By Esther Ahmed Paya, Lead HROC Trainer in Northern Nigeria

My name is Liyatu. I am from Gwoza Local Government area of Borno State. I have five children. My husband was killed by Boko Haram when they attacked us in Maiduguri. After the death of my husband, I went with the children to our village. But Boko Haram also attacked our village and I and the children had to run into the mountains to escape. But the mountain was also attacked and we had to run to Cameroon to escape. It was a terrible journey with the children but we were lucky to enter into Cameroon. The stay there was terrible; therefore we had to come back to Nigeria through bush roads into Yola and to Maiduguri. We have suffered untold hardships and this has affected my life and that of my family. My children are sick. I am sick and have difficulties in sleeping, always staying awake thinking on how to take revenge, always telling my children what they need to do to revenge when they grow up. This workshop is a life saver. This is the best thing that happened to me and my family since my husband was killed. During the personal reflection, I opened up and spoke for the first time of my experience. After that I felt as if a heavy load was removed from my heart. I now sleep well and I have found peace with myself and have forgiven the people that did this to me. I even feel pity for them. I just wish that more people would have the chance to experience this workshop as many people are dying inside with hate.

Background on Boko Haram(by Dave Z):

Boko Haram began in 2002 in northern Nigeria, but in 2009 turned into a terrorist group. In the Hausa language, Boko Haram itself means “Western education is forbidden” or “Western influence is a sin.” Their goal is to bring sharia law to northern Nigeria and the surrounding parts of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. They are promoting this by attempting to ignite a holy war between Muslims and Christians, but this should not overlook the fact that Boko Haram attacks Muslims who oppose or do not agree with them. Their outlook is very similar to Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Since 2009 the fight between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Government has led to the death of more than 20,000 people and at least 2.3 million displaced people with a quarter million people fleeing to the surrounding countries where Boko Haram also attacks people. Until recently the Nigerian army attacks in the region were not only ineffective but leading to numerous human rights violations. More recently the army seems to have improved and now have Boko Haram on the defensive, but they are still a serious threat.

The greatest international interest in this conflict occurred on April 14, 2014 when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students at a secondary school in Chibok. While some escaped shortly after their abduction, others have fled or been released. Nonetheless more than 100 of the girls are still either still held in captivity or have died. Many of these girls were members of the Church of the Brethren-Nigeria, described below (abbreviated as EYN).

Testimony from Galang:

My name is Galang. I am from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State. The insurgency has brought untold hardship to my family and to me personally.  My daughter was among the Chibok school girls that were abducted by Boko Haram. In total four girls were abducted from our family. Some of our family members have died as a result of this painful event. It reached a stage that we cannot even call the names of the girls. When some of the girls were released, another kind of trauma was created in our family as no girls among the four were released.

Before this workshop, life has lost all its meanings to me. Nothing mattered anymore to me. I had given up on life and wanted to die to ease the pain in my heart. Since the day you started teaching us about trauma healing, I began to see things differently and now, my heart is healed. Before I could not sleep but these two days I have slept very well. There is nothing to say, but to be grateful for this teaching. I wish that this teaching be taken to people who are most affected by the insurgency. Now I value life again, I now know that life continues even after such traumatic events.

Story of change, Mama Rifkatu

We had a basic HROC workshop as apprenticeship for  TEKAN (The Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria of which the Church of the Brethren is a member) Peace Desk at EYN church Jang, Michika in 2018 and Mama Rifkatu was a participant in the three-day workshop.

She hails from Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, one of the communities ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgents. She is a widow who had three adult sons. The eldest was killed in Maiduguri (see map) by Boko Haram and she was only called on the phone to be informed of his death.

The second and third sons were living with her in Michika when Boko Haram attacked. The second son was killed at home as they were trying to run to safety. She and the last son fled towards the mountain for refuge. As they were running he was behind his mother shouting “mother please run to safety.” But she responded by saying, “I can’t be safe without you. Whom would I be living my life for since you are the only one remaining?” At some point she could not see the son and she turned back to look for her son. Someone told her that he saw her last son being killed by Boko Haram who were pursuing them. She ran towards the direction and found her son already slaughtered in the pool of his blood with his killers standing by the side. She rushed and grabbed her son. The killers shouted at her that she should leave the boy to die because he got what deserve as an infidel. She said that she would not leave her son and that they should kill her also. They started laughing and left.

Mama Rifkatu said that from that day she never sleeps nor talks to anyone. She hardly eats. She used to go the bushes around the mountains and stay there alone for days without food or sleep.

When she came to the HROC basic workshop, from day one when the participants were asked to introduce themselves, she started talking about her sons with a lot of incoherence and crying. She was able to share the full story on day two during the time for personal reflection.

