“My only desire is to go to school”

Hajja Muram and her son Abba (Photo Credit: CARE Nigeria)

by Rakiétou Hassane Mossi

Hajja Muram is a 17 year old mother living in Ngala, about 140 kilometers from Maiduguri, in Northeast Nigeria. She is from Lomani. Her son is 3 months old and she thinks she is in the early stages of her second pregnancy. Her husband Mustapha Bulama is 20 years old and is a moto taxi driver. She lost her father during the attacks. She escaped with her mother Ya Gana Goni, her sister of 20 years old and her two brothers who are 10 years and 5 years. They still do not know where their father is and they wish they can meet up with him again if possible.

She had a very happy growing up. She used to play with her siblings and her friends. She smiles when she recollects those memories. “We would go to Islamic school, do house chores like carrying water and fetching firewood for cooking. My father was a mechanic and my mother was a farmer. We had everything we wanted.”  She wished she was not a mother at this young age as she had hopes and aspirations for her future. “I wanted to go to school and be able to have a career but that dream was shattered with the events that took place three years ago, and then I got married and started a family.”

In Lomani, she did not go to school because her parents were against it at first. Then, her father had a change of heart but they were told that she is too old to start school at that time. When she was finally accepted in a school three years ago, their village got attacked and they had to run away and settle in Ngala. It has been two years now since they have settled in Ngala.

Three years ago, their village was bombarded by the air force as the armed opposition group has occupied it. That made the armed opposition group run away and the army saved the villagers and took them to Dikwa, about 30 kilometers away from Ngala. Her father went missing during this escape. They do not know if he is dead or still alive and would love to have news from him or know what happened to him. After living a year in Dikwa, they were relocated to Ngala.

She does not have any income and no job. Her husband works in Lagos and comes back every six months for about six weeks and leaves again. She got married two years ago, as soon as they settled in Ngala. She was 15 at that time. “My mother decided I should get married.” She was sad and just wanted to go to school and play with her mates. But she could not go against her mother’s will so she agreed, even though she did not want to be married.

Hajja believes that if her father was still around, she would not be a married wife today. She believes that her mother married her sister and her because of the pressure of the community. The cultural way is to marry girls at a young age to preserve the “dignity of the family”. If not, one will be abused verbally and pressured.

Her husband is always away. “My husband is always away in Lagos, in the South and bordering Benin Republic. I do no enjoy my marital life as he works in Lagos. My-sister in-law lives with me but she is getting married as well in a couple of month.” Then she will be all by herself and she is not eager for that. “If I was with my husband on a daily basis maybe I would feel differently. The only joy I have is every time I look at my son.”

She usually gets up at 7am, cleans her house, cooks, feeds her child, showers and then rests. She usually goes to get water four times a week and firewood two times. Her sister in law helps her with the house chores and getting water and firewood. Then she waits until 5pm to cook again and then go to bed by 8pm. She eats twice a day as she receives food from INGOs and her husband sends her money a few times. “It is not easy as a lactating woman to not eat as much as I want.”

The CARE Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights project helped her during her pregnancy. CARE Nigeria is providing much needed facility and outreach-based models of sexual and reproductive health service delivery in the most hard-to-reach areas in Northeast Nigeria. Over 250,000 of the most severely women and girls affected by the crisis were reached with services including pre and post-natal care, family planning, HIV testing, health education, and post-abortion care.

Some agents were going door to door delivering services and sensitization. That is how she heard about the project. She received a delivery kit when she was pregnant, that comprised of loincloths, towel, baby oil and a bag to carry everything. She was not expecting it so it made her very happy. She goes to the clinic for antenatal and postnatal care. She is suspecting of being pregnant that is why she was at the clinic this day, in her purple hijab. She was holding her son all along. The ante and post-natal care she  received helped her alot and she feels heathier and strong. “I recommend it to every woman and girl.”

She believes that ante-natal care and the support of CARE clinic made her pregnancy easy, but she had a major pain while delivering her son. She gave birth at the maternity and had no problem being assisted and immunizing her child. “My son is strong and healthy today because I went to the clinic and did not miss one single appointment.”

Health services are free through CARE. The workers are very accessible. “If you prefer they will even come to your home and attend to you. As it is not culturally accepted to be using family planning, you have to do it discretely and not let anyone know that you are using it.”

When her sister-in-law and her friends came in the house, she started changing her story, saying that she does not want to use family planning since her husband is out of town for at least six months. She was told the benefits of contraception and understands it very well. She will definitely use family planning when her husband is stable and does not have to work in a different town than where she lives.

She still hopes to get an education and a career so she can be independente and financially support her family. She wants all girls in the world to have an education and have the right to choose their own path.

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