© UNICEF/Gerida Birukila

UNICEF worker Gerida Birukila reflects on an attack on a humanitarian convoy in Borno state, northeast Nigeria. 

I was tired, but feeling upbeat. Slightly high on the sugar rush from the dried mangoes a colleague had shared with me in the car – the first thing I had had time to eat all day – I was going over in my head all we had managed to achieve during our busy day in the beleaguered town of Bama.

An explosion suddenly filled the air with smoke and gunfire erupted, waves of bullets slamming into our car. Thud, thud, thud – bullets were hitting the window beside my head, the door I had been leaning against.

Our vehicle was armoured, resisting round after round, and although the windows shattered, they remained intact. I ducked, joining my colleague on the floor of the car as the intense gunfire continued. We held hands. And I prayed.

The gunfire shredded our tyres and damaged our engine, but our driver accelerated, struggling to keep the vehicle on the road and to get us away from the ambush as quickly as he could.

We passed a military vehicle that had been ahead of us and had engaged our attackers. Some of the soldiers we could clearly see were injured.

A wheel from one of the UNICEF vehicles after the attack. © UNICEF/Gerida Birukila

We had managed to leave the battle behind us, but after about a kilometre, smoke pouring out of its engine, our vehicle gave out, coming to a complete stop. We radioed the other UNICEF vehicle, which had been behind us in the convoy, to ask them to pick us up. It was not the driver who responded, as we had expected, and when they stopped for us, we saw why.

He was slumped in the back of the vehicle, bleeding profusely. Another colleague had taken the wheel. We piled in as quickly as we could, filling every space possible in the vehicle and abandoning our own.

“No day is ever "normal" or "ordinary" up here.
Girl Girl

No child too far

UNICEF workers like Gerida are working every day to protect children in conflict zones. Our teams urgently need support to:

  • Deliver lifesaving health and nutrition supplies
  • Keep children safe and learning in temporary classrooms
  • Help victims of violence reconnect with their families and recover with psychosocial support
  • Tackle child marriage, trafficking and exploitation.


As soon as our damaged vehicle limped into the town of Konduga an ambulance was summoned. The colleague who had taken the wheel from our injured driver is a medical doctor and he now took over the care of our driver, accompanying him in the ambulance back to Maiduguri. Under such heavy fire, the glass of the driver’s side window had eventually broken and several pieces of glass had pierced his face.

We waited in Konduga for the others who had been in the convoy—we had all left Bama together and now, over the next 40 agonizing minutes, they also joined us in Konduga; we hugged as they arrived. The fighting had continued and several of the cars, like ours, had been abandoned, but fortunately everyone was accounted for and nobody had been killed. Had it not been for the armoured vehicles, it is likely none of us would have survived.

Everyone had stayed remarkably calm during the attack–the injured UNICEF driver had carried on driving until the vehicle was out of danger, doubtless saving the lives of everyone in the vehicle, before he stopped to give up the wheel. We were shaken, indeed, and I am sure I am not the only one to have quietly wept at home that night. It takes time to really sink in how close we came to death and we are all grateful to have made it out of the ambush alive. And with that gratitude for our lives, we are all even more determined to carry on reaching those who need our help.

The UNICEF driver is recovering from his injuries and surgery. UNICEF teams remain on the ground and continue to deliver assistance.

Help children in crisis

UNICEF believes in a fair chance for every single child, without exception. It's why  our teams in Nigeria are committed to the hard and dangerous work of reaching children in a conflict zone; why our staff will cross rivers and deserts to reach children in the world's most remote communities.

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