Monday, 6 June 2011

Sai wata rana

As most of you know by now, I’m HOME! And thought it was about time to write a bit about Nigeria, the elections and how I feel about being home.

My last few weeks in Nigeria were pretty hectic, hence the supreme lack of blogging. I had a lovely good bye party from Hope for the Village Child, and the VSOs, friends and neighbours gave me a great farewell at Sea Breeze, our local bar. Then I packed up and travelled over land to Ghana with Richard another volunteer based in Lafia, who has conveniently written a fairly detailed blog of our trip, meaning I don’t have to! See

With my HVC colleagues on my last day.
It feels really good to be home, the reverse culture shock hasn’t been as bad as I’d prepared myself for, supermarkets and crowded bars are still a bit overwhelming, but I’m generally enjoying London living again. 

There are a few things that I’ve found new and exciting at home: kettles with upwards on switches (just weird), Crabbies ginger beer (amazing), Groupon (a bit confusing), and some amazing life changes, friends have bought houses, got engaged and have new jobs.

I’ve managed to get some temporary work in my old department at the Red Cross, which is great, and I’m enjoying the double takes I get from people who thought I was still in Nigeria.  

The Nigerian elections...
Some of you will have heard about the violence which hit Northern Nigeria during the election, when Goodluck Jonathon was reelected. Some groups in the north of Nigeria rioted claiming the northern Muslim candidate Buhari should have been the president, to continue the north/south power sharing agreement of the main political party the PDP. There are estimates that up to 500 people died, and Kaduna was one of the worst affected areas.  Our colleague, Shuaibu, the driver at Hope for the Village Child lost his house, and other colleagues struggled to get home through mobs running street patrols, burning tyres and attacking people. There was an almost immediate 24 hour curfew, and the VSO volunteers were evacuated a couple of days later, but the curfew was still on a month later, and people’s lives cannot be repaired easily. The sad part is that the violence affected the poorest people the most, those who lack opportunities, employment and money and have nothing to lose and so turn on their neighbours who have just as little. The destruction is heart breaking, and it wasn’t just in Kaduna, it happened in Kano, Bauchi and across the north. There’s not much I can really write about it, except to express optimism, that the elections were widely considered the freest and fairest in since Nigeria became a democracy again in 1999, and hope that the people affected will get help to rebuild their lives.

Writing this blog, reflecting on the last year, looking at my photos, and reading the blogs of VSOs still in Nigeria, has made me realise how much I miss it. The year was an incredible experience, challenging, inspiring and overwhelming at all times. I made some amazing friends, who I miss a lot, learnt a hell of a lot about the challenges faced by NGOs working in developing countries, and was exactly where I hoped I’d be, in a passionate organisation that is really making a difference to the lives of isolated rural communities.

My connection with Hope for the Village Child and Kaduna doesn’t end there, I’m now a trustee of Hope for the African Village Child, the British partner charity of HVC. This way I’ll be able to help HVC through fundraising in the future! Recently I lived on £1 a day for five days to raise money for HAVC, and if you’d like to sponsor me, and support HVC’s work with communities who face difficulties accessing health care, education and overcoming poverty in Nigeria, your donations would be very greatly appreciated through:

Thanks for reading for the last year, and for your support, in Nigeria and at home.

Sai wata rana. 

Sunday, 20 February 2011

A few outfits

Part of the joy of living in Nigeria is the ability to design (or in my case attempt to design) your own clothes. There are small tailors workshops on every street, and fabric can be bought in even the tiniest market for as little as £4. The colours and prints range from bold bright traditional West African prints, to more subtle colours and designs. The cheapest fabric, sold in six or twelve yards amounts called wrappers, is made in China and the most expensive is Dutch. To get a top and skirt made with a head tie to match is usually around £4, and small dresses just £3, who needs Primark.

I was so taken aback by the colours, designs and quantity of fabric available when I first arrived that I found it difficult to choose fabrics that suited me, and would go for the boldest and brightest patterns which caught my eye. More recently I've been trying to get things made which I can wear at home, so I've moved on to more subtle colours and simpler patterns.

My tailor,the talented Doris. No your eyes do not deceive
you, that is a singer sewing machine.
Here are a selection of my outfits, some are staying in Nigeria, and others making the long journey home with me.... please excuse my inability to arrange them properly.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Akwei malaria

When I arrived in Nigeria, I was told about a volunteer in Lagos who'd had malaria six times. I was astonished, and wondered how on earth someone could be so careless, surely they must not be using a mosquito net and never wearing mosquito repellent, let alone taking anti malarial tablets.

