For the women who escape the clutches of Boko Haram, stigma and heartache awaits them back home

Charity stands with a self-portrait she made at a trauma healing workshop run by Open Doors UK(Photo: Open Doors UK)

Militant group Boko Haram is responsible for thousands of deaths in Nigeria.  But there is a different kind of suffering that has been inflicted upon countless women and their families. 

When the gunmen attack towns and villages that do not conform to their radical views, they leave a trail of bloodshed in their wake - at least 20,000 people are believed to have died at their hands. 

But for the women they abduct and force into marriage, it is the beginning of a nightmare that doesn't end even if they have been lucky enough to escape the terrorist group's clutches. 

Open Doors UK is working with women who were abducted or widowed by Boko Haram, many of whom have been left with no income or home after managing to escape. 

Financial help is just one of their needs.  To help them recover from the trauma, Open Doors is providing  counselling to help the women know that God loves them no matter what they have been through. 

The message is an important one because it's not always one that they hear from the people around them. 

Charity is one of the women being helped by Open Doors.  When Boko Haram attacked her village, her husband managed to flee but she was taken captive and held for three years. 

Deemed an "infidel", she was forced to marry one of the militants and after some time became pregnant with a baby girl called Rahila. 

When the military freed her, she was able to return home, but tragically, she was beaten by her husband who also could not accept baby Rahila. 

As a result of this rejection, Charity had no choice but to seek shelter in a camp for internally displaced people. 

But there too, there was little sympathy for what she had been through.  Instead of offering a shoulder to lean on, Charity says the people in the camp "despise" her because she lost her husband and now has a child to a different man.

"They keep mocking me saying, why didn't I run together with my husband, why did I allow my husband to run away? And now, see, I have come back with a child that is not of my husband, and they keep making fun of me," she shares. 

As a displaced person, Charity is dependent on aid but even in the camp, it is a constant struggle to find food, clean drinking water and clothes. 

According to Open Doors, the camps are incredibly overcrowded with up to 10 people sharing one room.  With things being so desperate and many people dealing with pain of their own, there is little strength or ability to help others, explains Rebecca, an Open Doors worker in the camp. 

"In times of crisis, people take care of themselves first. Life becomes so difficult that it's very hard to help others. It is almost impossible for widows to feed themselves and their children," she says.

Many of the women being helped by Open Doors do not have husbands and have never been to school, so they cannot read or write.  They cannot help themselves and there is no one to assist them either, says Rebecca. 

"When they came out with their babies it is not an easy thing. Even for me to help them. They came out with dirty clothes, no food, no anything, no assistance," she said. 

"We invited them to where I work in the church. First of all we pray with them. We show them love and that we are not going to hurt them. We become close with them."

A trauma healing workshop run by Open Doors has offered a glimmer of hope to Charity's situation.  There, she has learned the techniques she needs to live with what she has experienced as the forced bride of a Boko Haram terrorist. 

She has been able to study the Bible alongside other women in the camp who have suffered similar ordeals, and in addition to praying for them and providing counselling, Open Doors is distributing food, clothes and detergent. 

"I want to say thank you for everybody who has been praying for me and for those who have sent support to help us. Thank you," says Charity. 

There has even been a small change in her relationship with her husband, who has visited her in the camp. 

"There's a change in my husband. He has started liking my daughter and has even carried her," she said. 

With many of the women abducted by Boko Haram experiencing stigma when they return home, working with the wider community is an important part of Open Doors' ongoing work in Nigeria. 

"We are also teaching people how to love them. A person should not hate them," says Rebecca. 

This Mother's Day, Open Doors UK is asking people to donate donate £42, which is enough to feed and house a woman and her child for two months, as well as provide education for the child. 

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland said: "This Mother's Day we are asking everyone to pray for and support persecuted women who are doubly vulnerable to help restore their hope, dignity and identity."