From PVWW Founder, Joy Baglio: Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop, the literary arts organization I founded in 2016, is raising funds to help writer and MacDowell Fellow Uchenna Awoke flee violence and threat of attack from Fulani militants (named fourth deadliest terror group in the world in the Global Terrorism Index) in his rural region in Nigeria, a threat that has steadily worsened over the last six months yet remains largely unreported and unregulated. All funds raised will go directly to Uchenna and his family in his efforts to get out of the area (ideally to the United States, or a safer part of Nigeria) and secure temporary housing and basic living costs for the near future.
Update: Thank you to all who have donated so far, and to everyone who supported Uchenna on 10/24 for our Writing Across Borders reading, which featured him and his work. Your generosity and support are making a very real impact. We are getting very close to our goal of $5,000! Please help us get there, or share this, if you are able to!
I met Uchenna in the fall of 2019, while we were both fellows at Vermont Studio Center. An immensely talented writer, Uchenna had recently completed a MacDowell residency, just finished his first novel and was gearing up to begin querying agents. He was full of exuberance, gratitude to be in Vermont, and a hopeful determination to continue his literary work no matter what the challenges he faced back home in Nigeria. We shared many conversations about our work, books, the writing life, our home lives, the state of the world, etc. Uchenna had plans to apply for more fellowships which would give him the time and space to continue final revisions of his novel, yet a little over a year after our VSC residency, I learned about the horrors he was living through with his family in Nigeria, as violent attacks from nomadic Fulani militants became more frequent in his region, which of course made writing an impossibility, as he feared more and more for his life.
Uchenna has told me about the complexity of the situation: The Fulani are a nomadic group that have begun mass migrations from the northern part of the country to the south, in search of grazing fields for their cattle. In the south of Nigeria, and especially in the area where Uchenna lives, people rely on growing crops for their existence, and as the herders walked their cattle through farmlands, countless crops were destroyed. This led to minor clashes between farmers and herders. There was no regulation or intervention by the government. Fulani tribes resorted to harvesting the farmer’s crops for their cattle, and the villagers/farmers reacted by killing the cattle. The situation - fraught and complex, admittedly - escalated. And then one night Fulani militants ambushed villagers, set fire to houses, and waited with guns and machetes to finish off those who managed to escape. Since then, the Fulani have been carrying out a series of similar attacks against villagers in the region. Uchenna detailed to me how the militants hide in the dense forested regions surrounding farms and homes, and attack both places unpredictably, making the work of farming all but impossible under the conditions. This of course has had devastating economic repercussions, leading to widespread poverty and starvation among communities that had otherwise relied on farming. Most recently, Uchenna and others in his village received a message that Fulani militants would kill his people ”today or very soon.”
Uchenna is currently in hiding with his wife and sister, and will try - with any assistance we are able to offer him - to leave his current region, either to a safer part of Nigeria or (ideally) to the United States. Of course this requires significant funds for travel (for three people), temporary housing, food, and basic survival for the short-term. There are also costs associated with hiring a lawyer to help with an O-1 visa application.
All donations raised via PVWW’s efforts will go directly to Uchenna to assist him in getting to safety, securing temporary housing elsewhere, and having money for food and basic survival for the near future. We are also attempting to help him, his wife, and sister obtain the necessary visas to come to the United States, where Uchenna would continue his involvement with PVWW and work toward the publication of his first novel.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
• Donate to our fundraiser for Uchenna (here): If you are able to contribute - no matter how small - to our fundraiser in support of Uchenna and his family, you will be directly supporting his efforts to relocate to a safer region and escape the violence happening around him. We are hoping to raise $5,000 that will act as a nest egg, allowing Uchenna, his wife, and sister to relocate and begin building a new life; however, no amount is too small! Because of the value of the US dollar in Nigeria, even small amounts go a long way.
• Spread the Word: Please help spread the word about this fundraiser for Uchenna. If you have a network and feel comfortable sharing links, that will help the cause immensely.
Heartfelt thanks to all who have already donated, reached out, attended the Writing Across Borders reading, and/or offered to help Uchenna in other ways. I, PVWW, and Uchenna are deeply grateful!
Pioneer Valley Writers' Workshop
(Images: In 2019 at Vermont Studio Center, with PVWW founder Joy Baglio and other writers; and from after a recent attack on neighbors in rural Nigeria by Fulani militants that Uchenna was able to photograph .)
- Sophia Tharp