Posted by: Wasrag | October 6, 2011

Nigeria 4 – by William Stumbaugh, PPP Team member

Sunday, we flew across the Niger River Delta to the east side (to Port Harcourt).  My impression is the delta spreads out much more than does the Mississippi in lower Louisiana.  It is vast with a maze of large and ‘hidden’ waterways.   The Niger is supposed to be Africa’s third largest river.

Monday, we meet with the non profit regional district council and listened to their presentation about their goals, challenges and completed projects.  This group was very different from prior groups with a much more sophisticated and organized leadership.  The presented a powerpoint program which was well done.  The leaders demonstrated knowledge of meeting dynamics and organization-having a prepared agenda that was reviewed at the beginning and various individuals assigned and prepared to speak to different aspects of the presentation.

Heading out to the village by boat

On Tuesday, we traveled by car and boat to reach the community.  This boat trip was much shorter, on smoother waters and in boats that operated smoothly.  There were even life vests this time!  There were three boats, one for the military guard who were this time from a joint taskforce group, although they all seemed to be from the Nigerian navy.

The road trip was different matter.  It was the longest in distance, and in time due to having to continuously slow down, weave and brake for pot holes and detours for construction work.  This time the navy vehicle had emergency lights and a siren, and it blared the siren for long periods as our two vehicle convoy negotiated traffic gridlock.  Nigerian drivers don’t get out of the way of emergency vehicles as fast as we expect to, in part, because the streets are so crowded with vehicles that there is no where to go.  At times, some of the sailors with their semi automatic and automatic weapons would get out and walk among the traffic directing drivers to pull over and make a space, sometimes threatening with the weapons and banging car fenders with rifle butts.  It felt very strange sitting in the vehicle that was the cause of this behavior.  The Nigerians with us also said they felt embarrassed, but we were all glad to get through the traffic faster. The village we visited came out in force to give us a special welcome.

Traditional greeting from community women

A group of women singers dressed in traditional outfits greeted us and accompanied us throughout the few hours we were there, singing songs, dancing and playing rhythm instruments.  We visited different water sources, demonstrated the use of PUR as a flocculant for dirty water and took samples for lab testing.  We also attended a special reception with the village king and council of elders (chiefs).  At a community meeting hall, we broke out into groups with each of our team members meeting with a different group to elicit information and answer questions.  There were groups for men, women and youth.

On the way out of the regions, we were received by the chairman (mayor) of a provincial town who had governmental authority over the village we visited.  It didn’t last long, the press took our pictures, and the chairman assured us he was working to improve village water and sanitation service.

Meeting village leaders

Wednesday, we met  with a group called the Foundation for Family Heath which has been working in the delta.  This nonprofit is the sole source in Nigeria for PUR  and Water Guard which are home treatment chemicals.  Pur has flocculating and chlorine properties, and WG has chlorine. Two of the RDC proposals wanted to use funds to purchase these products and have local chemists (pharmacies) distribute them to families for a small cost.  The pharmacies are not professional-rather small merchants that have some self-medication knowledge and sell a variety of medicines out of their homes.  Our assessment was that this approach was short-term and not worthy of funding.  The products also come in small plastic packets (PUR) and small plastic bottles (WG), and there was no provision about how to collect the trash.  Trash is a problem in many areas that we saw and was particularly evident around homes, in the community and along the river edge.

We also met with a representative of Rural African Water Development Program.  RAWDP has demonstrated success in working with youth in villages to build and service sand filters which have a component to remove iron from water. RAWDP also produces a biolatrine that he didn’t know much about, but agreed to provide us with information about a knowledgeable contact later.  Elevated biolatrines could be used in the village locations with high water tables to process human feces for later use in gardens and orchards as a fertilizer.  When this concept was explained to leaders in many of the villages we visited, their initial reaction was disgust and doubt that the communities would accept it.

Warm and welcoming D9140 Governor Yinka and Rotarians

Wednesday evening was our last in the delta, and we were invited to a dinner with the Rotary district 9140 governor and members of his club.  It was a wonderful evening of fine food and fellowship after days of village exploring and rushed meals of widely variable quality.

Thursday, we flew to Abuja and debriefed our two week experience with the PIND leaders.  Topics included the strength of leadership in the villages and district development councils, identified water, sanitation and hygiene issues and potential solutions, the development of Engineers without Borders-Nigeria, and future partnerships with local rotary clubs.  We will be completing our report after leaving country and submitting it to PIND, the regional development councils, EWB Nigeria, the local rotary clubs, and Wasrag.  For my part, I have lots of photos and plan to develop a program to share with interested rotary clubs back home.

This is the last of my Nigeria messages.  While the challenges are great, the frustrations seemingly endless, the people are warm and friendly and many are eager to learn.  Certainly, as whites, we stood out everywhere we went.  Stares were ubiquitous, but when two individuals said hello, introduced themselves, shook hands (we learned a new handshake involving snapping your fingers) and asked questions about where we were from, why we were in Nigeria and were we enjoying ourselves, differences became opportunities for discovery and enrichment.

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