A Follow-up to Dr. Rebecca Dali’s ‘Women in the Crossfire’: The Girls of Chibok and the Long Road to Healing
CCEPI – the Hands, Heart & Feet on the Ground
A little over one month ago, Global Scholars Canada had the distinct pleasure and humbling opportunity to host a globally-attended, scholarly Zoom talk with Dr. Rebecca Dali, Founder of CCEPI (Centre for Compassion, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives) in Northeastern Nigeria. CCEPI is an on-the-ground, non-profit organization that works tirelessly to meet the needs – both physical and spiritual -of widows, orphans and others displaced, disrupted and demoralized as a result of the gender-based violence and terror visited upon local communities by the Boko Haram insurgency – the most well-known of which, involved the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April of 2014. The story made headlines all around the world and initiated the #BringOurGirlsHome. To this day, 100 girls remain missing and are presumed to be still held captive, if still alive.
For Dali however, more than just the missing stand ‘in the crossfire’ – abducted or not – as “discrimination against women has… [deep] root in our society and causes violence against women.” Women and children in Nigeria “are often seen as [inheritable] property,… as sources of labour denied the fruit and of income – bought and sold – without consent. They form the strained backbone of the Nigerian socio-economic structure and are often stand-ins for Biblical mother Eve, under a religious one, that has historically viewed women as untrustworthy, morally inferior and wicked.” In both areas of her research, Dali says: “I discovered that women and children suffer and are at the crossfire, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.” The problem is systemic. Women are expected to be ‘good all the time’, to ‘satisfy men’ (whether that be father, brother or husband) and treated as less than full human beings in their own right.
The Chibok girls’ story speaks of injustice on a global scale, as so many daughters snatched so violently from both their school and their right to an education, made the world sit up (if briefly) in recognition that this ‘every parent’s nightmare’, has precedent in other places. As Dr. Dali related, Chibok girls jumping from trucks in the middle of the night at gunpoint in their pajamas and running into the wilderness, is a picture of the fight for girls’ education in many places around the world.
Unfortunately, the return home for some of the fortunate few, has also been fraught with difficult transitions that highlight social injustices that would more immediately reject rather than welcome, raped children and the children of rape. As terrifying as the telling of the Chibok abduction is, and as heartbreaking as the stigma of ‘purity culture’ on women may be, CCEPI’s story, in contrast, is one of light, hope, healing, justice, neighbour-help, ‘every second’ faith and the return of human dignity to torn apart places.
According to its website, CCEPI is a non-political, strictly humanitarian, tax-exempt, non-profit organisation, registered in Nigeria in 2011. Born out of Dali’s ideation for better community in the late 1980’s, CCEPI is dedicated to providing aid to the “sick, hungry, homeless, refugees, displaced, poor, physically challenged, traumatised, widows, orphans, depressed; or victims of disasters, human rights abuses or civil rights abuses; to profile the most vulnerable for purposes of efficient delivery of aid to them; and to provide direct aid or refer aid by other organisations and professionals for those persons.” From sewing machines, to bags of rice, medicine, skill-sharing and even inter-faith talks where Christian and Muslim women might come to see one another as equal in their suffering and be empowered in the fight for peace instead, CCEPI envisions and aids an alternative way of life for communities in crisis that are both battle-hardened and yet still vulnerable. The aptly named ‘Persons of Concern’, the targets of CCEPI’s work, are as broad ranging in their definition as their programs are in their ability to assist: agricultural initiatives, trauma healing, hygiene and sanitation instruction, shelter, skills education, health services and cash-based initiatives designed to get to the very heart of the matter for women and children by providing ready alternatives to such harmful coping strategies as child labour, sexual survival, begging, family separation and bride-price/forced/early marriage. Respondent to Dr. Dali’s talk, Dr. Elaine Storkey highlighted that it can be throughout the cycle of life for women and girls that they be subject to violence and discrimination. From social cultural norms that reject female babies in the womb, to the practices of female genital mutilation, child bride price, denied education, kidnapping, domestic violence, rape and slavery, right to the end of the life span where widows of murdered husbands are abandoned; there is an overall poverty of spirit and station that is brought about by the degradation that such discriminatory practices feed. CCEPI seeks to break that life cycle.
Dr. Dali’s labours are great and the impact of her work, greater still. This was probably made most obvious when she herself was kidnapped by Boko Haram, yet allowed to go free. They knew of her, and more importantly, they knew her work that singularly, ‘doesn’t discriminate’ between Muslim and Christian in the midst of deep community polarization. Dali is the former student of GSC’s Scholar, Dr. Wendy Hellemen and it is in the relationship between these two– female scholars of the highest achievement, the latter now platforming the teaching of the former — that the purpose of missional imagination for academic vocation is perhaps made most obvious and gratifying.
Dr. Dali’s multiple degrees have heightened her visibility and that of her organization to the point that she was the recipient of the 2017 Humanitarian Award from the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation at a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. This in turn, brought greater threats upon her own life, but it has also brought greater determination and connection: opportunities to speak, to partner with other world organizations, for donations, and to spread the word and work of CCEPI – now with plans to build that physical and peaceful, alternative to violence and brutality; a trauma healing centre and most notably, a school – that so many lost schoolgirls someday, might return to. Though it has faded from top billing on our newsreel, the story of the Chibok girls continues. It will not be over until all are returned home and offered new choices toward directing their own lives. In the meantime, the hard work continues, patching people and community by first offering a place of peace, then meeting needs, and offering hope through an indefatigable faith that ‘every second’ (Dali has been quoted as seeing the secret to progress on a minute scale) sees a better way to neighbour and come together as all children of God, made in His image.
To learn more about CCEPI (the Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives), or to donate, go to https://www.ccepiusa.org/ Pray for those who still walk in each other’s shoes, and for those who seek ways to carry them, down the long road.