina’s counsellor. “In her mind, that was what was preventing her from really believing that her father was dead. She had to bring out that expression from her mind and unload the burden that she had been carrying for a long time. After that, she felt relieved and finally accepted his death.”

Martina says the trauma care programme has really helped her. “Since the first day I came here for the trauma healing programme, I felt at rest. I felt normal. I felt the heavy load lifted from my heart,” she says.

Open Doors is building a new residential trauma centre in Nigeria, where children like Martina, as well as adults and family groups who have experienced persecution, can come and receive counselling and support. It will be big enough to accommodate 30 people, and have a training facility to meet the growing need for counsellors.

“We have different kinds of trauma in Nigeria,” said Patience*, Martina’s counsellor. “We have Boko Haram. We have war. We have ethnic crises. We have religious crises. And everywhere people are traumatised.”

Until the centre opens, trained carers will continue to meet with traumatised believers in their own communities.

Open Doors has launched an appeal to support children like Martina who have been bullied, attacked or orphaned because of their families’ Christian faith.

Nigeria is number 12 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Hundreds of Christians were killed in northern Nigeria in 2016, and while the Nigerian army has had some success in tackling the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, most of the recorded killings have been carried out by Hausa-Fulani herdsmen, a radical Islamic tribe that frequently targets Christian communities. 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.

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