Because of ethno-religious conflicts and terrorism, Nigeria has over 2 million internally displaced persons (IDP’s), 80% of which are women and children according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 42% of the internally displaced persons live in camps and camp like settings, while 58% live in host communities. One common result of this displacement is that it affects the education and mental health of the children displaced. In a lot of cases, the children drop out of school. This has resulted to an increase in the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria to 13.2 million children. This problem breeds grounds for inequality, illiteracy, peace & security problems and other developmental challenges for the future of the IDP children. As displaced children, they face an uncertain future, where it may be difficult to compete with their mates in other stable region in terms of education. Some of the children deal with psychological trauma and hopelessness as a result of their experiences during the conflicts.
According to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian affairs, there are 2375 locations, where internally displaced persons live. These sites include 293 camps and camp-like settings, and 2082 locations where IDP’s reside with host communities. These camps and host communities are mostly in the northeastern region of Nigeria including Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. There are other locations in the middle belt of Nigeria. For example, in the Federal Capital Territory, there are 26,460 internally displaced persons living in 41 settlement camps. There are others in Kogi, Kaduna, Benue, Nassarawa and Plateau states.
This project works to address these issues by setting up solar powered learning hubs in their camps and locations, as well as, use seasoned counsellors to conduct Cognitive Behavioural Therapy assessment on the IDP children. The assessments help to determine the state of their mental health. We partner with other organizations to ensure that those that need further help get the desired attention & care. The main objective of this project is to use astronomy as a tool to counsel, heal and inspire traumatized children that have been displaced due to conflicts in Nigeria. This project employs an interdisciplinary approach to achieve its objectives. Teams of counsellors conduct Cognitive Behavioural Therapy assessment on the children to ascertain the state of their mental health. The data gotten from the assessment helps the project team refer the children for the required mental health care. The IDP’s are located in remote locations mostly without electricity, therefore, a team of engineers’ set-up a solar-powered learning hub to serve as one of the deliverables of the project. The solar-powered learning hub comprises of solar-panels, inverter&batteries, Smart screen, HD-drive, Internet router and charging ports, all in a refurbished 40ft-shipping container. The solar powered learning hub is for the children to have access to learning material, and for the project team to engage the children remotely. Other project team members serve as science- communicators who are passionate about making tangible impacts using science. As their needs go beyond all these, the project makes provision of relief materials for the IDP’s. This project is an IAU/OAD funded project in its second round of funding for execution on a different IDP camp.
Data retrieved from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) assessments on IDP children at an IDP camp in Durunmi in North-Central Nigeria shows that 67% of the children had mild to severe depression; 55% had mild to severe anxiety disorders; 51% had mild to severe stress conditions. 27 girls reported cases of sexual abuse confidentially to the counsellors. The number of children examined was 250 boys and 250 girls. The data has been shared with the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian affairs for further action and engagement with the appropriate authorities. The learning hub has been very effective in bringing an affinity for science to the children. We monitor their progress by periodic testing and the results have been encouraging. From our last session in February, before the general lockdown of the country, the counsellor recorded 12% reduction in cases with anxiety, stress and depression from a sample size of 45 children.
Our approach employs an interdisciplinary approach to be able to meet our objective of counseling, healing and inspiring the IDP children beyond their current predicament. The reason for an interdisciplinary approach is to deal with the situation of the IDP children holistically, because their needs go beyond Education alone. As a project team, we envision our roles as science communicators as influential agents in the society we find ourselves in. But not just any science communicator: as astronomy science communicators. Astronomy is indeed a unique science with the advantage of giving us a sense of place, a sense of scale, a sense of wonder. Astronomy helps us rise beyond ourselves and look at our planet for what it truly is: borderless and unique. So, as astronomy communicators, we have the vital role of reaching out to the public to start a movement for tolerance, peace and critical thinking. Also, this project uses indigenous language to teach STEM and also for counseling.
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of great necessity that we provide support for the IDP’s. There is an apparent danger should an index case arise in the IDP camp because of the overcrowded living conditions in the camp. We plan to build hand washing points, distribute face masks, sanitizers, relief materials and posters that highlight the dangers of the COVID-19 virus. We will use this opportunity to install a desktop PC and provide android tablets for the IDP children, which came as extra support from the Office of Astronomy for Development. The Office of Astronomy for Development has supported this initiative with 20000 ZAR and we will be looking to raise funds to cover for all the objectives that we hope to achieve. Please support us with donations to the following account:
BENEFICIARY NAME: Astronomers Without Borders Nigeria Network
BENEFICIARY ACCOUNT NUMBER: 2123870665
SWIFT CODE: UNAFNGLA
BANK: United Bank for Africa Plc, Nigeria
THROUGH: CITIBANK NEW YORK, SWIFT CODE: CITIUS33, ROUTING NO: 021000089, ACCOUNT NUMBER: 36320321
As an organization, our main objective is to spread astronomy and its benefits throughout Nigeria. The vision for this project is to have learning hubs installed in all IDP locations. The predicament of the IDP’s has a potential to affect their all-round development. This project will give the IDP’s the ability to dream and to be able to compete with their mates in other stable regions of the country. Establishing learning hubs in their camps and supporting them with psycho-social therapy will go a long way in helping the IDP’s to move away from seeking aids, rather to be stakeholders in the development of their society. This will also help in alleviating the number of out of school children in Nigeria. That number stands at 13.2 million today. This project also helps to promote a culture of peace, tolerance and critical thinking.