Monday, March 28, 2011

Hope For the Village Child, Kaduna, Nigeria

Hope For the Village Child, Kaduna, Nigeria
March 2 – 11, 2011
I arrived in Abuja the capital city of Nigeria on March 2nd from Nairobi, Kenya via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  It was a distance of more than 2,000 miles.  Two staff members, Prosper and Ruth from the Hope for the Village Child (HFVC) met me at the airport.  It was about a 2 hour drive from Abuja to Kaduna where the HFVC headquarters are located.    I noticed along the side of the highway lots of women selling at little stands an interesting vegetable that I thought was a gigantic potato, but it was what they call yams.  The yams are white inside and taste somewhat like a potato.  It is a staple food for Nigerians.  They cook it and eat it plain, slice and deep fry and mash it also.  It is a very starchy.  We stopped and I took a picture of some of the women with their yams.  I showed them the picture in my camera and they were happy to see themselves.
When I arrived at Sr. Rita’s home in Kaduna -she had two sisters visiting from the USA.  Sr. Gemma and Sr. Roberta.  Sr. Gemma is from the Garden City, Kansas area and is presently in Ohio at the Dominican Sisters head offices.
My  days with Sr. Rita and the HFVC staff was another heartwarming experience to see the donors’ dollars going to help so many children, women and families.  Sr. Rita has been in Nigeria more than 30 years in a variety of ministries.  She has devoted the past 12 years nonstop to HFVC programs.  She is the director of HFVC which has donors from the USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands and other countries.  The HFVC has many worthwhile projects including the following:
Rural health; in particular child immunization,  prenatal care and health education, i.e. aids prevention, malaria
Water wells for remote villages, over 100 wells have been dug since 1999
Women small businesses, micorfinacning, some examples are sewing clothing items, making jewelry, batek cloth, milling rice, storing  grain and more
Eye clinic for examination and fitting of glasses
Rickets disease, prevention and surgery to correct the deformed limbs
Building rural primary schools and furnishing books for rural schools.

The following day after my arrival, Sr. Gemma and I went with Abigail one of HFVC nurses, an assistant and driver to one of the remote villages to operate a  “clinic day” of immunizations for small children.  The roads to the villages are dirt rutted roads.  No road repair or grading is done on the rural roads, ever.  Once they are built the government forgets about them.    The HFVC has an old Toyota Land Cruiser that we bounce around in to the clinic.  The villagers do not have cars, unless it might be the village chief.   Some use a motorcycle or bike and the others walk.
When we arrive at the clinic building, women are already waiting with their babies tied to their backs.  The typical way African women carry their babies and toddlers is tied on their back.  The babies do not wear diapers.  Each mother has a health record for each child of immunizations etc. She brings it with her so the nurse can document what care was given.  HFVC also keeps a health record on each child.  The mother is required to pay a small amount for the immunization shots.  Babies are weighted, shots given and sometimes medicines such as antibiotic or vitamins.  It depends on what the nurse feels is needed for the child.   Sr. Gemma has a nursing background so she assisted the nurse.  I helped weigh a few babies and dispensed some medicines.  You could tell that the mothers were so grateful to have the nurse come.
This village also had a primary school built by donors of HFVC.  I visited several of the classes.  The school is a very basic rectangle building with large black board in the front, no electricity, water or outdoor toilets.  The children go till about 12:30 pm. No afternoon classes.   I asked why and the only answer I got was the children needed to go home to eat.   The schools don’t meet the standards of the developed countries in any respect.  However, I saw many eager children ready to learn.   Progress is being made I tell myself,  just a few years ago  there was not a school here and children received no education.   Before a school is built in the village, the chief of the village and the villagers have to agree to participate in the building of the school.  The donors of HFVC furnish the financial support but the villages furnish the labor and some of the materials.  After the school is built the government takes it over and it becomes a government school.  They furnish the teachers to the school and that is about all they do.   If any maintenance is done to the school it will be done by the villagers not the government.
I did two more clinic days.  All were important visits for the prevention of childhood diseases like polio, measles, chicken pox etc.  Another bonus is the nurse is able to see how the baby is developing and talk with the mother about the health of the baby.  If the baby is seriously ill the mother is told to take the baby to the local government hospital in Kaduna.  The government hospitals have long lines of people waiting for care so you have to get there early in the morning to hopefully be seen that day.  
