Saturday, 28 February 2009

Children are our future

In December I wrote about the launch of the Children’s Parliament and the Fantsuam Advocacy Centre for Children – Day of Change. Today we witnessed the parliamentarians in action – parading through their local community with the message ‘No to Child Abuse’.

My colleague Edi, who coaches the parliamentarians on their duties and workplans, asked if I could give them a short introductory speech before they set off from Fantsuam’s Knowledge Resource Centre (KRC) armed with identical red shirts, banner and marching band.
So with 5 minutes’ notice I tried to put some words together.

Now whilst I feel a touch embarrassed quoting Whitney Houston in any sort of public speaking, I think that the words that came quickly to my head, really meant something to me. So here they are:

People say that things are easier to say than to do.
"No to child abuse" – is four short words. What we are doing today, and in FACC, is not only to communicate these words to the community and to help them to understand what these four words mean, but try and show why they are important to the community.

Children are the future: Whitney Houston was not the only person to have said this but she certainly popularised it and I think there is real truth in the first few words of her song Greatest Love of All:

“I believe the children are our future, Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside, Give them a sense of pride to make it easier”

"Child abuse" can be defined as causing or permitting any harmful or offensive contact on a child's body; and, any communication or transaction of any kind which humiliates, shames, or frightens the child. However some organisations go further to claim that “any act or omission, which fails to nurture or in the upbringing of the children” amounts to child abuse.

Our parade today and the work of FACC is about protecting the children of Bayan Loco and the local area. But it is also about laying the foundations of a strong future for the community.

The rest of this blog will be pictures – pictures to show our parade, and pictures of the children from the community who joined the parade. Pictures of the adults of the community who saw our parade, and I hope, understood at least part of the message on our banner.

But there are also pictures of the community itself, and its environment. Pictures which show why Bayan Loco needs a better, brighter future. Hopefully one that its children, unabused and empowered, can help deliver.

The procession starts off in Fantsuam Close
Turn right out of Fantsuam Close and Edi's already looking at the directions...

Through the railway quarters of Bayan Loco and the crowd is swelling

Still going strong through Zikpak; below - holding up the 'traffic' as we cross the road toward Ungwa Masara

Children and adults watch as we parade through the community

Trying to work out what all the noise is about

Clapping to the beating drums

Children join the parade

Women take a break from their domestic chores to see what's happening, and join in with the fun

And they're not the only ones.... tomato sellers, welders...

Grinders, a local grocery store

A food seller preparing lunch, brickmakers making the most of the local earth

The gaiya ('gift of labour') road gang dig a ditch in preparation for the coming rains as the children gambol past
But after two hours under the hot midday sun everyone's pleased to be on the journey home

Small children take advantage of rides - big and small.

Turning the final corner into Fantsuam Close and the dusty end is in sight with the promise of jolof rice and kono drink for all participants!

But not before the speech:

A large part of the parliamentarians’ advocacy work is to influence the State and local governments: to adopt the Rights of the Child Act (not yet ratified by the Kaduna State government) and to ensure that the commitment to Universal Basic Education becomes a reality.

The Special Advisor to the Chairman, Jema’a Local Government Area, Mr Gibson Bala was invited by the Parliamentarians to address the parade today. Unfortunately he only sent his representative, a common occurrence in Nigerian politics.

However, rest assured that his words were taken on board. Well at least the children (for once) found the representative more interesting than the batuari......

I have been helping to put together the latest FACC newsletter and have just been handed the following text from Joel Moses, Speaker of the Kafanchan Children’s Parliament.

I join FACC due to what I have been seeing happening with my colleagues which are the children living in the community, also Kaduna State at large: which children have been denied their basic rights and also accusing them of being witches and wizards and denied them basic education. So for that I want to see an end to these critical problems.

My purpose is that the Gold must be worn. In which all children must be treated in the right way and also to see that they attend what we called the Universal Basic Education, for the benefit of our country. But I want you to know that we cannot do all these without the Government assisting because children are the light of the nation.

What we are really planning for the next months is to see how we can reach out to schools and churches which I definitely know God will lead us through. And I also cry that the Government should see us into all these activities.

Thank you, Joel Moses.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Joys of the simple life

A fellow VSO in Cameroon recently wrote on his blog about all the trials and tribulations he had because his fridge blew the fuses on one side of the house, his bathroom water heater blew on the fuses on the other side of the house, and he had huge hassle trying to renew his home internet subscription service. It made me think how lucky we are that we don’t have any (well really) electricity to blow any fuses and certainly no internet in wireless distance of Waterboard Road, Kagoro whose operation could irritate us.

