Through the Windows of a Bulletproof Car

Emergency Response Nigeria
WFP/Elizabeth Bryant
Aisha Saleh fled her village after Boko Haram attacked. Her family walked 10 miles before the Nigerian military found them and transferred them to Gubio camp.

Read WFP Communications Officer Lisa Bryant's first hand-account of her recent trip to Northeast Nigeria, where more than 50,000 people stand on the brink of famine.

I recently returned from Maiduguri, Nigeria — ground zero for the World Food Programme (WFP)’s lifesaving emergency operations in the country.

It was my first trip to the area as a Communications Officer for WFP. Flying in from my post in Senegal, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At first blush, Maiduguri seemed like a huge, bustling city. It felt almost normal.

But slowly I realized what lay just beneath the surface. Boko Haram’s campaign of violence had impacted everyone I met — from survivors of suicide bombing attacks to displaced families grieving their lost loved ones. During my short commutes from hotel to work in the staff mini-bus – walking freely on the streets was off limits – I wondered if I might find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One afternoon I made my way to Gubio camp, just outside Maiduguri, which is home to thousands of displaced families. We drove in a bulletproof car, with strict instructions to leave by 4 p.m. because of security concerns. Under a scorching hot sun, I watched as buildings became visible across a vast, arid field of sand. A rambunctious group of young kids ran over as I pulled my camera out, making funny faces. I saw mostly women standing in line for food assistance — dried beans, sacks of rice or sorghum and corn-soya blend, and fortified vegetable oil. WFP staff also distribute Plumpy’Sup, a nutrient-packed, peanut paste for young children suffering from malnutrition.

WFP/Elizabeth Bryant
A recent WFP food distribution of vegetable oil and corn-soya blend at Gubio camp.

Then I learned there was yet another layer to this story.

A funding shortfall had forced WFP to pare down food assistance at Gubio by nearly one-third. This means, for the moment, that WFP can only target children under two with nutritional assistance — instead of all vulnerable children under 5. Despite new and generous funding commitments for northeastern Nigeria, there still won’t be enough resources to feed all hungry families.

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During my trip to Maiduguri, I talked with survivors of the region’s many deadly attacks; mourners of lost loved ones. They just want the conflict to end so they can return home. For so many, fleeing violence is the new normal. Yet somehow, with the help of WFP, they find a way to carry on, the young and the old.

WFP/Adedeji Ademibuji
Lisa Bryant shows the photos she has taken to a small group of children in Gubio camp.

Just one day after I left Nigeria, Boko Haram unleashed its biggest attack on Maiduguri in 18 months. This senseless violence compounded by the hunger season in northeast Nigeria is making WFP’s challenge of reaching hungry families that much harder. But WFP knows how to stop famine and is doing whatever it takes to deliver emergency lifesaving food.

I’m back in Senegal, but I can’t stop thinking about Maiduguri. Despite the challenges and hardships that the people in northeast Nigeria face, they are determined to survive. The WFP staff on the ground are as equally determined to help them.

With people like you, determined to make the world a better place, I know that together we can prevent the spread of suffering — together we can save lives.

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