Boko Haram's Young Victims Process Trauma Through Heartbreaking Drawings

After Abeni, 16, escaped Boko Haram’s wrath in Nigeria, she hoped her increasing nightmare would come to an end.

The terror group killed her parents and her neighbors, according to Doctors Without Borders. Abeni grabbed her little brother, nephew and four neighbors and eventually made her way to the Dar es Salaam refugee camp in Chad. But her troubles are far from over.

Abeni hasn’t yet received her refugee card, so she and the children she arrived with aren’t receiving any food.

As of April, there were 126 other separated and unaccompanied children at the camp, according to UNICEF. 

The kids who have witnessed Boko Haram’s horrors, which include rape, kidnapping and brutal attacks, among other crimes, are at a high risk for psychological disorders. But they barely have the resources to survive, let alone to process their traumatizing experiences.

<span>&nbsp;A picture by a 13-year-old boy, a Nigerian refugee who fled Boko Haram attacks.&nbsp;</span>
 A picture by a 13-year-old boy, a Nigerian refugee who fled Boko Haram attacks.   

That’s why after developing a clinic in Dar es Salaam refugee camp in March, Doctors Without Borders introduced psychological support.

Part of that treatment includes giving young patients the opportunity to draw the atrocities they’ve seen first hand.

Aurelia Morabito, a psychologist who works in Lake Chad, told Doctors Without Borders she’s counseled children who have drawn guns, helicopters and decapitated bodies, among other unspeakable images.

In the six years that Boko Haram’s tried creating an Islamic caliphate, thousands of people have been killed and about 1.5 million have been displaced. 

Over the course of a few days alone in May, the military reported rescuing more than 700 women and children from Boko Haram. 

Even after escaping, though, the children suffer feelings of instability because of the lack of structure and support in the camp.

<span>A picture by a 12-year-old boy, a Nigerian refugee who fled Boko Haram attacks.</span><span>&nbsp;</span>
A picture by a 12-year-old boy, a Nigerian refugee who fled Boko Haram attacks.   

"'Home' is now a gathering of exposed tents in the middle of a desert, where they may be vulnerable to future attacks," Doctors Without Borders said in a statement.

Of those seeking help at the Chad refugee camp clinic, one in four exhibit signs of depression. It’s also common for patients to develop sleeping disorders and trauma-related anxiety, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Giving traumatized kids the opportunity to draw creates a safe environment for them to express their deepest worries.

The psychologists then talk about the images, which helps them manage and control their fears.

Since launching the program, which includes individual, family or couples’ counseling, Doctors Without Borders has seen 524 patients.