The Wake Up Call: One Nigerian Youth's Unexpected Call to Greatness
Uneasiness churned in Abdulrahaman’s stomach as he sat in the back of the room, watching the other teens interact. On the surface, the 15-year-old appeared calm, but he was a Nigerian Muslim boy attending an overnight camp—with Christians. He knew better than to let his guard down.
He hated Christians. He had good reason.
Christians murdered two of his aunts and his uncle. Because of Christians, Abdul and his family fled their home three times in the last decade. Because of Christians, they lived off scraps, and he was behind in school. Because of Christians, he couldn’t get his mom to a hospital, and she almost died.
In Abdul’s mind, Christians were evil. They caused all kinds of destruction, and yet it was the Muslim Hausa boys who always carried the blame. And now, he would have to live with them for the next week.
“I thought they were going to do something bad to me or even try to turn me into a Christian.”
As Abdul was silently sitting in his corner, a boy with black-rimmed glasses made his way toward him. The boy flashed a big grin. “I’m Zima. What’s your name?” he asked. Zima was Christian. In spite of Abdul’s wariness, Zima continued to make conversation throughout the rest of the day. Later, he asked Abdul if he would be his friend.
Perhaps out of politeness, Abdul reluctantly agreed. Unbeknownst to him, he had taken the first step on a journey that would change his life—and the lives of many others.
Abdul and Zima were selected by their respective teachers to attend the Naija Youth Unite camps, our project in partnership with Students Rebuild. The camps brought together Christian and Muslim teens in the Plateau State, Nigeria. Over the past decade, the area has suffered from deadly interreligious violence, resulting in thousands of deaths, mass displacement, and millions of dollars in damages. The camp used fun team building activities, like obstacle courses and rafting, to help the youth get to know and respect each other.
“The next morning in camp, Zima did something that made me totally change my perception of the Christians.”
It was 4:00 am. Abdul opened sleep-crusted eyes to discover Zima leaning over him, gently shaking him awake. Zima asked if there were other Muslims that needed to pray. Abdul was confused. Wasn’t Zima a Christian? Then it hit him: Zima was concerned about him missing his morning prayers. He went out of his way to be helpful.
“I told myself, not all Christians are bad.”
Over the course of the next week, Abdul and Zima cemented their friendship and learned skills that would not only transform them but also empower them to transform Nigeria’s Middle Belt. They learned about leadership, trauma awareness, resilience, and dignity. They picked up new skills as dialogue facilitators and advocates for the rights of youth in their state. They practiced public speaking, journaling to document change in their communities, and project management to implement local peacebuilding initiatives.
“The first thing that changed me was the lesson on “Honoring Dignity,” when we were taught to see humanity in others.”
Abdul participated in every group task after each session. With every new discovery, he felt anger and hurt loosen their tight grip on his heart, until he replaced them with compassion, becoming one of the most outspoken boys at camp. But he didn’t stop there.
When he returned home, Abdul started a peace club for Christians and Muslims in his community, called Ma Sun Zaman Lafiya (meaning “Peacemakers” in Hausa). They meet every Saturday to discuss how to respond to violent conflict in their neighborhoods and live together in peace.
He’s also started peacebuilding at his school. “Before the camp, Abdulrahaman used to be a very stubborn student. But amazingly, since he came back from the camps, he has become a changed person,” said one of Abdul’s teachers. “He now has formed another peace club in his school and his community. He has been able to call for peace meetings and talked about religious tolerance with the Muslim Student Society and the Fellowship of Christian Students in his school. I was really impressed by his transformation.”
Abdul has forgiven those who accuse his religion wrongly. He reflects back on the time he was troubled and uses what he learned to help those around him.
“Before, when I saw people fighting, I cheered them on so they would continue fighting. Now, if I see people fighting, I immediately intervene. In school, I talk to people who are bullied or traumatized. In the camp, I was taught to be able to identify trauma signs, so I know when people are feeling down. I try to help calm them down and make sure they feel better.”
Zima also changed how he treats his peers at school and found his calling through the camp. Zima’s own peace project launches in April. And yes, Zima and Abdul are still good friends to this day.
“I didn’t have Christians friends because I hated them, but now I have so many. I usually caution my Muslims friends whenever I hear them talking bad about Christians and encouraging to see the humanity in them. I have since been advocating against hate towards the Christians.”
“Now in my community, even the elders respect me because of the peace work I am doing. My teachers asked me what they needed to do to be a peace ambassador like me. It felt so good!”
“I will continue to be a peace builder anywhere I find myself.”
Emmanuella Atsen is a Project Coordinator at Search for Common Ground – Nigeria.
You can find more information on the Facing Difference Challenge here.