From Termites in Sambarkas to mobile phones

THE thorny issues of smart phones in rural Africa and termites in the sambarkas (traditional mud huts with a straw roof) were among the topics raised in our UK-Nigeria online meeting.

However, the majority of this week’s session was used to ensure the team updated Pam on any project developments in readiness for the ICTD 2010 conference, where she will be presenting.

Witchcraft update:
From the team’s discussion it is sadly not unusual for children in Nigeria to be accused of being witches - they are sometimes called 'spirits', and are often held responsible for illnesses and deaths. There seems to be widespread support for this generalised belief in witchcraft with many churches also sharing this fear and performing ceremonies in prayer houses to combat those they think are witches. Many children even confess to being witches because these beliefs are so ingrained that they internalise the thoughts others have about them.

John has been seeking professional help and guidelines to help these traumatised children, but my understanding is that there was little response to this. He needs advice for his staff regarding how best to minimise the psychological effects suffered by these youngsters as a result of such ordeals. We heard at last week’s meeting that staff from Fantsuam Foundation had rescued a child who had been outcast and had already been the target of several attempts to kill him.
John was  pleased to tell the team that the rescued child, Joseph, now has his own room, a school uniform, and has started at a school 15 minutes from his new home. He did very well in his pre-test and has been allowed to start at Junior Secondary Class2, rather than JSOne. Fantsuam has also bought him a mattress and pillow, and Comfort is supervising his food supplies. The best news of all came last Monday when John saw him smile for the first time.

John also gave us a quick update about a few of the other children he has rescued - often referring to them as his sons and daughters, as in:

  • “My daughter is doing just great, she will be five years old next week, on the 17th.”
  •  “Six-week-old Tili came to clinic today, she has a cold: she's an orphan. We are grateful to the neighbour who is looking after her.”

Many of the rescued children have appalling injuries which are duly photographed and documented by FF. Tragically there are instances where it is suspected that children have been murdered, but proof is difficult to secure and successful prosecution is difficult. Fantsuam Foundation tackles the issue of child welfare in a variety of ways. Not only do they have their orphans and vulnerable children programmes, but they also organise marches for children’s rights and organise drama to highlight the issue.

The team were also informed that the previous week’s celebrations at FF went very well. In fact the Disability Parade had the Emir's support and photos will hopefully be forwarded. The Volunteering Day was described as being ‘great’.

On the HIV/AIDS Day John toured local schools and FF now have more youths on their prevention programme. As feared however, John confirmed that the HIV/AIDS funding which was meant to be transferred from ICAP to the Government is not without its problems.
In addition we were told that FF are now looking at a possible partnership directly with the pharmaceutical companies for condoms and test kits. But as yet there are no firm leads to report.
We were also informed by John that the demolition of the mud huts (sambarkas) is underway in order to make way for a new building made from compressed earth bricks for the Clinic and HIV Department. This was met with mixed feelings because, although it is exciting news, the huts have fond memories for those UK team members who have stayed in them. We were therefore pleased to hear that Kelechi will try to video them as a historical and nostalgic record of the early days of FF.

Research update at Fantsuam:
FF is looking at nutrition training as an intervention. Recent FF research found severe malnutrition rates of 8% and moderate malnutrition rates of 16% in 5 to 11-year-olds in over 100 children in the Kafanchan area.

Other research-related info was the completion of the Beekeeping Manual translation into Hausa by Ladi and her team. John is now editing and will be sending it to Gay Marris, the Science Coordinator of the National Bee Unit of The Food and Environment Research Agency.

The team learned that the next phase of ESSPIN  is the monitoring of the work of the community-based school teams. Feedback so far indicates that communities which have the teams are becoming more involved in their local schools. The Government official has asked if Fantsuam can repeat the programme for more communities. John will pass on this info to ESSPIN to see if they are willing to support FF to move further into the communities.

FF is actively trying to establish Community Health Committees. The CHCs can be strategic community-based research teams looking at specific health priorities and participating in health surveillance. They will also be a component of the Knowledge Resource Centre which has the community at its centre and promotes rural prosperity.

Kelechi gave the team a brief update about the software that he and FF are currently implementing (Dokeos/Mifos/Twitter) and Pam reminded us all about Hofstadter's rule: Everything takes longer than you expect. John, Pam and Comfort have all contributed to the ICTD 2010 online debate
To see what Comfort wrote  see