The mysterious strangers who became a family

Water and sanitationNigeria

An elderly woman from a village in Nigeria learns of an amazing coincidence and discovers a whole new family – around the world.

Kaka has lived all of her life in Gashala Migzil, a very impoverished village in north-east Nigeria. In her mid-80s, she was ready for an uneventful twilight of her life. Then Boko Haram happened.

Nigerian insurgents Boko Haram had terrorised villages in the north-east for several years. Thousands died and 2.1 million people were forced from their homes.

As nearby communities were attacked Kaka chose to stay. She is nearly blind and, with no children of her own, was very unlikely to escape. Thankfully, when Boko Haram captured the region, they found only older people and extreme poverty. With no wealth to plunder or recruits for the cause, they left the villagers unharmed.

But it was still a gruelling time. However, by 2015, the Nigerian government started to push Boko Haram back.

Kaka meets Hannah under tree
Biyama with his two children
The family comes to call. L-R: Hannah meets Kaka, Biyama and children.

‘When Kaka was told who had come she started crying, dancing and praying.’

Biyama

Brief encounter
Kaka believed that the Boko Haram conflict would be the defining event of her last few years. But it wasn’t. One afternoon last year she was sitting under the tree outside her home when she heard voices.

They sounded friendly. Some were speaking a strange language, and she heard children. One voice she recognised. It was her friend Yayirus, a teacher in the village who introduced his guests. Kaka was overwhelmed.

It was her great-nephew Biyama, along with his young family. When Biyama was born in 1982, Kaka helped to take care of him. As his father was studying overseas at the University of Bath when Biyama was born, Kaka helped to nurture him. Kaka is always delighted when Biyama visits.

Kaka is proud of all that Biyama has achieved. He’s followed his father’s footsteps and lives a very different life in the UK. There he met and married Hannah, from England. He was bringing her and his young daughter Elna, aged four, and six-month-old baby Zakari to visit.

‘When Kaka was told who had come she started crying, dancing and praying,’ says Biyama. ‘It was a whirlwind of emotion and drama. She never thought this moment would happen.’

This was the first time Biyama felt safe to bring his wife and children to visit the community and meet the woman who had helped to raise him.

Kaka prays for Biyama
Kaka praying for Biyama and Tearfund supporters everywhere.

‘She was baffled that people would give money to help people they will never know.’

Biyama

Realisation
During their time together, Biyama’s family told Kaka all about their life back in the UK. In turn, Kaka explained how she was overjoyed because for the first time in her life she had a toilet.

‘She described how these “strange people from nowhere” came and offered her a toilet,’ says Biyama. 

Then a huge realisation came to Biyama. The ‘strange people’ were Tearfund. Biyama works in the UK offices.

What’s more, Biyama had helped to set up the relief work in that part of north-east Nigeria. In fact, the initial base for Tearfund’s operations in the area – working with our local partners CRUDAN – was out of Biyama’s parent’s home in Yola.

‘I told Kaka that the people who had helped provide her toilets are who I work for,’ he says. ‘She took that to mean that I had given her the toilet. So I told her about Tearfund and how we serve people all over the world in the name of Jesus. She was baffled that people would give money to help people they will never know.’

Meet the family
‘She was so thankful. Because of her culture, she feels that the people who have given to her are now her family. She prayed for Tearfund’s supporters and for the whole Tearfund family. She was so grateful that there are good and generous people in the world.’

Biyama is not sure whether his beloved Kaka, now approaching her 90s, will be there next time he and his family visit. ‘Kaka told me that because I had visited her with my family, she could die in peace,’ says Biyama. ‘And now she is happy.’

Praise God for the joy of being in relationship with other people, whatever that looks like, and however often we see them. And give thanks for our global Tearfund family, which includes you!

Peter Shaw