Sr. Rita meets with the village chiefs periodically to keep in touch with what the HFVC is doing in the villages and what progress is being made.  One day we stopped by to meet with one of the village chiefs about an upcoming meeting/workshop on ecology issues.  One of the struggles the area is facing is the cutting down of trees for firewood.  Men will go into areas and randomly cut down trees like poachers would do with wild animals.  In Nigeria as well as other countries in Africa their land laws are different than ours in the USA.  People can graze cattle on land that is not cultivated whether you own it or not.    Occasionally you will see some fences but most often the land is open range.  The tree cutters treat the trees the same way.  Unfortunately the land is becoming barren, erosion of the soil and loss of valuable trees.  When we went to the remote villages you see small trucks heading to the larger towns loaded down with wood that had been cut in the “bush” country that they will sell.   When you see the cut wood you know more trees have been cut and none replanted.  Another day we went with Sr. Rita to meet with a District Head Chief at a village.  He did speak English but was more comfortable speaking the the local language of Hausa.  One of HFVC staff who spoke Hausa fluently was the spokes person for HFVC.  The District Chief invited other men leaders to come to the meeting.  There is a certain protocol followed.    No women except Sr. Rita, Sr. Gemma, Sr. Roberta and me were present.  It reminded me how the chief of the village wields a lot of power with decision making for the villagers. He is looked up to as the “go to person” for advice and approval.  To understand Africa one must understand the tribal culture first.  At the end of the meeting we took pictures with the District Chief.    I witnessed how essential it is to walk softly and get the village chief on board to have projects succeed.  The District Chief expressed appreciation for everything that the HFVC was doing in the villages.  The HFVC is very careful about making sure the villagers/chief participate in getting the projects up and running.    On one of the clinic visits I saw that the little clinic building was painted white inside, I asked how that got done.  They said the villagers built the mud brick building than painted it too.  It was a simple building but clean and neat.   In another village a local Baptist church allowed HFVC to have the monthly clinic in the church, since they didn’t have a building.  Each village where they have  a clinic, they have a village volunteer (health assistant) who monitors the village children and talks with the mothers about health concerns.  He/she is  sort of a health educator too.  HFVC provides  training for this person.
Sr. Rita asked if I would like to go see a water well being dug.  I said, “sure I would”.    I met Emmanuel the HFVC staff person who heads up this project about 6:30 am.    He has been involved since 1999 with over 100 wells being dug.  They write a contract in the local language Hausa that outlines the responsibilities of the villagers and HFVC.    The financial cost for the HFVC for a hand dug well including the hand pump is about $1,2000.   Emmanuel ” witches” for the well and has about at 90% success rate.   I ride with him in an old Toyota pickup filled with gravel to take to the well site.  Two other HFVC helpers go along too, one fellow is the cement finisher for the well wall concrete forms .  These three men work in unison with the village men and women, it reminded me somewhat of the Amish putting up a “barn”.  When we arrived at the site, women were carrying water on their heads in big pans and plastic cans and dumping into a barrel near the well site.  The water would be used to mix the sand, gravel and cement to make concrete walls for the well.    The dimensions outlining the size of the well had been made the day before and some concrete forms had been made too.  The village men took turns digging.  Some hauled sand in a wheel barrel and others hauled the gravel.  They made a circle where sand, gravel and cement were mixed together than water added.  They mixed this by hand.  The concrete would be used for the forms for the walls of the well.  Emmanuel told me that the concrete walls would go about ¾ of the way up in the well so the well would not collapse.  I estimated the diameter of the well to be about 4 feet.  The chief of the village was there and spoke with me.  He also shared with me the need for a primary school in the village.  Presently the children walk several miles to go to primary school.  I told him I would share his concern with the person at HFVC who would come out and speak with him and access the situation.  The area was really desolate, very hot and lots of plastic bag debris.  There were several new stucco homes in the village, however, most were mud brick 2 room homes.  No electricity, no water.   The area was experiencing very dry weather, the corn or maize as they call it looked burnt.  They were waiting for the rainy season.    I was so impressed with the organization and efficiency of the water well project.  I can imagine the blessing that so many families will receive with clean drinking water. 