My room and the kitchen by kerosene lamp

Nigeria has made me (even more) appreciate the simple things in life and the joy that they bring. Children jumping up and down on the street with huge smiles on their faces shouting ‘batauria’ every time you walk past is enough to brighten any day. Sitting out at the backyard, with no electric light to spoil the dazzling brightness of the moon or the increasing proliferation of stars as your eyes get accustomed to the dark when the moon is new. When the barman brings you a cold Star (or frankly anything cold).

I just happened to be listening to ‘The Interview’ with David Attenborough just before the 07:00am news one morning on the World Service, where he was being asked about the famous scene of him sitting amongst mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The interviewer asked him how it felt and he said: “It was strange... No, that’s not right, it was bliss.” And I could understand what he meant.

I don’t know the dictionary definition of ‘bliss’ (and I’m going to resist the urge to look it up, as I’m at home and we don’t have internet!). But it’s something very different to happiness, perhaps a little along the road from ‘joy’ but for me it has to be simple.

Let me try and get you somewhere close to what I think it feels like: for those of you living in London – the feeling when you opened the curtains a couple of weeks ago and your daily environment transformed by a nine inch blanket of snow (the feeling before you started thinking about the wahalla it would play with the transport system). You really don’t need the trappings of modern life to be happy. As one of my housemates astutely commented: those trappings are distractions to real honest pleasure. We don’t have any distractions here!

Some of these thoughts occurred to me as we visited the ancient site of Nok, about one hour south of Kafanchan, towards Abuja, with our good, motorised, friends, Sabine and Markus. Some claim that Nok’s original inhabitants were the descendants of Noah’s son Ham and that “it is second only to Egypt in terms of its culture and civilisation” (according to the former chief of Nok).

Nok landscape obscured by the harmattan haze

Unlike Egypt, you’re extremely hard pressed to find evidence of former civilisation. In fact you wouldn’t really notice that there had been any occupation there at all. We were privileged to have Fatima, who works for the Nok Museum, as our guide, as we stood amongst standing stones – said to be traditional courts, into caves with indistinct markings on the walls – said to be a hospital and its register. Across fields where the faintest of boundaries marked the compounds of the clans when they first descended from the caves.

Clearly it’s a hospital! Whilst Dori suggests to Sabine that perhaps this system of registration (black, red and white dots – dead, treated, born) would work at the College of Education in Gidan Waya?

As we walked through the (dry season allowing) lush landscape, amongst the Fulani herds, past the miners searching (illegally) for semi-precious stones and fully-precious terracotta artefacts, I remember thinking – this cave life doesn’t look too bad.

The caves were dry, secure and comfortable, there was invariably a source of water nearby and food either walked past or grew outside your front door. If I really had to choose between living and working in London for the rest of my life (no breaks allowed) and being a troglodyte 2,500 years ago... hmm I think I might choose the latter.

Ham’s descendants walked this way – probably more skilfully than us
Whilst we enjoyed a photo-opportunity in someone’s front room perhaps?

Being happy is about expectations. The children on our street are entertained by wheels on the ends of long sticks (the Kagoro equivalent of a remote controlled car), home-made bows and arrows, carefully cut-out leaves stuck on the ends of sticks that act as perfect pin-wheels when you run along with them in front of you. And not to forget every Kagoro child’s favourites: rolling a tyre along the road with a stick or being pulled along the road on a piece of cardboard.

Shopping is another simple pleasure: you don’t need to choose between the tree tomatoes, the cherry tomatoes, the beef tomatoes or indeed, all of the above loose or packaged.

To us the differentiators are the colour of the tomatoes, how long we think they have been sitting in the sun, how big the seller’s smile is (or how many extra we think they may throw into the bag at the end).

We buy peanuts out of a huge basin. A quick visual check allows you to see if they are healthy.. assessing the small stone content is somewhat more challenging..

Our local bar sells beer (Star, Harp or Gulder) or Maltina. More sophisticated places may have ‘minerals’ which is usually Coke or Fanta or Sprite. Very rarely more than one of them at a time. Because of this you rarely go with any expectations that might be dashed. Instead you find yourself unfeasibly happy when your hostelry has your beverage of choice..

That it should be cold as well really does come pretty close to bliss.