On Monday I equalled her record. And yes I sleep under a mosquito net, wear mosquito repellent in the evenings and take doxyclicline as an anti malarial. Yet Richard, who lived in the same house, and took far fewer precautions than I do, didn't get malaria once.Some people just seem more prone to malaria than others, I'm O positive, if that helps anyone with their blood type theories on malaria susceptibility.

It's not a pleasant experience, but not really as awful as the word malaria makes you imagine. I usually start by feeling fragile, often with a fever, or exhaustion or aches and pains, just like flu. With the worst bout I woke up at 3am with vomiting and diarrhoea, and the mildest, I just felt fuzzy so went for a test at work, lucky for me Hope for the Village Child has a clinic on site. More recently I've been going to the VSO's partner hospital in Kaduna where I'll be immediately seen by a doctor, but then have to wait 1.5 hours for the blood test results to confirm malaria. I've never been not diagnosed, which almost tempts me to self medicate.

Malaria comes in different levels, I usually get plus one, which is very mild, but a child once came into the HVC clinic recently with plus four malaria, and if he hadn't received treatment could have died. It's a serious disease, worst for those who cannot afford the drugs or mosquito nets which they need to prevent it, a mild flu for the rest, yet still six times in a year is enough for me. Time to go home. .  


Thursday, 20 January 2011

A poem

As my last post was so extensive I held back on including my wonderful poem from secret santa, but thought I'd add it in as I think it's a work of poetic genius. In the Dutch tradition each present came with a poem, whose author should remain nameless, but my secret santa gave the game away a bit here...

Nobody leave the room,
Everyone listen to me
There is a young lady here called Heather,
Who is a good friend to me.

I first me her on the streets,
She was showing a friend the sights,
We then went to Sea Breeze,
Drank Harp and enjoyed the night.

She fell in love in Nigeria,
To an English man,
They braved the floods together,
He left in harmattan.

The amazing Kano Durbar,
Was really lots of fun,
Sanusi's village, horse parades, Government House,
All under the hot sun.

A dangerous journey to Dutse,
Her parents bravely made,
To relax and enjoy The Palace,
And the police station in the shade!

We shared a bed at Chida,
Heather finally met our team,
I stole her croissants for breakfast,
Then left her with her hangover and dreams.

And last but obviously not least,
Obudu, Afi and Calabar,
A Christmas holiday of a lifetime,
Arranged by Heather - what a star!

Heather is leaving soon,
And that makes me sad,
If it was somebody else,
It wouldn't be so bad!

With my English man, Richard.

Monday, 17 January 2011

We're all going on a, Christmas holiday

Happy New Year! And happy harmattan, currently in Kaduna it's averaging a chilly 21 degrees in the shade, and my colleagues are wearing ski jackets, hats and gloves to fight off the “cold”. Although a hardy Brit, even I can’t cope with the cold and have found myself wishing I had some socks and shoes instead of only one pair of sandals!

I arrived back in Kaduna last weekend, after an incredible Christmas and New Year travelling in southern Nigeria and CameroonI traveled with eight volunteers over the three weeks, five of us set off from Abuja on our way to Lafia, adventure number one, get five people in a VW golf, without paying too high an oyibo/pre Christmas price, and without mishap. Done. Three hours later we arrived in Lafia, and were treated to an incredible Indian meal by Teddy and Shreela, and Richard III even gave up his bed to me and Lucy, what a gent!

The next day the serious adventures began, as we headed to Makurdi, and from there got a bush taxi to Obudu town, from where our host, Abebe, had arranged a car to take us to our destination, Obudu Cattle Ranch.
Ready for the journey to Obudu.

Abebe's lodge is the poor man's cattle ranch accommodation, for an affordable 5,500 naira (£26) per night, we could stay right next to the cattle ranch proper, where rooms are a staggering 20,000 naira per night! Abebe's Lodge, for those who are interested can be called on 08036242192. Here our food was 300 naira a plate, instead of 3,000, and even the very questionable bush meat we were served came in a decent egusi stew. The only downside was the our hot water on the first night, which had to be heated on a wood fire, took about 3 hours to arrive.

Obudu cattle ranch is famous across Nigeria as a place of outstanding natural beauty, it’s high up on a plateau, which makes the temperature cool and refreshing. So refreshing that for the first time in Nigeria, I was cold!

