– By Dave Klassen as relayed by Margaret Ahmed (June 2014)
Margaret had opportunity to attend WAPI (West Africa Peacebuidling Institute) in 2011. MCC Representatives asked her if she was interested to go for further training in peacebuilding capacity. She had already started working with groups of women from both faiths because of the Jos crises of 2010. It made sense to her that she should go and learn more of what it would take to encourage people to live together without violence.
While at WAPI, the students were shown a film, “The Worst Slum in the World”, talking about the Kibera slum in Nairobi. In the film, a woman engaged with youth that were on drugs and was able to impact their lives giving them hope for their futures. Margaret was inspired and was able to apply this story to her own context in Nigeria.
The area of Jos where Margaret lives is located very close to where a group of 35 Christian and Moslem youth engage with each other and with drugs. They would regularly pass by Margaret’s house on their way to the container where they hung out smoking drugs, smoking feces and living in pathetic squalor.
Margaret has two teen-aged daughters and she feared for their safety as they walked to and from school so she would regularly stand outside the gate when they left home or when they were expected back. For her these drug addicted youth posed a real problem.
When Margaret returned from WAPI in September, she kept thinking about the film and the ever present challenge she faced with these “drugging youth”. She finally resolved to engage the youth herself. On 22 December 2011 for the first time in her life she walked over to the container and met the youth, some of whom were high on drugs and found it difficult even to focus. In this totally strange and unfamiliar environment, Margaret, who is rarely at a loss for words, did not know what to say, so she told them, “I want to be a Mommy to you”. They kept quiet and just stared. Margaret talked to them about the strikes that were taking place in the school systems and other struggles that were happening in the area. She suggested why they were on drugs and living in a container in the midst of human excrement, and they accepted that their lives were hopeless…that they had no school fees; that school strikes played havoc with aspirations of education and that many of them came from hopeless family situations. As she talked more and more youth joined them out of curiosity. They were intrigued with the energy and animations of this energetic and passionate woman who had ventured into their private no-man’s-land.
Margaret asked them if they wanted to learn some skills that could give them something useful to do with their lives. They responded positively. She asked them when they could start and they agreed that it would be on Sunday. “But not in the morning”, Margaret said, “because of church.” So they agreed to meet in the afternoon. After 15 minutes of engagement, she said goodbye and returned to the security of her home a few yards away.
Margaret felt very “sweet” after this encounter – a conviction and desire she had been thinking about for more than a year was finally coming to pass. She was excited but uncertain about what the future might bring.
The youth talked among themselves about what had just happened and determined to find out what was really behind the visit of this engaging “Mommy” – something that had never happened before. They were suspicious and guessed that she was a front to a security clearance operation. They checked with the Ward Head of the community and he assured them that Margaret was genuine and had no devious intentions.
On Sunday Margaret did not go to church. She worked all morning preparing food for 50 people – rice, chicken, cake, sodas, water and trimmings. By 1:30 Margaret returned to the container at the time they had agreed. The youth had “cleaned” the container by brushing the feces to one corner. The smell was worse than a latrine because the container was closed, and heated by the sun. Margaret carried the food into the container and prayed for God’s grace to manage the smell.
The youth were all there waiting expectantly. There were no late comers as is often the case at church events. They were shocked to see Margaret and the food she was carrying. Some of them wept as they tasted the delicious food that was prepared for them with apparently no hidden agenda. Some had already spent 10 years of their lives visiting this hell hole of a container and commented that they had never experienced anything like this before.
They shared with Margaret that there were politicians and religious leaders who would call them to come out and meet with them somewhere else. These politicians would give them small money to “take care of themselves”, which they would promptly turn into more drugs.
They told Margaret that the politicians would invite them to “fight for their land” and pay them to cause trouble. They were made to understand that they needed to fight in order to not allow the land to be taken over by others. Margaret asked the youth if the children of the politicians joined them in “fighting for their land”, and the youth responded with surprise and said “no”. She then challenged them to consider that fact; the next time they are invited to fight (and die) “…for their land”, that they should agree to go with the children of the politicians. The youth slowly started to understand that Margaret was on their side and was making sense.
Margaret has now met with these youth more than 120 times in the last 2 ½ years. She determined that if she was going to make a difference in the lives of these children of God, that it would demand a heavy commitment on her part. They told her that when she is with them, that their desire to do drugs is reduced. Many have now learned skills that they are using to make some small income. When Margaret caters commercially (as part of her own income generation for herself), she will hire these youth to serve. People have been amazed that these young people have cleaned themselves up and that Margaret actually trusts them to serve food to others. Five youth have returned to school. One has returned to the University of Bauchi and is studying Industrial Chemistry. Another is renting a farm from a community and is farming for his living. Two have joined the School of Nursing and are hoping to become nurses.
Recently Margaret learned that these former drug addicts have started a musical group, “Home Makers Youth Evangelistic Band”. They wanted to surprise her when they told her that they meet regularly in the homes of each of them to study the Bible (which Margaret introduced them to) and to practice their music.
And the container has been closed and locked.