Female photographer gives voice to Nigeria's Boko Haram victims - with Instagram

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 July 2016 10:08 GMT

People gather at the cattle market in Maiduguri, Nigeria March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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The aid worker and photographer felt compelled to document the resilience and optimism of conflict-hit communities

By Kieran Guilbert

DAKAR, July 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Armed with nothing more than a camera and a notepad, 30-year-old Fati Abubakar wanders around Nigeria's northeastern city of Maiduguri, Boko Haram's former stronghold, snapping portraits of people whose lives have been affected by the Islamist militants.

Frustrated by a global media narrative of death and trauma, the aid worker and photographer felt compelled to document the resilience and optimism of conflict-hit communities - using the photo-sharing app Instagram to share their stories worldwide.

"I was unhappy that no one was documenting the everyday life of Nigerians - I wanted to show that people were still thriving despite the Boko Haram insurgency," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

"Women rush to a food distribution point." (Instagram/bitsofborno)

A regional offensive last year drove Boko Haram from much of the territory it held in northern Nigeria, undermining its seven-year campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate. But the militants have since hit back with raids and suicide bombings..

"I decided to give people the chance to tell their stories, as opposed to the media just talking about the number of deaths in the latest attacks," added Abubakar, who said she had been inspired by the popular photo blog "Humans of New York".

Her Instagram page @bitsofborno boasts 4,500 followers and features more than 300 photos, ranging from young men tending to their cattle and women collecting water to young girls playing and cradling their teddy bears while grinning into the camera.

"Clinging... A girl at a clothes and toys distribution in Galtimari, #Maiduguri" (Instagram/bitsofborno)

Abubakar, who was born in Maiduguri and has degrees in nursing and public health, combines her passion for photography with a job working on a malnutrition project with an aid group.

"When we visit communities, my colleagues allow me freedom - they even wait for me to interview people before we leave."

While Abubakar describes school children as her favourite subjects, because they "look clean, healthy and happy", she said she feels traumatised when she sees those living on the streets.

The Instagram enthusiast also has to deal with disapproving looks and remarks in a region with few female photographers.

'I was a master baker. I usually make deliveries to villages. Then Boko haram crisis came, the delivery van was burnt and I narrowly escaped the terrorists. My business run down... Now I've nothing. And I'm doing nothing. To feed sometimes is a problem for me. I've two children... " Prince (Instagram/bitsofborno)

But most people support her project and tell her to keep going, while others have offered clothes, food and money for the subjects of her photos who are in need of aid, Abubakar said.

"The vibe has changed since I started my account last September ... there is more optimism and hope for the future."

"People are happy about simple things like staying out late and having electricity - they are living their lives again."

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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