The hut I stayed in at Afi.
 Whilst at Obudu, we visited the first of two canopy walkways, took a demanding trek down to a waterfall, and to a mountain view point, from where we could see Cameroon, it looked just like Nigeria! The cable car, fyi, is closed on Tuesdays for maintenance, although of course no one mentioned this to us on Monday. But on our departure we were able to take a trip down in the cable car to the water park, slides included, before we set off to Afi.

Our next stop was Afi drill monkey sanctuary, deep in the rainforest in Cross River state, which has the largest population of captive drill monkeys in the world. All rescued from the bush meat trade, which is an incredibly lucrative business in Nigeria and West Africa, chimp meat was described to us as ‘sweet’ by people we met in Cameroon. The accommodation at Afi is huts in the forest, surrounding by mosquito netting. The sounds of the jungle lull you to sleep, and screaming chimps and drills wake you up bright and early. 
The phone eating toilet at Afi.

The toilet facilities are reminiscent of Glastonbury, long drop toilets without the barrier to stop your own wee coming back at you, leading to much contortion on the part of ladies without a she wee. Just like the loos at glasto, these toilets eat mobile phones. Beth’s phone was a victim on our first day, and each morning the alarm went off at 7am, despite being immersed in 10 feet of poo!  

Secret santa/sinterklaas.

At Afi we were treated to another, much more impressive canopy walkway, high up in the trees, followed by another waterfall (have you spotted the pattern yet?).

Christmas day was spent in the village of Akpap Okoyong, also in Cross River state, home of the famous missionary Mary Slessor, and VSO Sarah! Secret santa got me a wonderful necklace and earrings, and in honour of Sarah, the Dutch vso, everyone had written each other a poem in the Dutch sinterklaas tradition. Later we had a delightful dinner of fish and chips around 11pm, after not really realizing that the fish weren’t gutted, and in true Nigerian style, running out of water mid preparation. I just peeled spuds, so couldn’t claim any credit at all.

Calabar carnival was mildly entertaining, not quite as efficiently organized as Notting Hill, with the police’s preferred method of crowd control being whips and sticks, there were some pretty good costumes though!  
Calabar carnival.
We crossed over to Cameroon by ferry, told to arrive at 4am at the port, and turned up at 5, only to wait until 9 for the ferry to leave. Standard practice. We were interviewed by ‘Femi’ the friendly local Nigerian secret service agent, who wanted to know where we worked, names of our employers, and what we were doing in Nigeria, and then wangled us an upgrade to 1st class!

Mt Cameroon, obligatory summit victory photo.

Our first stop in Limbe was delicious grilled fish and plantain on the sea front, followed by the trip to Buea, at the base of Mount Cameroon.

Exhausted walking through a volcanic
crater late on day 2, yes, that's me, the old man. With the stick.
The trek up and down Mount Cameroon, West Africa's highest mountain, at 4,095 metres, took three days. We trekked for six hours the first day, eleven the next, and seven on the last day. It's an active volcano, which last erupted in 2000, and we walked through craters, and across lava flows, with the smell of sulphur in the air. The view was worth the walk, although it was exhausting, we were lucky none of us suffered from altitude sickness. George, our guide had claimed he didn’t think Emily would make It up the mountain, being so ‘heavy’, she proved him very wrong! Thereafter any sentence beginning ‘George said… ‘ was discounted. It turned out to be me who suffered the most on the way down, and I blame it all on this terrible blister. Sympathy please, not expressions of disgust.

We got back down to Limbe in time for New Years Eve, and stayed in the definitely disheveled Atlantic Beach Hotel, with an incredible view from our balcony. In true vso style we fitted four in a room and made the most of the pool to clean off the volcanic ash from mount Cameroon, and flooded the bathroom. They loved us. New Years eve in Limbe consisted of amazing pizza at Emilia’s pizza place - not the real name, and beer at the street side bar, Las Vegas, where new years eve was announced on true African time, about five minutes late!

After two days on the volcanic ash beaches at Limbe, Emily and Karen went back to Nigeria, whilst Rich III and I headed down south to Kribi, home of white sand beaches and one of few waterfalls in the world which flows directly into the sea, and lots more fish and beer. Cameroonians drink more beer per head than any other African country.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

What is a capacity building advisor?

I’ve realised that I haven’t really explained my role at Hope for the Village Child since I started this blog, so here goes...

Children at Ungwan Asiliko school are without desks    

First a bit on Hope for the Village Child (HVC from now on), it’s a rural development NGO that works with thirty rural communities southeast of Kaduna city, which has been operating for 15 years. They focus on poor rural communities who don’t have access to adequate health care, education or even water and sanitation, and helps them attain these basic necessities to improve their health and lives. 

