“Needs don’t know that you are displaced,” was the response given by Margaret Ahmed, Executive Director of Home Makers in response to the question, “why do you care about the displaced women of north-east Nigeria?”
On 24 October MCC and EYN (Church of the Brethren) staff carried out a small relief distribution to just under 500 men, women and children who had fled the Boko Haram instigated violence of northeast Nigeria. Dave Klassen, MCC Representative for Nigeria, invited Margaret to engage with these displaced women with her way of “doing relief”.
Margaret responded by organizing a 3-day skills and business training workshop for 72
women at her office in Jos. 9 women came from EYN, but the rest came from other church communities in the northeast along with a number of Muslim women who were also homeless. Margaret taught them how to make bread, doughnuts and pomade.
She talked to them about the business skills needed to operate a successful small.
43 women slept over the two nights at Home Makers. Margaret rented mattresses and arranged for breakfast, lunch and dinner for her guests. Margaret kept apologizing for the poor sleeping quarters, but the women said “no, that this is the best that we’ve been sleeping in for many months.”
Ramasu Amos expressed her gratefulness for the outpouring of generosity and care given to her by Home Makers: “we had a mattress to sleep on at night; we were given warm water to bathe; tea was shared with us in the morning to accompany the doughnuts; and we ate good food three times every day. How can we not be grateful?!” Ramasu is the first wife in a household of three wives and 20 children who fled Gwoza when the Boko Haram invaded. Living as a large displaced family in Jos is no small feat so for these women sleeping on the floor in a room full of 25 other women was like a holiday at the Hilton.
Margaret organized a very loose program trying to create a safe and trusting environment that allowed the women to tell their stories. Some talked about running through the bush with their children for six days without eating. They told stories of meeting snakes along the paths. One woman described how she and her family spent two weeks lost in the bush and how it was only “…God who helped us find our way.” They found that many of their stories were the same.
One woman shared how her daughter was abducted by the Boko Haram and was “married” to one of the fighters. After being with them for three months she came up with a plan that would allow her to escape. She went on a “hunger strike” for three days and became sick and weak. Feeling some level of compassion, her “husband” sent her to a hospital with his own mother. While in the hospital, she engaged some Nigerian soldiers, telling the mother that she was not going back. The mother insisted that she come to which the girl responded, “if you open your mouth I will report you to the Nigerian soldiers”. The mother then left and the girl ran to her family home. Her family, not knowing what had happened, welcomed her with joyous arms but then sent her off to Jos for her own protection.
Four of the women decided to start a group together and have begun making pomade for sale. They have called their business name, “Displaced” in their own language.
Margaret began Home Makers 20 years ago in response to a handful of poor women who came to her expressing their needs as very poor women. She taught them basic skills and has continued working with women from the grassroots such that today 2,300 women can now meet their daily needs and live with hope for the future.
When asked why she cares for these women Margaret does not have a complicated or philosophical response: “Needs don’t know that you are displaced. The needs of these women will only keep increasing. So you need something to help you make an income so that you can meet those needs. They need help! I feel I should help. If I’m able to give them the skills that I have, it will help them. They are not talking about school fees for their children. They are thinking about shelter and food. I told them that I know what they are passing through. I know their hearts are heavy as many don’t know where other family members are. Today you are here, but tomorrow there may be something worse. You need something to do to give hope. By carrying something or doing something it will help them to forget what they went through.”
— Dave Klassen, Nov 2014