Sierra Leone’s president appealed Tuesday for urgent help for the flood-hit capital of Freetown where more than 300 people have died, as rescue workers resumed the grim search for bodies. The Red Cross says it is struggling to excavate families buried deep in the mud that engulfed their homes, although several bodies were pulled up by machines…
By Magnus Eze
The 106 freed Chibok schoolgirls have continued to savour their freedom with testimonies, particularly as many of them had given up hope of coming out of Boko Haram captivity alive.
As they worshiped last Sunday in their Abuja camp, the girls poured out their gratitude to God.
Rhoda Peter and Luggwa Mutah intermittently burst out in praise in their local dialect.
Freedom was secured for the first set of 24 girls last October, after painstaking negotiations with the insurgents, before another 82 were released a month ago. There was heavy outflow of emotions as the 82 recently freed girls joined the other 24 at the National Women Development Centre, Abuja, which the Federal Government designated as camp for them.
Even though 24 schoolgirls commenced rehabilitation since January, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Jummai Alhasan, said that all of them would be enrolled in schools across the country to continue their education in September this year.
While taking over the girls from the director of the Department of State Securitys (DSS) medical clinic, Dr. Ann Okoroafor, the minister clarified that the girls were not under compulsion to remain within the care of government as any of them who wished to rejoin their parents were free to do so.
She explained that they had been medically and psychologically certified fit for the rehabilitation programme that would last 90 days.
Inside the camp
The new abode of the freed girls, most of whom were in the lion’s den for three years, could be said to have all the facilities one could require for normal life: school, sickbay, relaxation centre, fully functional common room/worship centre and, above all, water-tight security.
Daily Sun gathered that the facility was recently renovated by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development with support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and it had the blocks and extensions renamed after Hajia Aisha Buhari, Dolapo Osinbajo, Mama Taraba, Nana Kashim Shettima and others.
In the camp, four girls were assigned a room with two bunk beds and wall fans. They also have a common room with six large-screen televisions showing cable channels. The common room also serves as worship place on Sundays when clerics would be allowed to come and conduct service for them, and 100 plastic chairs were provided for that.
Regarding their education, it was also gathered that 20 teachers have been engaged and sorted into four classes to give the girls remedial preparation in five subjects, English Language, Mathematics, Biology, Agricultural Science and Civic Education.
The minister, who reiterated the resolve of the federal government to give the girls the best care through the Presidential Rehabilitation and Re-integration Committee, headed by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, expressed joy that the first batch of 24 were already picking up in English Language, as “the girls who couldn’t speak good English can now speak.”
As part of their rehabilitation, the minister disclosed that each of the girls would receive compulsory training in information and communication technology as well as two other skills of their choice.
During the handing over, Alhassan said, “Here we have 24 girls; remember that these were rescued last year. They are being joined today by 82 others, who have been certified fit to live on their own; they don’t have any medical issues any more apart from the one that we need to put a limb for her. This place is their common room; it will accommodate the 106 of them. We have put these television sets and other things for their comfort.
“We have more handlers for the girls now; more doctors, nurses and matrons. And the programme will end at the beginning of next academic year in September when we will enrol all of them back in school.”
One area that should be of utmost concern to everyone is the health of the freed girls, having lived with terrorists, who may have debased them sexually, with attendant sexually-transmitted infections and other diseases.
In fact, while commending the management and staff of the DSS clinic for their intervention, Alhassan disclosed that the clinic was “shut down for 3 weeks for the girls,” because of the myriad of medical cases anticipated, coupled with the need to give them full attention and security.
However, the DSS medical director said there was no cause for alarm as any diseases identified have been treated while those with cases such the one amputee and another with injury in the hand would continue treatment at the clinic.
Okoroafor confirmed that they were fit for the programme thus: “We have done the needful for them, profiled them and done all the investigations; whatever we found out during the investigation, we have treated them. Some of them require on-going medical treatment like you can see one of them has problem with her hand; one is an amputee and one or two others who have some medical issues that we are still treating them for. But I can say to you that they are all stable and comfortable for us to release them. They are stable not just medically but psychologically.”
In the meantime, a fully-equipped medical facility has been set up at their camp with two doctors and two nurses, while the National Hospital, Federal Staff Clinic and the DSS Medical Clinic, were open to handle any referral cases, even as an ambulance would be dedicated to the facility for emergencies.
The last war
While the rehabilitation and re-integration process goes on, Daily Sun gathered that most of the girls still experience some intrusive thoughts and memories of their horrifying captivity.
They reportedly have a sort of phobia and panic attack anytime they hear the roaring sound of flying aircraft, which reminds them of their Sambisa forest experience.
“(They) can’t stop feeling frightened hearing the whirring noise of aeroplane whenever it is flying,” one of their caregivers volunteered.
The foregoing indicates that the most pressing challenge for the girls and their tenders would be managing the psychological trauma.
Even in their prayers, they always beg God to help them forget their past while looking forward to a brighter future.