The Neem Foundation program focuses on helping the former captives of Boko Haram. This terrorist group, widely known for its mass kidnappings—most sensationally the 2014 kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls—uses various violent means to fuel its terrorist organizations, as well as spread its zealous ideology. Some kidnapped girls have even been forced into committing suicide bombings for the terrorist group. While these girls and women were taken against their will and many were used as slaves, this does not make their psychological conditioning by Boko Haram any less effective. These girls were sometimes subjected to up to nine hours a day of lectures and indoctrination on radical Islam. This is the main issue that the Neem Foundation tries to combat. By using trained psychologists to treat the trauma as well as de-radicalize the women, the staff hopes to lessen the hold of Boko Haram over the region, as well as their hold on these women.
The trained counselors combat the teachings of Boko Haram with teachings of their own. Islamic teachers challenge the radical views of Islam that the girls have been exposed to while their emotional wounds are also tended to. Fatima Akilu, the executive director of the Neem Foundation, described their work, saying, “You can treat a person’s emotional state … but if you don’t change the way they think and just release them into society, you perpetrate a vicious cycle.” The sad reality is that, even though many of these women are captives taken against their will, the life of a loyal Boko Harem woman affords them much more power and opportunity to enact personal agency than they would otherwise have in their regular lives. This is part of what makes it so difficult to disentangle these women from the crimes done to them.
These women and girls often return home pregnant with a terrorist’s child. This can lead to the shunning of both the woman and the child by the traditional community. Many believe that the child is destined to become a terrorist, like the father. This type of prejudice means two lives are at stake, making the work of the Foundation even more critical for the community as a whole.