Nfld. & Labrador

From Newfoundland to Nigeria: Helping girls threatened by Boko Haram

A woman from northeastern Nigeria is doing all she can to help out girls facing the threat of Boko Haram.
Zainab Jerrett was born and raised in northeastern Nigeria, but has called St. John's her home since 1991. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Zainab Jerrett has been calling St. John's her home since 1991. Born and raised in northeastern Nigeria, her home in St. John's is filled with reminders of her home country.

Jerrett tries to make a trip to Nigeria to see her family once every two years, but it's been eight years since she's been able to make journey.

"I used to go home every two years but 2009, which was the year I was supposed to go and visit, Boko Haram started," she said.

When they are kidnapped they are used as suicide bombers, that's why we are focusing on girls.- Zainab Jerrett

"It was extremely dangerous because my area was pretty much the heart of the place. Those of us who were Christians, we were their first target."

Jerrett's mother sill lives in Nigeria, along with multiple brothers and sisters — one of whom had a scary encounter with Boko Haram.

"I have a sister who is a high court judge. She survived Boko Haram, actually her house was surrounded by Boko Haram," said Jerrett.

"They had already targeted her. Luckily the military came and helped save them."

Thanks to phone calls, emails and text messages Jerrett is able to stay in touch with her family, but it's hard for her to watch Boko Haram's reign of terror on the news.

"Always nervous. Sometimes I will cry," she said. "Last year was pretty much the peak and I was always afraid, always nervous."

Boko Haram reportedly uses young girls in suicide bomb attacks in Nigeria. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

The nerves have turned into guilt. Sitting safely in her St. John's home, Jerrett and her husband have little to worry about.

But back home in Nigeria, the government closed public schools in three states in the northeastern region three years ago.

Last year, Jerrett decided she wanted to do something to help.

Jerrett started a non-profit called We Care Foundation. It's aim is to raise funds to get girls out of Boko Haram territory and back into the classroom.

"The girls can't go anywhere because they are targets. They are kidnapped, they are raped," she said.

"What we are trying to do now is, even though they have been out of school, we are trying to see how we can get them back to school."

'Crying with tears of joy'

Seven of the students Zainab Jerrett has helped back in northeastern Nigeria. (Submitted photo)

With the help of her foundation, St. Augustine's Anglican Church and multiple fundraising events, Jerrett got enough cash together to help a small number of girls get out of refugee camps and back to school.

"Now we have supported 13 girls, who've gone back to school," said Jerrett, who was tearful when talking about the girls.

"I am really emotional when I am talking about it, because when I call to talk to them to their moms, they are just crying with tears of joy."

However, Jerrett knows there are more who need help in Nigeria

"We know that there are boys, it's not that we are sexist but the girls, their situation is a little more dire because they are ones who are being used mostly as suicide bombers," said Jerrett.

When I call to talk to them to their moms, they are just crying with tears of joy.- Zainab Jerrett

"When they are kidnapped they are used as suicide bombers, that's why we are focusing on girls."

Jerrett's group hopes to raise more money to try and help more Nigerians whose lives have been torn apart by Boko Haram.

The We Care Foundation is hosting a multicultural night and concert April 9 to generate more funds — and attention — for the displaced girls of northeastern Nigeria.

"Having secondary school is important for the girls, now they don't have to get married, or married away, so the fundraising will continue," said Jerrett.

"And we hope if we can do more, we would like to sponsor more."


Jeremy Eaton is a reporter and videojournalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.