Amazingly, on day three, during personal testimonies, she shared that she felt a very big stone was lifted from her heart and she was able to sleep after several months of sleeplessness such that she woke up late that day and came late for the workshop. Her face radiated and she was full of hope as she gave her testimony and said that she believed the workshop was organized for only her.

My Biography, Esther Ahmed Paya:

I was traumatized after losing my mother and husband within the span of five months in 2013. My main traumatic experience was the fact that my in-laws hijacked all properties left by my husband of 19 years including my own properties. They left me in the cold because I never had a child with my husband. I used my resources to come to HROC training in Rwanda where I began my journey of healing. My story has been a turning point for a lot of traumatized victims of Boko Haram who knew my story and saw me relentlessly working and helping people in their journey of trauma recovery.

HROC helped me to go back even to my late husband’s community working and helping. I come from a different state from my late husband but my work has been in those northeast areas. I’ve been a consultant for the EYN Peace Desk for four years now. I am an Ambassador for Peace awarded by Universal Peace Federation. I have also been facilitating HROC for other organizations like Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Center (DREP), a project that was supported by Caritas International, Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Institute of Church and Society (ICS) Peace Building and Trauma Healing Center, Jos. Also, because of my passion, I have been using HROC to teach trauma awareness to my people in the northeast in groups especially in churches and planning more for widows, etc.

I have currently developed a model using the HROC advance training to train 24 what we call Listening Companions/Lay Counselors. We have 12 in Maiduguri and 12 in Yola working with the victims of Boko Haram at the internally displaced people’s camps resulting with tremendous impact.

HROC Program in Northern Nigeria:

The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, named EkklesiyarYan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) in the local Hausa language, began in 1923. It has a membership of almost 1 million people and is predominated in northeastern Nigeria where the majority of the population is Muslim.

Participants and facilitators after a HROC Advanced  workshop.

With the support of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Nigeria, in 2014 and 2015 EYN sent Nigerians to be trained at the HROC International Trainings in Rwanda. After their training, in the last three years, they have conducted 63 basic workshops, 6 advanced, 5 training for facilitators with 97 facilitators trained, and 18 apprentice workshops. TEKEN Peace Desk has also done 10 basic workshops, 2 advanced, and 2 training of facilitators with 24 facilitators trained. The consultancy I do for EYN is purely humanitarian without financial benefits except for the stipend for facilitation and two trainings they sponsored me through their partners MCC and Mission 21.

Testimonies from workshops


Sarah was born into a Muslim family in Shaffa area of Hawul Local Government Area of Borno State. She was named Aishatu and grew up as a practicing Muslim until she met Christ in Maiduguri and got married to a Christian from Michika Local Government called John. This was before the insurgency. During the insurgency, the husband became a target because he married a Muslim convert. Therefore they relocated to Michika. When Boko Haram attacked Michika, the husband was killed and she had to flee to her parents in Shaffa.

When she told her parents of what happened to her husband, they were happy that the husband was killed and they tried all means to see that she converted back to Islam. When she refused, the father informed Boko Haram where she was and they came to kill her. Before they came she and her children had already left through the bush as she was informed by her mother what the father intended to do to her. She went to Biu and they came to look for her in Biu and she had to flee to Maiduguri where she now lives with her two children in a camp as a widow.

She testifies to the fact that the workshop has helped her to release the tension that has accumulated in her heart. She felt sorry for her parents and has forgiven them. She asked that this type of workshop should be done periodically so that people who are traumatized could have access to it.

Esther facilitating a HROC workshop.

My name is Blessing. The insurgency has brought problems to me and my family. I lost my husband and two daughters as a result of the insurgency. This changed my life very gravely. I became easily irritated and fought and quarreled with anybody that came my way. I had some misunderstanding with somebody that made me to react negatively. I couldn’t handle it positively which also involved other people and led to mistrust.

However, because of this workshop, I have learnt a lot of things especially in the area of forgiveness and trust. I now realized that life can really continue after any traumatic event. If anybody hates you the tree of trust can be planted and the seed of mistrust can be uprooted. I came to realized that trauma has caused me to live with a harsh mind, anger, shading tears always, shouting at people, regretting of being alive, but they have passed since this workshop taught me not to keep my sorrows in mind. I am now free from anger, unforgiving spirit, not to hurt others and love everybody. My mind has changed from being hopeless to hopeful. I am happy that there are people that still love me like this trauma program. Thank you.


During the workshops in Maiduguri the Borno State’s capital, we took time to visit the camps to see the situation of the Internally Displaced People (IDP). This is a picture from one of the camps. We visited only three camps and we had to end the visits because we were overwhelmed by the deplorable conditions of the camps and under which the IDPs lived.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.


David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

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