Think back to when you were sixteen years old. For many fortunate people, the biggest teenage worries were probably about getting good grades in school, making friends, or getting a job to have more spending money.
In many parts of the world where I have worked with Action Against Hunger in humanitarian emergencies, teenagers often face life and death worries that no human being should have to endure. Young people are denied lots of the ordinary joys of being young. They face violence, extreme hunger, and hardship. They are forced to become far older than their years, fast.
I first met Bulama Ousman Bukar in Yobe State in northeast Nigeria when he was 20 years old in May 2016. Right away, something about him made a mark on me. He stood out as innocent and child-like, but also wise.
In November 2017 I returned to Damaturu, where I had first met him. I was curious to learn more about him. Through Action Against Hunger’s nutrition team in Yobe, all of whom are Nigerian and have strong relationships with the displaced people and local community, I found Bulama again. This is his story.
Bulama is a victim of war. The insurgency group Boko Haram attacked his village in 2013, and he and his family literally had to run for their lives, leaving everything behind. First, they tried to find safety in Borno State, but the conflict soon engulfed communities there as well.
An orphan, Bulama’s mother died while giving birth to him, and his father passed away just three months later. He was raised by his eldest sister, Yajelo Lawan Taibu, along with four other siblings. Yajelo is a mother to eight of her own children, and often refers to Bulama as her oldest son.
In Yobe State, on the outskirts of Damaturu town, Bulama and Yajelo and the rest of their family eventually found refuge. They received an allotment of land, where they live today. Bulama became aware that Action Against Hunger was providing emergency nutrition and health services to other more vulnerable displaced mothers and children at the nearby Kukareta Health Center.
He visited the center, and observed Action Against Hunger’s nutrition team in action. He was curious and compelled to be part of the work, somehow. Although he himself had been displaced and did not have resources, he decided he would give as much of his time and effort as possible to help provide lifesaving treatment to malnourished children.
Action Against Hunger trained Bulama to become a Community Nutrition Volunteer, working to support its nutrition programs for displaced communities in Damaturu. Bulama commits six to eight hours a day volunteering at the health center most days of the week, depending on the needs. His work involves screening children for malnutrition and other illnesses as they arrive at the health center; administering appetite tests; supporting the pharmacist in dispensing medicines; distributing ready-to-use therapeutic food to children who have been diagnosed with acute malnutrition and admitted into Action Against Hunger’s outpatient nutrition program; and managing crowd control.
Ezekiel, Buluma’s supervisor at the health center, echoes the pride that all of the staff at the Health Center share: “I joined the Health Center three years ago and found Bulama. He is very hardworking. His support is pivotal. In fact, the days when he is not here are challenging. I love that he is such a good communicator.”
“Bulama is one of our most active Community Volunteers,” said Fatima, Action Against Hunger’s Nutrition Officer in Damaturu. “In 2017, we invested in increasing his skills. We sent him to another one of our nutrition programs in a different region of Nigeria, Jigawa State, for an intensive training and learning exchange visit.”
The visit allowed Bulama to gain even more skill and experience in a different context. The training has added more fuel to Bulama’s passion for public health. Today, he hopes to go back to school soon. With the support of his sister, he has applied to the Damaturu Federal Polytechnic School, and he will soon begin his studies there. Bulama wants to get his degree in public health because he has been so inspired by his volunteer work assisting extremely vulnerable displaced children with Action Against Hunger at hospitals and health centers.
Throughout his own struggles with conflict, hunger, and being displaced several times, Bulama found a way to attend school. He managed to complete his high school education in 2014. Even as a student, he kept his commitment to being a Community Health Volunteer, working during school holidays and weekends.
Recently, Bulama was diagnosed with a serious health disorder. But he will not let this stop him. He is more committed than ever to pursuing his education and continuing to serve his community through volunteer work.
Bulama is the true spirit of what it means to be a humanitarian, and we are humbled by his example.
Action Against Hunger’s Work in Nigeria
In response to the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria─and the threat of famine in Borno State─Action Against Hunger has scaled up its programs dramatically. In 2017, we reached 2.8 million people across Yobe, Jigawa, and Borno States. We improved the lives of displaced people and host communities with nutrition and health services; clean water and sanitation to reduce malnutrition and diseases; emergency cash transfers to help displaced people purchase food or meet other urgent needs; and longer-term food security initiatives.
Despite an extremely challenging environment, Action Against Hunger continues to expand its operations. We are committed to enabling entire communities in Nigeria to be free from hunger.