“I thought I’d never make ends meet again” says 23-year-old Mohammed Mustapha.
Mohammed used to be a motorcycle repairer in Banki town in Borno State, Nigeria. When the insurgency began in 2009, Mohammed’s shop was one of the properties that was destroyed. He had to flee the town without warning for his safety.
The crisis in north-east Nigeria has adversely affected many: lives have been lost, jobs and means of livelihoods erased, schools and health centres and markets destroyed, limited access to education and healthcare, leaving millions of people displaced.
“I was doing well as a motorcycle repairer. Even when I was young, I had people working under me; I ran the business and paid salaries. Then the crisis hit. I lost everything: my shop and my equipment. When they attacked, I was in my shop, working on a motorcycle and we had to drop everything and run for safety”
A number of locations that were once hit hard by the conflict in the north-east are now seeing the gradual return of peace, including Banki. Mohammed and other community members are coming back home and opportunities for running successful businesses have significantly improved.
When Mohammed arrived back in Banki, he found the whole town had been destroyed. People were relying on humanitarian aid to survive - there were no other options.
Despite these challenges, Mohammed wanted to start again. He was able to find that new start in the Support to Reconciliation and Reintegration Project, which is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the European Union. It helps to build preparedness of the local population to effectively engage in community-based healing and reconciliation, recognizing the link between sustainable livelihoods and transformation from conflict. It focuses on the most vulnerable members of the community, both women and men, and supports skill building while strengthening dialogue between community members and those that are reintegrating.
The initiative builds on the new realities in the communities. Mohammed is no longer able to work on motorcycles as this means of transportation is not allowed in these locations, but many people in the community are learning new skills and applying them offers renewed opportunities. The initiative has used this process of dialogue and healing to engage 60 women and 39 men in Banki. They each have been supported to identify means of livelihood, aligned with the most viable options in these locations, like receiving basic skills, basic equipment, and support to organize into community cooperatives which now enables them to run their own businesses. Mohammed is one of them, and he has been able to switch from repairing motorcycles to making shoes:
“I chose to learn shoe-making as a new way to support myself. I was trained for 4 weeks, then I could make shoes of any kind!”
Mohammed now wants to give back, by teaching other community members interested in learning from him. He has big plans for opening a shoe factory in Banki, giving jobs to young people thereby helping his community to build back better.