Another day I travel with the person from HFVC, Faith , who monitors the schools in the remote areas that were built by HFVC donors or that books were donated to the schools. She is responsible for about 30 schools.   Today we will visit two different villages.  One where books have been donated to see if they are being used.  Most of all primary education is done by writing on the blackboard by the teacher and the students copying into a notebook (exercise book) if they have one.  The teachers are not use to using any kind of text books or story books to teach the children.  The first  primary school we visited had books donated by HFVC but were not being used often.  While Faith spoke with the teachers I visited with the children.  The children are taught classes in English but of course they don’t speak it at home so their English verbal skills are minimal.  This is a very poor rural area.  There were no  school desks or benches in the one classroom, another classroom had some benches with desks.  I only saw 2 classrooms being used.  The children sat barefoot on the floor.  Most did not have a notebook or pencil to write with.  No doubt most of their parents never attended a primary school.  I took some pictures of the children and showed them the photo on my camera and they were excited about that.  They also said the ABCs for me.  I gave them a big applause.  It was difficult to leave the children.  I saw myself in them when I was a little child, eager to learn.  How lucky I was to have the Dominican Sisters teach me from grades 1-8.  And yes, we had text books and a small library of books in the front book cases of our school rooms.  Faith told me after we left the school that she gave the teachers until the following week to come up with a plan on how they were going to use the books or she would take the books and give them to a school that would use them properly.  Faith said she has done workshops with teachers on how to use books in a classroom.  However, teachers come and go at the government schools.  Since the villages are so remote it is hard to get high quality teachers to ride motorcycles out to teach at these schools.  It is much easier just to teach in the larger cities like Kaduna.
The next school we visit is much larger about 6-8 classrooms.  The teachers there have inquired about getting books from HFVC.  Faith meets with them and they seem very upbeat and enthusiastic about getting books.  I could see a big difference from this village much larger and more progressive than the previous village.  Again I was encouraged that the donors’ dollars for HFVC is spent wisely and monitored.
Another staff person at HFVC heads up working with the village women in getting small businesses started.  The hope of course is that someday they will be self  sustainable without HFVC help.  The most profitable business so far has been a storage building for grain, mostly rice and corn.  The corn and rice are stored in large bags with the owners’  name on it in a building that the varmints can’t get to. When the price of the commodity is higher in price than they sell it; previously they would sell the grain when they harvested it and of course the price would be low, because the market was over supplied. 
One of the problems is always the marketing of the products like beaded jewelry, knitted items, soap etc.  Presently they have market days in the nearby towns that they try to sell their products at.  I bought several necklaces and earrings.  HFVC helped the villagers get started with a small business with micorfinacning.  Each women has to contribute a small sum of money for the groups’ account then loans are made from that money.  The women are the ones who do the majority of the work.  I’m really not sure what the men do.  
Another important project is rickets disease. - I had the opportunity to see two children who had surgery for the disease.  What a difference in their ability to walk with straight leg as well as more self confidence.  Rickets have affected many children in several villages.  A group of German researchers are trying to find the cause of the outbreak.  They have eliminated the water as a source and are now doing more soil samples.  While I was there 3 people from Germany were visiting at the HFVC about the project.  The cost of surgery to correct the deformed limbs  (usually legs but sometimes an arm, too) is only about $500 US.  Sr. Rita said they have about 70 or more surgeries to do.  A local surgeon in Kaduna is having great results with the surgery.  A mini miracle for sure.
I also had an opportunity to see about 50 people come to the eye clinic which is held about once a month.  An optometrist with his large eye case filled with lots of lenses for testing your eye sight comes on a motorcycle. He doesn’t have one of the fancy machines that our eye physicians use.  This would be the first time these people ever had their eyes tested.  When they get glasses, you should see the smiles on their faces.  They can actually see well.
The country of Nigeria has many struggles.   The country seems to be broken.   They have the south and north divisions as well as Muslim and Christian differences.  The government spends lots of money in the capital city of Abuja on building fancy big houses, government buildings and roadways but does little for the other areas in Nigeria.  Motorcycles are all over the streets in Kaduna.  It appears almost lawless.  Sr. Rita says it is not safe to drive at night.  A business man, banker in Kaduna that  I met said the government taxes , paperwork etc is so extensive that manufacturers who might come to Nigeria to set up a business are deterred from doing so.  He said the cost of electricity would be about 40% of a manufactures expenses.  And of course you can’t depend that the electricity will be on during the day or night with any regularity.    I didn’t see one manufacturing business.  The big business  is the refinery on the outskirts of Kaduna.   The government schools are poorly staffed.  The private schools are better but struggle too.   Jobs are few.  Nigeria like many of the other African countries has lots of natural resources including oil.  But the problem always stems back to the government and its misuse of funds and lack of leadership to give the citizens an opportunity to get jobs and be self sufficient.  Without a manufacturing base, I don’t see how they will progress.  I’m struck by so many people living in poverty.  It is a harsh existence.  Lots of pollution in the air and a dusty haze.  Everything in the home is convered with dust, floors, curtains, furniture, etc.  You would have to dust several times a day to have a really clean environment.  People just get used to it.
I leave the Hope for the Village Child mission and Sr. Rita with thoughts of what great strides they have made to assist the rural people. Your donor dollars are wisely spent.  I thank Sr. Rita and the HFVC staff for allowing me to shadow them and learn and witness so much.  They are truly earth angels.