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The impact of the crisis left me frustrated and traumatised for many years. We lost almost everything - livestock, farm produce, and much more.

Hassana, Programme Participant, Women for Women International - Nigeria

Escaping Boko Haram

My name is Hassana, I am a 38-year-old woman from Borno State, Nigeria. I am the last child of the family of eight children. My mum had seven children while my father’s second wife had one. I only had Islamic education, and my parents married me off when I was 15 years old to a man, on whom I was totally dependent on to provide all my needs. 

I am the first wife of my husband and a mother of eight children. We all live with my husband and his second wife in the same house. 

I lived with my husband and children in in Borno State for many years until seven years ago when we returned to my husband’s village in Bauchi State, due to the Boko Haram insurgency. 

During the crisis in Borno State, I lost my elder sister. She was married to a Boko Haram fighter. One day, aggrieved villagers dragged her out from her home to an unknown destination, and I never heard from her again.

Hassana before she enrolled in the Women for Women International programme. Photo: Women for Women International.
Hassana before she enrolled in the Women for Women International programme. Photo: Women for Women International.

The impact of the crisis left me frustrated and traumatised for many years. We lost almost everything - livestock, farm produce, and much more. 

We moved to Bauchi State with the help of the state government but life became unbearable with nowhere to start from. During the time of severe hardship, I sometimes had to beg from neighbours and work in farms to be able to feed my family.

Later, my husband’s family gave him plots of land, which he started farming for rice and corn for family consumption. It took my husband almost two years before he could get back on his feet.

Living under the same roof with my husband’s second wife has been a difficult life. She always complains about my children to get at me, and our husband always advises that I remain patient.

I had been struggling to keep up with life financially. I would fry peanuts and give them to my children to sell since my husband did not allow me to go out.

On days when they need to help us sell and earn money for the family, my children can’t attend school. Though my husband usually brings food home, there are usually little or no ingredients at all to add to the food, so the little money I earn from my business goes into buying household cleaning agents and seasoning/ingredients for the food. Aside from helping sell peanuts, my children still didn’t have the necessary books and other required tools to help them learn better in school and this has slowed down their learning process.

Knowing our financial struggles and with husband’s approval, I learned how to make bags and bedsheets so that I could contribute towards my children's education.

But unfortunately, I had no start-up capital for my intended business. My brother, who understood my financial situation, gave me money that I used to buy a sewing machine. I used the sewing machine to patch old clothes for a fee and had been earning between N500-N600 a month, which had been of immense benefit to me and my family.

Using the skills she learned during the programme, Hassana set up a profitable business sewing bags, purses and bedsheets. Photo: Women for Women International.
Using the skills she learned during the programme, Hassana set up a profitable business sewing bags, purses and bedsheets. Photo: Women for Women International.

Joining the Women for Women International programme has been such an immense blessing as I have been transformed totally.

Joining Women for Women International's year-long programme

I heard about Women for Women International from my community head, who told women to assemble on a given day. My husband gave me and his second wife permission to go to Women for Women International to learn about the programme. I showed interest in the programme and fortunately, I was enrolled. 

Joining the Women for Women International programme has been such an immense blessing as I have been transformed totally.  

Power of Sisterhood

Before, I did not spend time with other women besides my co-wife but since joining the programme I now totally understand the power of women working together. The topic on women’s solidarity totally changed my perspective: alone, I cannot achieve much but together, we can achieve more with ease.  

Economic empowerment

Knowing this, I decided to join a savings group where each woman contributes monthly and the bulk sum is shared among those who want to invest it in their business, with a 5% interest monthly rate. This has helped many of us in the group to raise business start-up capital and for others, helped them expand their business. 

Growing up, I never had the opportunity to attend school and I knew that to be successful in business, I had to know basic maths. So, I joined the numeracy skill training class to learn how to write, add, multiply and subtract. I can now write from 1 to 100!

