*Content warning* some may find this content distressing.
Julius*, 16 and Joseph*, 14, had been staying with their uncle in Borno state, Nigeria, when Boko Haram insurgents struck their town in 2014.
The boys were forced to watch as their uncle was executed.
They were then taken deep into the Sambisa forest along with other children who had been kidnapped and were forced to witness and even take part in Boko Haram’s atrocities.
“They (the insurgents) attempted to teach us how to fight with guns, but one of their leaders stopped them arguing that we were too young.” Julius recalls.
Julius and Joseph were made to watch Boko Haram violently raid and kill civilians and after the raids, the boys were commanded to cover the spilt blood with sand.
Showing the scars on his legs, Julius says: “Each time I refused to do their bidding, they hit my leg with iron rods. It hurt so much.”
Joseph, the younger of the two boys adds: “We did not receive much food. Some 20 of us often had to share one meal. We barely managed to survive.”
After three years, the brothers managed to escape while their captors were away raiding a community. They navigated their way through the vast woods before crossing the border into Cameroon, where they were taken to a refugee camp.
Over the course of those three years, Julius and Joseph’s mother, Mary* never lost hope that she would eventually find her boys. She travelled thousands of miles, following any leads she could find of their whereabouts.
Once, Mary heard that a group of unaccompanied children had arrived in Yola, and set out to search for them, but Julius and Joseph were not found. This happened many times over the three years, but Mary never gave up searching for them.
Mary was pregnant when she heard there were unaccompanied children in Cameroon. Despite the pregnancy, she sold all her possessions to raise money for the long journey and set out again to search for her sons.
Last month, Mary was finally reunited with Julius and Joseph in Cameroon.
Now home with her two sons, Plan International in partnership with the German Federation Foreign Office (GFFO), is supporting Mary with food aid and providing Julius and Joseph with psychosocial support and the materials they need to rebuild their lives.
Millions of children have borne the brunt of the conflict in North East Nigeria. Violent attacks by Boko Haram, together with counter-insurgency measures, have been taking place since 2009 in the Lake Chad region and have intensified since 2013.
Over 17 million people in the three countries of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon have now been affected. More than 2.4 million people have been forced from their homes, 1.5 million of whom are children.
Mary hopes that one day her sons will return to school and be able to live a normal life.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.