I am openly embraced by three young ladies running up to me greeting me as Aunty Ruth. During five years living in northern Nigeria, I have seen many haunted faces, but these girls
look different, haunted and also broken. I wanted to photograph them looking like the strong resilient survivors they are, but as they sat slumped in their chairs, I had the heart breaking realisation that at such a young age these beautiful young people have lost their innocence and experienced the worst of humanity They are just a few of the many youth that have been abducted by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.
Boko Haram has been rapidly increasing attacks in Northern Nigeria. Sadly young girls and boys have now become a target. Girls are used for tactical reasons and a form of punishment to them and their communities. And hundreds of young boys have been taken to use as fighters, and indoctrinate them in Boko Haram ideologies. Up to 500 girls have been abducted since as far back 2009 from the north-eastern Borno and Yobe states. Boys and girls have been abducted and they are put through psychological abuse, forced labour, forced marriage, forced to convert to Islam, and become victims of sexual violence and rape. Boko Haram are taking young people on operations and teaching them to carry ammunitions and eventually to kill. A recent development is young girls being sent out as suicide bombers.
Some have been fortunate to escape however many still remain captive. It is not uncommon for abuses against children and youth to go unprosecuted in Nigeria. A code of silence prevents justice taking place, robbing them of their rights as the victim. More often than not youth bare the brunt of conflict.
Ruth MacDowall : New Zeland
Ruth McDowall (1984) was born in Taranaki, New Zealand. She completed a BFA at Elam School of Fine Arts in New Zealand. In 2008 she visited Nigeria and returned in 2010 to set up a project empowering at risk youth by teaching them the skill of photography. Based in the Northern city of Jos her close friends and students were all affected by the ethnic/religious conflict so she began capturing the day-today reality and impact of it. In late 2011 she began freelancing fulltime.
Her work has been published in Time, Newsweek, Telegraph, The Gardian, New Yorker, The Conversation and her long term project on the conflict in Northern Nigeria featured on New Yorker Photo Booth.
She exhibited work on the Occupy Nigeria movement during Lagos Photo Festival in 2012. A project documenting the journeys to school of nomadic Fulani children, for UNESCO and SIPA was exhibited in a group show at the UNHQ in New York and Paris and will become a travelling exhibition in 2015.
She received a scholarship to participate in a Masterclass in Conflict Photography by Noor. in Bayeux, France in October 2013.
She is currently based in West Africa and spends most of her time in Nigeria.
Realizing the limits of photography she also continues her work with street youth in Nigeria
Exhibition Area : Carré Rosengart