When life knocks you down - Cicely Brown

Written by Cicely Brown, a VSO volunteer with Fansuam Foundation
April 2009.

(I was travelling when this event took place however it is vividly recorded by my colleague Laurie whose words and pictures I borrow here).

I was working in my office this afternoon around 2:30 pm when the skies suddenly turned black and the wind started blowing hard enough to bend the palm trees on our compound. We have seen this quite a bit over the past couple of weeks as we are entering the rainy season and have been told by the locals that the strongest storms tend to be at the beginning of the rainy season (mid April) and toward the end of the rainy season (mid Sept). We have discussed how closely these storms resemble a hurricane back home (Florida), but everything we read prior to coming to Africa indicated that Africa does not have hurricanes.

The only difference between the storms we are experiencing here and the hurricanes back home is the length of the storm. The storms we have experienced so far only last for about 45 minutes and then they are gone. They arrive without much notice and in that brief period of time do a tremendous amount of damage to homes and businesses throughout the community.

I was looking out my office window admiring the strength of the storm when all of the sudden I saw red and white mangled pipes tumbling down onto the compound wall and roof of the main house where our office is located. It didn’t take long to realize it was our 140 foot mast that we rely on for our internet access.

The next stop for the mast was the office of the Director of Schools and then directly onto a classroom full of students. There was only about 40 feet of the mast remaining after hitting the classroom and it landed on our neighbor’s roof, splitting the roof in half. All of this damage and no one was injured.

The mast is critical to the organization as it provides internet access to clients of the Foundation and a means of revenue to help support our social service programs. One of the profit centers at the Foundation is an internet service provided known as Zittnet. The loss of the mast results in lost revenue, which results in reduced social service support to many of the people that have come to depend heavily on this little rural NGO that serves the community.

Speaking of the community, it was only a matter of minutes following the storm before the community was rallying around to help assess the damage and clean up the aftermath of the storm. All of this while sharing stories of how the storm damaged their homes by peeling off roofs, knocking down walls and sending trees tumbling on top of their homes. It also managed to peel the roof off of the primary school across the street from the Foundation.

It was an amazing thing to watch everyone rallying together and sharing personal stories of the severe damage just minutes after it occurred. There was a tone in their voice and a determined look about their faces that assures me this is a temporary set back in their lives. They didn’t waste any time asking why or discussing what they lost in the storm. They have no idea how they will pay to repair their homes or the local school, but they know they will do what needs to be done to keep families in their community safe and to keep the kids in school.

When the mast hit our office, I screamed to let John (Executive Director) know it had fallen. He immediately ran out into the storm to make sure no one was hurt. After about 10 minutes of assessing the damage to the facilities, he returned to the main house and announced that fortunately no one was injured. He quickly turned to me and said this is simply an opportunity to get a stronger mast and re-locate it to another area. I smiled at him knowing that like many of the homes destroyed, there was no insurance coverage to help cover the cost to purchase and re-locate a new mast or to repair the damage to the buildings.

I simply do not see how the Foundation can absorb this cost without it having a severe negative impact on the social services it provides to the children and families in our area. What I do know is that there is an abundance of strength and determination that drives this organization and that NOTHING will stop them from impacting lives in their community.

I have always believed that when you get knocked down in life you simply pick yourself up and keep on going. We have come to realize that this is a way of life for the people in Nigeria. They are constantly picking themselves up and putting the pieces of their life back together again. They refuse to quit. You cannot help but to admire and respect their strength and determination.

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