Jibrin was only six years old when it happened.
Over the weekend, he had fallen ill and rashes had developed all over his body, from neck to back. So on July 1, 2014, his father took the youngster and set out to get a diagnosis and treatment at the government hospital in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state in North East Nigeria.
On their route was the famous Monday Market in the city, the commercial nerve centre. Despite the violent campaign of the insurgent group Boko Haram which had risen from a few followers in 2009 to thousands of foot soldiers in 2014, the area was still bustling with people and activity. As they passed that morning, a bomb placed by insurgents in a parked vehicle laden with charcoal exploded. Jibrin’s father died instantly; he was one of the thirty-five casualties whose deaths were confirmed by officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
The boy was rushed to the hospital but the damage had been done and his face was left permanently disfigured.
Then Fiona Lovatt of the Lovatt Foundation heard about his case. Her organization, which runs three homes in Maiduguri – under the ‘Children of Borno’ initiative – where children who have lost one or both of their parents to Boko Haram and in most cases left to wander the streets, live and school, took him in.
“I heard about his situation and we asked our children if they could be kind to a child who had lost a lot of his face and fingers,” Fiona says. “They accepted.”
Now he is one of 30 children being homeschooled there, growing with other children his age in an atmosphere of love and friendliness and getting to eat three square meals on a daily basis. Like the other children, Jibrin is also taught six subjects – English Language, Arabic, Mathematics, Social Studies, History and Agriculture – over the course of every week by Mallam Umar, the ‘father of the house’ together with three other teachers who equally live there.
“He’s a good child and is learning fine”, says Umar. “Everything is going well and he plays and runs around with the other children too.”
Like the other children, Jibrin will also get a chance to be integrated into other schools in the metropolis and a chance at higher education in a couple of years.
But there is work to be done; there are regular medical checkups but reconstructive surgery is needed. For now, he wears a mask on his face to keep his ears and skin in place.
“One big man visited the house and made a pledge to pay for all ongoing medical expenses [but] his pledge was only a pledge. The child needs many more surgeries.”