As the name suggests, the focus is on children, but HVC works with all members of a community to improve the lives of children. The office is split into different sections that each carry out different activities, these are health, education, women, secure livelihoods, rickets and children with disabilities. To give you a proper understanding of what each section does would take a while, but the HVC website gives a good summary with photos: 

I’m not a specialist in any of the areas listed above, so how do I fit in?

The teacher uses the wall as there is no blackboard.
My job title is ‘Capacity building advisor’ and the reason for my post is to support the organisational development (OD) process at HVC. I don’t have community development experience, but I have spent time working in offices, and big organisations, so I understand how they work. The OD process is a way of making the organisation more efficient, in its policies, systems and the skills of staff, so that they can do their work as effectively as possible. The idea behind VSO is the motto ‘Sharing Skills, Changing Lives’ so I’m sharing my knowledge and skills with HVC to help their organisation improve. It doesn’t make sense for me to give immunisations (if I could) or to teach school children, because there are Nigerians who are qualified to do those things, the idea of a capacity builder is to improve the skills of those who will stay in the country, leaving behind a sustainable change in the form of people.

Still following? Ok, so what does that really mean... ?

The OD process was begun the year before I arrived by another VSO volunteer who left in January. I’ve had to pick up from where he left off, which was a challenge in itself. Although he’d left all the documents I needed to work with, no one seemed to know which direction the OD process needed to take next, as there was no specific written plan for OD. We’ve now written a five year plan to guide the organisation forward, and I’m working with an OD committee who will be responsible for implementing the plan in the future.
As part of the OD process the last volunteer undertook an assessment of the capacities of the organisation. The staff identified areas they wanted to improve which were focused around involving communities in planning, monitoring and evaluation of programmes, as well as advocacy and their strategic plan, which doesn’t exist. They also carried out document and IT audits, which identified that HVC staff needed more IT training, and better documentation, including written policies for things like HR, finance etc.  
Since I arrived in February I’ve been helping to develop an HR and financial policy, and before I arrived they had already completed child safeguarding, IT, and community expenses policies. 

An activity from the PM&E workshop
I also attended a training on participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) from VSO with my counterpart from HVC. PM&E is a way of including all sections of a community to make sure you get as much input and involvement as possible from all the people who might benefit from a project or programme. This will in turn lead to better projects.  E.g. If a community has identified that they need a well, then you should use a participatory process to plan the location, so that it is useful for all members of the community.

In August, I, my counterpart and another colleague ran a three day training for HVC staff in participatory M&E, and at our retreat in September the staff were able to practice these tools with one of the focal communities. This was my biggest achievement to date, and it felt like I was really sharing skills. Plans for the next few months include helping with the annual planning process, developing the planning templates, working with each section to plan their monitoring and evaluation for the year and doing some research into strategic planning. 

In my first few months at HVC, whilst I was finding my way on the OD process I tended to fall back onto what I know best... fundraising. But that’s an entirely different blog post.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Church Naija style

When I arrived in Nigeria, I was told the apocryphal story of a previous volunteer who had agreed to go to church with an acquaintance, and after an exhausting four hour service in a hot church, had said something which indicated she had enjoyed herself. She was then woken at 6am to attend church for the next four successive Sundays until she plucked up the courage to say she didn't want to go...

With this in story in mind, and knowing full well that services here are not usually less than four hours long, I have always approached invitations to attend church with trepidation.

The steeple of the national Christian centre,
Those services I've been brave enough (or too weak to refuse) to attend have ranged in size and length, and craziness of the preaching, but have been endlessly surprising.

My first service was at the Assemblies of God church in Kaduna, a giant building able to hold up to a thousand people. Richard had been accosted by one of the many church pastors whilst at the barbers, and despite his insistence to the man that we were Buddhist, managed to commit to attending one Sunday at 8am! We arrived at 8.20, and were promptly split up, I to attend a ladies bible class, and he a mens. I was handed a white handkerchief, which I assumed was on account of the heat, and used it to mop my brow. I was then handed another, and politely asked to use it to cover my hair... mightily embarrassed I complied. Once the service proper began, we were seated at the front of the church, with all the other new worshippers, where were able to enjoy the service. I didn't recognise any of the songs, but the dancing and enthusiasm in the service was infectious, and the women's outfits of shiny large head wraps, sparkly tops and wrappers made for an incredible view, especially the two large groups which had on matching outfits in honour of the women's day at the church.. We left after 3 and a half hours, with at least three collections, lots of songs and dancing, but before the sermon, which may have been another hour! We crept out of a side door, with the excuse we had to visit some friends but I'm sure our exit didn't go unnoticed!