This means a lot to me because I am gradually becoming more literate. In addition, my business skills have greatly improved with the training I received. I can now confidently calculate every expense I incur before deciding prices to easily determine my profit in tune with the current market price of the materials used. This was another hurdle I successfully crossed in making my dream come true. 

With the permission of my husband, I saved my three months stipends from the programme and collected a loan from my savings group to start the business of sewing bedsheets, bags and purses. Within two months, I made and sold eight bedsheets and over 10 bags and purses.

My business is growing rapidly with good record keeping of all my sales. My daughter usually helps me write the names of customers who buy goods on credit and ticks off the names of those who pay. Experience has taught me not to give out goods on credit to everyone who asks but only to trusted customers who will not default on payment.  

It has been a worthwhile experience learning how to win customers over and surviving challenges from my competitors through good customer service, fair prices and adding value to my product to attract buyers. When I decide to expand my business in the future, I now have adequate knowledge of where to access loans – banks, savings groups, friends or relatives. I also know I must ensure that I know the conditions attached to any loan to determine if it will help my business expansion before taking a loan. 

Healthy family

My family has also greatly benefited from my learnings and they have been witnesses to my daily progression. I practice good sanitation by cleaning the drainages and clearing the grass around my house, which has drastically reduced mosquitoes and flies in the house. I have adopted the habit of making sure my family consumes more vegetables, fruits and water in addition to the balanced diet I prepare. For example, I add soya beans and peanut to the akamu (fermented cereal pudding) we eat so we aren’t only eating carbohydrates. My children are healthier and happier than they used to be. 

Impact of COVID-19

Since Hassana shared her story our in-person training is gradually restarting in Nigeria following social distancing rules and other safety precautions. Learn more about our COVID-19 response

With trainings now on hold because of the outbreak of coronavirus in Nigeria, I sincerely miss going to classes as the programme is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It felt like I was going to university, but I also understand that putting the programme on hold is for our own safety and to curtail the spread of the virus.

I really appreciate the awareness trainings we had from our trainer on preventive measures and handwashing techniques.


Hassana is one of 3,600 women from conflict-affected communities in Bauchi state, who enrolled in our year-long training programme as part of a transformative project funded by UK aid from the UK government.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the globe affected me negatively and put untold fear in me. My fear magnified when I heard about cases of coronavirus in my state. Suddenly, I started coughing and having headaches, and I was inundated with frequent thoughts that I had been infected whenever I remembered that the virus can easily spread from one person to the other. I had many sleepless nights crying and worrying that I had infected my family members. But thankfully, I became better and later, totally healed of the feverish symptoms. 

The current situation has also affected my cash inflow. My fried peanut business has been put on hold for lack of patronage, especially because schools have closed. People no longer come to patch their torn clothes as everything right now is at a standstill. I have not sewn new bedsheets, handbags and purses because I have not gone to the market to buy the materials.  

I haven’t been able to sell the goods I make at home because I am practicing social distancing and would not endanger my family or myself.

I have been adhering to the teachings of my trainer by regularly handwashing with soap and clean water. I also try as much as possible to avoid touching my eyes, nose and mouth, though sometimes I forget.  

My children and I have avoided going to crowded places such as markets, hospital visits, weddings and naming ceremonies. However, my biggest challenge is that my husband does not adhere to the simple rules of keeping safe. He argues with me whenever I remind him of the importance of practicing these rules as he will always interrupt and say that I do not trust God to protect me or that I have taken upon myself His responsibility.  

I am also having trouble managing my friends. One of them called me on the phone recently to express her displeasure with me for not attending the naming ceremony of her newborn child. I tried explaining to her the dangers of hosting people in her house at this time, but she would not listen and has stopped answering my calls since then. I hope she will someday understand my intentions for her safety and mine were genuine. 

My prayer is that God should keep us safe from every disaster and heal our country of the virus so that we can resume our classes. I also pray that someday other women in my community can enrol into the Women for Women International programme so they can experience this transformation. 


Support a woman survivor of war through our year-long Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme. Your solidarity will help her use her voice, realise her power and rebuild her life.  

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