JOS, Nigeria — Margaret Ahmed’s house in Jos was a few hundred yards from a former cotton-ginning warehouse where as many as 100 Christian and Muslim young men went to hang out and use drugs. She feared for the safety of her two teenage daughters.
Three days before Christmas 2011, she decided to intervene. She went to the warehouse to meet the youth, some of whom were high. Flies buzzed around excrement in the building. In this strange environment, Ahmed, who is rarely at a loss for words, did not know what to say.
Eventually, the words came: “I want to be a mommy to you.”
The young men stared.
Ahmed kept talking. She suggested the reason they were doing drugs in such squalid conditions and the reason they were hopeless was because society and politics played havoc with their aspirations and because of negative family situations.
As she talked, she caught the attention of more and more curious youth.
She asked if they wanted to learn skills that could give them something useful to do with their lives. They acted as if they liked her idea, but she later learned they did not believe what she was saying.
To start, she told them, she would bring them Christmas dinner. She returned home, feeling gratified and excited that she had followed through on a conviction and desire she had been considering for more than a year.
A builder of peace
Her desire to do something to help the youth grew out of her experience at West Africa Peacebuilding Institute in 2011. Mennonite Central Committee paid for her to attend to strengthen her peacebuilding skills.
Ahmed was and still is executive director for Home Makers, an MCC Nigeria partner that has worked with 2,300 women across Nigeria and other West African countries, empowering them with business skills to support their families. She uses her new understanding of interfaith togetherness and other peacebuilding skills to address the root causes of the violence that has wracked Jos since 2001.
At the peacebuilding institute, she watched a film, The Worst Slum in the World, about the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. In the film, a woman worked with youth who were using drugs and was able to impact their lives, giving them hope.
Ahmed kept thinking about the film and the challenge she faced with these “drugging youth.” She resolved to engage the youth herself.
The youth at the warehouse were skeptical about this unusual visitor, so they determined to find out what was really behind her visit. They suspected she was a front for a security clearance operation. But a community leader assured them Ahmed had no hidden intent.
On Christmas Day, Ahmed did not go to church. She worked all morning preparing food for 50 people — rice, chicken, cake, sodas and trimmings. By 1:30 p.m. Ahmed returned to the warehouse, which the young men had “cleaned” by brushing the feces to one corner. Ahmed carried the food into the warehouse and prayed for God’s grace to manage the smell and the flies.
When the youth saw Ahmed and the food she was carrying, some wept as they started to realize this might be love with no hidden agenda. Even those who had been coming to the warehouse for 10 years said they had never experienced anything like it.
Ahmed has met with these youth more than 120 times since. She determined that if she was going to make a difference in the lives of these children of God, it would demand a heavy commitment.
They told her that when she is with them, their urge to do drugs is reduced. She loves them without judgment, they say, unlike society or even the church.
Ahmed says at least 40 of them have quit drugs, and some have influenced young men in a nearby town to stop. The former users have learned new skills or returned to studies at the university and a nursing school. One farms on land he rents.
The Bible is a critical piece of Home Makers’ drug-addiction program. Ahmed engages the youth through Scripture to show the value of life and hope for the future. Besides the skills she has introduced, Bible studies are part of her weekly program with them.
No one comes to the warehouse anymore, so it has been closed and locked.
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