Some of the amazing outfits worn by Nigerian ladies to church.
My second visit to church in Nigeria was a complete juxtaposition to the first. My colleague Monday had asked me to attend a service for the children's day at his church, in Ungwan Romi, a surburb towards the less well off end of town where I work. This church was much smaller, with only space for up to 100 people, it was sparsely decorated, with plastic chairs and a low altar, much less fancy and golden than the Assemblies of God. The children's day performances were wonderful, there were plays, dances, songs and children reading passages from the bible from memory. Some of the readings were very cute, small children around five had learnt just sentences, whereas older ones had whole passages off pat. I realised how so many Nigerians are confident at public speaking, those who couldn't remember their lines were laughed off stage, I'm sure an experience like that at the age of eight would've hardened me up a bit! I'd arrived at 9, and by the time the performances were over it was 12, when the pastor proceeded to give his usual one hour long sermon. Just as he was warming to his theme 'giving your daughter a phone will turn her into a harlot', around 45 minutes into his sermon, I made my excuses to Monday and crept out the back. Unfortunately my escape was much more obvious this time as Monday's brother revved his motorcycle to take me back to the bus stop and quite a few people were distracted (unsurprisingly) from the sermon.

My next attendance at church came through my neighbour, Oscar, he is an aspiring pastor, and had set up a Friday night fellowship, which he had asked Richard and I to attend every time he saw us, and we did our best to come up with a variety of excuses not to. He finally lured us there with the promise of a preacher from the British High Commission. Our curiosity got the better of us, and we found ourselves spending our Friday evening in a sparse function room, with a band, and about ten other people singing, dancing and praying very loudly. The preacher herself went on for around 2 hours, she was a fan of old testament fire and brimstone, and managed to move from one point to another, and back without ever really making any sense to me. After arriving at 6, we got home at 9, from where we proceeded to the pub to try and salvage our evening. Unfortunately for Oscar I don't think the fellowship meetings ever became sustainable because the hire of the hall was quite expensive. So they have now moved to his home, from where every Friday I'm serenaded by loud exclamations and prayers and shouts for forgiveness, thankfully he hasn't invited me for a while.

Innocent & Dorcas at the alter.
The most recent church services I've attended have been decidedly better than the first three. Last weekend I attended the wedding of my friend Innocent in Katari, a small village between Kaduna and Abuja. The advertised start time was 10am, so the service started around 10.45, it was in a Catholic church and lasted a mere two hours! It was a breath of fresh air compared to the other services, with people reading from the bible, and a sermon that related to peoples everyday lives, and talked about love and marriage. For more details about the service, my friend Beth has written a brilliant blog which sums up the service and the party aftwerwards. It was at the reception that I had my first taste of palm wine in Nigeria, which was disappointing to say the least.

The final church service came about through an Irish family connection, it seems no matter how far I travel in the world there's no escaping them. The bishop of Clogher, (Irish family connection: he's the local bishop for my Grandad's cousin in northern Ireland, who also knows my great uncle in Waterford), was visiting Kaduna to support the Jacaranda project run by the Anglican church, on the farm next door to Hope for the Village Child. So on Sunday I found myself at St Paul's Anglican church, Kakuri, where the bishop gave his longest sermon ever, a mere 30 minutes! The only problem I found is that after listening to too many terrible sermons in Nigeria, I've developed a tactic of planning holidays and general day dreaming during church services, so when quizzed by the bishop of Kaduna's wife after the service, I couldn't remember what he'd said! That aside, the service itself was an amazing mix of traditional Nigerian and British hymns, with a thanksgiving section where families bless marriages, new babies, and one group even brought three live goats to the alter. There was a section where visitors were asked to stand so that they could be welcomed, and I was bombarded by hand shakes, smiles, and welcomes from all directions, some people were amazed that I'd arrived with the bishop, but wasn't his daughter, and actually lived in Kaduna.

Overall I've found church in Nigeria colourful, different and full of beautiful outfits music and dancing, I'm not sure how I'll feel being back in our cold church for Christmas next year, with a few people trying to sing louder than the cassette playing the backing music... but sometimes when I'm stuck in a four hour service here, that's all I wish for.