#WomenHumanitarians: “I will fulfil our promise together”

Women humanitarian workers running an awareness-raising session in one of CARE’s safe spaces for gender-based violence survivors in a camp for internally displaced people in north-eastern Nigeria

Throughout the world, women humanitarians are dedicating their lives to helping people affected by crises – even when this puts their own lives at risk.

Aisha Ramat works for CARE in Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria. This is her story, in her own words.

Losing my best friend meant that I lost a part of myself.

We both came from very difficult backgrounds. She was the only one I could trust, one of the few people I could call family. A part of me feels guilty for not having been with her during the attacks although that would have meant that I got abducted or killed too. I miss her every day.

Portrait of Aisha and Alice
Aisha (right) with her best friend, Alice (left)

I am originally from Rann, the town in northeast Nigeria that was brutally attacked in January this year. But most of my relatives, including my parents, had run away years ago and now live in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state. Those who didn’t leave were either captured or killed. Some of them were my uncles and cousins.

I decided to move back to Rann because I wanted to help the people there.

I was the team leader for sexual and reproductive health; a very important part of CARE’s work for mothers and children in Rann.

I met Alice for the first time in the guesthouse where we stayed. She also worked for a humanitarian organisation. A total of seven of us stayed in the house but I was the closest to Alice. We used to share a room and chat until we fell asleep late at night.

We cooked together, ate together and lived together – we were a family.

I was in Maiduguri for meetings at the CARE office when I saw dozens of messages and missed calls on my phone. “Did you hear from Alice?”, “there was an attack in Rann,” the messages said, but I ignored them thinking that it was nothing serious. But a few minutes later I decided to check in with Alice.

I called her several times but there was no response.

I called my other colleagues in Rann but they didn’t pick up their phones either. This was unusual and it slowly dawned on me that something may have happened to them.

I returned the calls of my colleagues based outside of Rann and they confirmed that the military base was attacked. This is where we used to go to check our emails or go on Facebook since we didn’t have internet at the guesthouse.

My heart dropped and I could not sleep or stop crying that night.

At 5 AM I was able to reach one of the soldiers from the military base. He told me that Alice and my other colleagues were OK but although I repeatedly asked him, he wouldn’t pass the phone to Alice. After he hung up, I called up one of our volunteers in the camp to check on Alice. But she told me that Alice was abducted and my other colleagues were killed. I must have asked her a million times if she was sure. What she said was sadly true, as I got to know in the following days.

I was devastated. Alice had two children and a husband. I have three children myself and can only imagine how difficult life is for her family now.

My husband died of high blood pressure a few years ago. We got married when I was 16. My parents were very poor and couldn’t take care of me, which is why I got married at a young age. At that time, I was scared because my husband was double my age but he was always good to me.

I had my children when I was very young and therefore dropped out of school. After our third baby my husband encouraged me to go back to school and introduced me to contraceptives. I never knew they existed. Once I got to know about them I wanted to spread the word to so many other women.

That’s why I started going back to school and became a midwife before I joined CARE.

Apparently, there was a victim video of Alice begging for her rescue and release but I never watched it. I deleted it from my phone right away. Just the thought of seeing her and knowing that she was made a slave tore my heart apart.

I thought I would never be able to return to Rann. But in March, CARE was the only organisation to decide to continue with their food distributions as thousands of people were suffering from the withdrawal of aid.

Nobody wanted to go to Rann. But I knew I had to go because that’s what Alice would have wanted.

The community members started crying when they saw me. It was the first time they saw anyone from an aid organisation after the attacks.

Even if Alice is not around anymore, I will fulfil our promise together. I will continue to serve the people in Rann until my very last day, as did Alice.

The Lake Chad regional crisis: CARE’s humanitarian response

The 10-year long conflict in the Lake Chad Basin, bordering Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, has dramatically affected the lives of more than 10.7 million people who rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. In 2019, 7.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Nigeria alone.

The crisis has largely been triggered by an ongoing regionalised armed conflict, characterised by massive and widespread abuse against civilians including killings, rape and other sexual violence, abduction, child recruitment, burning of homes, pillaging, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, and the use of explosive hazards, including in deliberate attacks on civilian targets. Conflict and ongoing attacks from armed groups has meant lost lives and livelihoods, abandoned homes and villages, and deserted farmland, crippling large parts of the Lake Chad region.

CARE has to date reached more than 700,000 people with food distributions, including for malnourished mothers and children, and provides sexual and reproductive health support particularly for women through family planning and antenatal care as well as supporting survivors of gender-based violence through safe spaces and psychological support.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.