The room looked like any other clean and neat living room this morning, yet at night, Janata said, it was full of women and young children, sleeping on mats. Older children sleep outside in the back fenced-in yard, and most of the men sleep outside under the trees and near other buildings in the EYN (Nigerian Brethren Church) Headquarters compound in Jos. Janata Gamache and her husband, Markus, currently care for, in their home, 52 men, women, and children displaced by the violence of Boko Haram.
Displaced families and individuals started coming to Jos and other safer areas of Nigeria in large numbers in August and September 2014, when Boko Haram attacked communities in Borno State in the northeast. This number increased after Boko Haram started terrorizing areas of northern Adamawa State, including the EYN Headquarters near Mubi, in the fall of 2014 and early 2015. When possible, displaced people went to live with relatives. Thousands ended up in displacement camps, where the once self-reliant people found themselves feeling dependent and powerless. Other displaced people camped outside on the grounds of church buildings. But many EYN families, like the Gamaches, opened their doors to them. In time, host families and congregations helped some of them rent temporary dwellings in the area. EYN has also purchased land near the cities of Jos and Abuja, where they are building temporary houses for additional accommodation.
In Janata’s household, cooking is done together in the back yard, much of it in large pots resting on stones over a wood fire. All the guests help with cooking, shopping, buying firewood, cleaning, household repairs, and caring for the family’s poultry business, though Janata organizes and sees that it all gets done. “Of course the work has increased,” she said, with weariness showing in her eyes and voice. “We have to wash and sanitize the rug, the bathroom and other areas more often to prevent illness.” Buying large quantities at a more economical price, and sharing one bathroom, for all of these people, is very challenging. The Gamaches receive some funds and relief supplies from the church, private donations, and from other NGO’s, but what that doesn’t cover, falls back on their own family resources.
“With 17 children staying here, it’s hard to give the three of my own children who are still at home, the kind of attention I want to,” she shared. Fortunately during the day, most of the children are in school, and some of the adults have found part-time jobs. “When it gets too noisy in the evenings, I go outside, just to have some time of quiet.
With some of the areas in the northeast becoming more stable and people starting to return to some of their communities, Janata foresees her household gradually shrinking in numbers. But she is not expecting their nuclear family to have their own space very soon. “We have not been able to close our hearts to those in need,” Janata said. “It is our Nigerian custom, but more importantly, it is what our faith asks of us—to care for people who have lost their homes and family and have nothing. And God is our main source of help and strength.”
By Peggy Faw Gish