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Story Publication logo April 12, 2017

Nigeria's Invisible Crisis

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Terrorized by Boko Haram for years, millions of people in northeastern Nigeria have fled to crowded...

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Muna Garage IDP Camp in Maiduguri. Image by Leslie Roberts. Nigeria, 2017.
Muna Garage IDP Camp in Maiduguri, Borno. Image by Leslie Roberts. Nigeria, 2017.

"Two times one is two. Two times two is four. Four times two is eight," the girls happily chant in unison. At the front of this makeshift UNICEF classroom in Muna Garage camp, an unflaggingly energetic teacher is drilling 30 or so girls on their multiplication tables. Identically clad in bright blue, the girls are rapt, jumping up one after another to lead their classmates. When they arrive at the camp, some children are too traumatized to talk. The headmaster tells me—they may have seen their parents killed. UNICEF and other humanitarian groups have created “child-friendly spaces” with staff trained in psychosocial support, where the children can play in safety and, the headmaster hopes, forget the horrors they have witnessed. After a few months, many are ready for school. Most of these girls who are here learning math today have never been in a classroom before; Boko Haram’s name translates into “Western Education Is a Sin.”

January 20, 2017: Gubio IDP Camp, Maiduguri, Borno. Image by Leslie Roberts. Nigeria, 2017.<br />
January 20, 2017: Gubio IDP Camp, Maiduguri, Borno. Image by Leslie Roberts. Nigeria, 2017. 

Gubio Camp in Maiduguri is one of the “better” camps for the internally displaced, where people live in unfinished government housing in tidy rows and NGOs provide food. Yet on a January afternoon when we visit, a long line of buckets snake across the dirt in the brutal sun, while women huddle in the shade of a building. When the water truck returns, each woman will reclaim her bucket and her spot in line. They have been waiting for three days.

January 21, 2017: On the outskirts of Monguno, Borno. Image by Leslie Roberts. Nigeria, 2017.<br />
January 21, 2017: On the outskirts of Monguno, Borno. Image by Leslie Roberts. Nigeria, 2017.

As we drive down a dusty road outside Monguno in Borno state, Andrew, our photographer, snaps a picture of a herd of goats out of the window. Immediately, a soldier in green fatigues waves over our UN car. Why are you taking pictures of goats? he demands. "To capture a sense of the environment," Andrew replies. That is not allowed, the soldier shoots back, forcing Andrew to delete each image. There is nothing classified about the goats or the surrounding landscape. Our crime was that we did not show adequate respect to the soldiers. We don’t make that mistake again, stopping dutifully at every army checkpoint to explain what we are doing here and ask permission to continue. Unbeknownst to the soldier, Andrew had a backup.

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