Photo: Guy Calaf for Action Against Hunger, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria
Action Against Hunger’s “Porridge Moms” program in Maiduguri in Borno State offers pregnant women and new mothers education and peer support. This group of resilient and amazing mothers in conflict-torn northeast Nigeria, through the Porridge Moms project, are creating better health and nutrition outcomes for their children — a profound expression of love and investment in each child’s bright future.
Hannatu Zakarya, 25, is the mother of three — including a small baby with a giant smile. In 2011, insurgents led a rampage through her community and she was forced to flee with her three children, walking nearly 30 miles with them on foot to reach safety. Hannatu speaks confidently about her experience with the Porridge Mom project and about her role as a leader in the group. She explains that the Porridge Moms project has given her a good breakfast each day, allowing her to be well nourished so that she is able to produce more breastmilk for her young baby. She’s also seen the ripple effect of the project, with healthier and stronger children in the community. While she is happy to be a part of the Porridge Moms, she wants to go home: “My family can never enjoy any place more than our own home.”
Lydia John is a 33-year-old mother. She has a child who is 14 as well as a toddler just over a year old. Lydia explains the process of how Boko Haram insurgents slowly took over her community in Goza, saying that it all started when the militant group started kidnapping young boys ages 11 and 12. In response, the villagers began to dress their male children in girls’ clothes in order to avoid detection, but this only worked for so long. When the attacks grew worse, Lydia escaped into Cameroon before she was eventually returned back to Maiduguri.
She is thankful now to have found a more comfortable space to live, donated by the church, and to be participating in the Porridge Moms group and serving as its treasurer. Lydia explains that she and other group members received training from Action Against Hunger staff before beginning their leadership roles. She says she has seen that the children in the group are now fed well, but beyond the nutrition of their children, the Porridge Moms group has provided a space for the women to come together, share their experience, support each other, and discuss what they have been taught, as well as to encourage even more communication between mothers of the group on a consistent basis.
Twenty-year-old Hauwa Bitous is the caregiver of a three-year-old child, separated from his mother and father as a result of the insurgency. Hauwa left her village in Goza and ended up crossing the border into Cameroon for a number of days in order to escape the conflict, before eventually being reunited with her family in Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria’s Borno State. She is now the primary caregiver of the young child, whose parents remain in Cameroon, hesitant both to return to Nigeria and to bring their child with them to Cameroon, where there are more outbreaks of disease and they have less ability to care for him.
Through participation in the Porridge Moms project, Hauwa has seen that the child has had fewer illnesses and has improved in his condition overall. He used to have frequent and severe rashes, and was even hospitalized at times, but the food has been good for him, she says, and he continues to improve more and more with time. Her favorite recipe shared in the Porridge Moms group has been the Irish Potato Porridge, and Hauwa says that Action Against Hunger could enhance the project by adding a greater variety of recipes into the rotation of the group.
Insurgents attacked Kaltum’s village during the rainy season, when water-logged roads limited escape routes to safety. She hid for days in the bush without food or water, before seeking help in a nearby Fulani village and eventually being reunited with family in Maiduguri. She explains that at first life in and around the displaced camps was very hard, but with the assistance of Action Against Hunger, conditions for Kaltum and her family have improved. Kaltum says that our nutrition team has been invaluable for her participation in the project. They ensure that every member of the Porridge Moms group understands her responsibilities, and that they are informed about what they can purchase from the market vendors and when the resources are available on the voucher and cash transfer cards for purchase. She has noticed that the local children have been much happier since the start of the Porridge Moms group.
Three of Rukaiya’s four children were kidnapped by Boko Haram, following an early morning attack two years ago. She was devastated. She fled to the forest, carrying her youngest child, still a baby, and escaped into Niger, before eventually being repatriated back to Maiduguri. She has no information on the safety or whereabouts of her three missing children, but she says she has hope and a strong belief that they will be reunited in the future. With the Porridge Moms group, Rukaiya has enjoyed the responsibility that comes with being a group leader. She appreciated the joy and the smiles from all of the children while they eat their porridge. She says this is a stark contrast to their lives fleeing Boko Haram, before they found refuge. During that time, the children had to beg for food. Action Against Hunger’s team in Maiduguri is committed to being a safety net for mothers like Rukaiya, and providing them with a sense of community, support, and good nutrition for their children.