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The future is brighter with a best friend

23 August 2022, Impact of Our Work, Voices from the Field

In a refugee camp, friendship is formed 

On sunny afternoons in Nigeria, two boys can be seen under the shade of a tree taking refuge from the heat. There they banter freely about the future and what they’ll do when they grow up.  

“We think good things that can come and be in future – like a doctor or a footballer. We can be an actor. There's many things,” says 14-year-old Marcel.

When the pair sit under the tree and talk about their dreams, it’s about a future that they will enjoy together.

I hope me and Marcel when we grow up, we'll build a big house together and we stay there with our parents.

God’s Gift, 13

The best friends share a love for football, reading and hanging out while they take a break from their chores.

But just as they share their dreams for the future, they also share a traumatic past. Only four years ago both boys and their families escaped their homeland when conflict escalated in Cameroon. When they fled, they lost their homes, ways of life, even the ball games they used to play in school.

These days, their playing field is in a refugee camp in Nigeria where life is different, but safe. 

Separate journeys to safety

Marcel’s journey to safety with his mother and sister was fraught with images of violence. The memories still haunt him from time to time.

“Sometimes I dream about good things, and sometimes I dream about bad things. Bad, bad things,” Marcel says. “Many people died. They killed many people. We ran away and came to Nigeria. I feel bad.” 

For God’s Gift, the impact of the conflict is deeply personal.“It started when we were sleeping. They killed my father. They started shooting and people were shouting. So we left the house. After my dad was killed I cried, and we had to leave.” 

Together with their families, the boys fled, seeking safety. Marcel journeyed for two days, while God’s Gift recalls an arduous travel.“We trekked. When we left Cameroon, we came to Nigeria, we walked. It was dark. We slept outside,” he says.

They were able to find shelter in a refugee camp. “When I arrived in Nigeria I felt better. But I did not feel comfortable because this is not my home,” Marcel shares.

Back to school at last

Finally, after years out of the classroom, they were enrolled in a local primary school supported by Save the Children. Marcel is now in year six, while God’s Gift is in year five. They’re taught by teachers we’ve helped train, through the support of donors. 

Songo Moses, who taught both Marcel and God’s Gift, shares details about the training he received to be able to provide quality education to children. He says, “Save the Children gave us training. We learn about positive discipline, how to handle the children, how to increase the knowledge of children, how we can protect them from any kind of anxiety that may affect them outside or within the school premises.” 

Teacher Songo teaches 50 pupils in year five. He’s happy they’re now able to write.

It was at the school that the boys met and became best buddies. For Marcel and God’s Gift, it has become the perfect setting for reading, playing football and building a friendship that’s helping to heal some deep scars from their terrible experiences. 

“What makes me feel so happy and safe is when I’m playing with friends,” says Marcel. “I’ll not be thinking about all those bad, bad things that are making me afraid.”

Marcel and God’s Gift walk for 45 minutes to get to school along dirt roads and a view of lush, green mountains.

At school Marcel and God’s Gift are motivated by what they can achieve for the future. 

“I want to be a doctor. Marcel also wants to become a doctor. I think that he should become a doctor,” God’s Gift declares.

It’s a career choice that they’re still deliberating on – often under the shade of their tree. Sometimes Marcel thinks of being an actor. Other times both boys consider becoming a footballer. With both in primary school, there’s heaps of time to decide – and to keep learning together.

As God’s Gift says, “Friendship is when you sit together and talk about what you’ll be in the future.” 

Wise words from a 13-year-old.

Photos: Tom Maguire / Save the Children.

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