September 26, 2017

UN refugee award for Nigerian schools founder who helped to free Chibok girls

Zannah Mustapha with students at one of his schools in northeast Nigeria

Photo credit: UNHCR

Zannah Mustapha's schools give free education, food and healthcare to children whose lives have been disrupted by Boko Haram.

A Nigerian lawyer who helped to secure the release of dozens of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram has been announced as the winner of a UN prize for providing an education to children uprooted by violence in northeast Nigeria.

Zannah Mustapha is the founder of two schools which offer free education, meals and healthcare to its pupils.

They even enrol children born to Boko Haram fighters to learn alongside those orphaned by the Islamist group's eight-year insurgency.

The Nansen Refugee Award is bestowed by the refugee agency UNHCR and the winner receives $150,000 to fund a project complementing their existing work.

Zannah Mustapha's work has won him the UN's Nansen Refugee Award

Photo credit: UNHCR

"I am exceedingly happy and motivated to do more ... I will scale up my efforts," Mustapha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

"Some of the students that started in my school have graduated and they are now going into university - I can use this money to help them complete the cycle."

His first venture, Future Prowess, opened a decade ago and was the only school in Borno state in northeast Nigeria to remain open when Boko Haram in 2009 began their brutal campaign to carve out an Islamic state.

The Islamist militants have killed hundreds of teachers and forced more than 1000 schools to shut, leaving tens of thousands of children without an education, aid agencies say.

This is the place where every child matters, no matter what religion, background or culture. Our aim is make positive changes in their lives.

Zannah Mustapha

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi hailed Mustapha for helping to foster peace and rebuild communities devastated by violence.

"Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement," Grandi said in a statement.

“We simply cannot keep up with demand,” says Suleiman Aliyu, who has been at the school since its creation.

“This place is protected because all sides of the conflict are represented here and we teach Islamic and so-called Western education. 

Mustapha's schools teach several languages to its students

Photo credit: UNHCR

Mustapha's schools

Future Prowess One school has 540 students - 282 of them girls - and a waiting list of 2000.

Future Prowess Two school has 88 students but will be expanded.

"We teach Arabic, French, English, Maths – this is all Mustapha’s achievement. A child is a child to him whatever its background.”

Mustapha's work also includes helping to negotiate the release of more than 100 of the 220-odd girls snatched from their school in Chibok in April 2014.

The return of 82 of the girls in May marked the second group release of the Chibok girls by the militants - with both deals brokered by Switzerland and the Red Cross and mediated by Mustapha - after a group of 21 were freed in October last year.

A few others have escaped or been rescued but about 113 of the girls are believed to be still held captive by Boko Haram.

The Islamist group has killed at least 20,000 people, uprooted more than 2.7 million and sparked one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, according to aid agencies.

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