When 29-year-old Member Feese woke up in a London hospital a month after a Boko Haram bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital Abuja blew off her left leg, she knew it was a blessing to be alive.
Feese’s family flew her to Britain days after the August 2011 bombing. There the post-graduate student received care over a six-month period and was fitted with a prosthetic limb.
Inspired by the care she was lucky enough to receive, Feese set up Team Member, an advocacy group to aid victims of bombings in Abuja, which has been hit by several blasts bearing the hallmarks of the jihadist group Boko Haram since 2010.
“I was fortunate because of the network I had … to fly out of Nigeria. But there are many who are not fortunate enough,” Feese told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her home in Abuja.
“Some victims are just hawkers and mechanics. They just go to the National Hospital and they can barely afford their hospital bills. How do they start their lives back? How do they get money to start their businesses again?”
Every time a bomb strikes Abuja, Feese, her parents and volunteers race to hospitals to offer victims food, arrange counselling and start raising money for care and surgery.
Few Nigerians have health insurance, leaving many patients trapped in hospital by their debts, responsible for feeding themselves and clinging to the hope bills will be waived by hospital directors or paid off by well-wishers.
“Some victims have no family in Abuja, so we support them,” Feese said. “We take food, milk, sugar, toiletries … then we get their contact details and keep in touch with them.”
Dozens of Abuja bomb blast victims have benefitted from the group’s support, including a man who needed several surgical procedures to remove a nail lodged in his head, Feese said.
She is concerned about those who need prosthetic limbs and said Team Member is raising money in the hopes of opening a rehabilitation centre for bombing victims in Abuja.
“We’ve not identified any hospital specialising in advanced prosthetic limbs … the technology is not advanced.
“Not everybody can afford to go to the United Kingdom or South Africa. We want to give Nigerians a chance.”
The 2011 attack which injured Feese struck the UN headquarters in Abuja, killing at least 24 people.
While the last bombing to hit Abuja was late in 2015, Boko Haram has continued to target markets, bus stations and places of worship in villages in Borno state during its eight-year insurgency to carve out an Islamist state in north-east Nigeria.