Education, Health
Empowered Under the Mahogany Tree
Thursday 09-Jun-2016

The apprehension of starting a new job got to me, like it would any other person, as I sat on the flight to Abuja. I was headed to the ActionAid’s head office for my induction, and had all the typical concerns: Would I fit in? What if I didn’t do well? There was so much to learn!


When I and the four other new employees arrived, we were told our induction would include a visit to one of ActionAid’s Local Rights Programme (LRP) communities. Although I was nervous, a part of me was also curious to have a feel of a rural community life – especially staying with a host family overnight to experience their lifestyle. One of my colleagues, a nursing mother, had to be excused from the community visit, so I and my new colleagues set out to our allocated communities in Ofuloko for an experience of a lifetime. I was allocated to a family in Egbahieme but I also volunteered to visit Etutu, the community my colleague, the nursing mother, was meant to visit.


We were was given a brief about our host families but alas, it turned out that the entire community was actually my host; men, women, children, and young adults all came out trying to show me how pleased they were to receive me. And oh, how my host family was receptive! I was fast to learn the basic greetings so that I could quickly blend in… Olodudu – Good morning, Me-oroka – Good afternoon and Olane – Good evening, and the response to any greeting: ah, ah, ah, agba, awa, meaning ‘thank you’ (I still have no idea why you always have to say these three words meaning the same thing repeatedly in greetings but it was fun to learn and say!)


An hour later, with a pocket full of garden eggs as a snack, Favour, my local guide, decided it was time to go to Etutu, my other host-community. Then, my ‘walking ordeal’ began; it turned out to be a 45 minute walk! I wasn’t expecting that! There were no buses, taxis or commercial motor cycles?! My goodness! On an ordinary day, I wouldn’t have tried that, not even for exercise. As we went, Favour told me the five communities that make up Ofuloko are called that because of the mahogany trees all around; Ofuloko means ‘under the mahogany tree.’


My host family was preparing to go to their millet farm when we arrived there, and I decided to go with them. It was fun going to the farm, especially having to carry a big bowl of millet on my head (I loved that part actually) but it was no ‘smiley face’ when I started feeling the weight on my neck. I also assisted them in breaking the palm kernels for sale which was less strenuous.



On the 45 minute walk back to Egbahieme, I struggled to walk as I could feel my legs shaking, but I made it.


During that long walk back, I asked Favour: what has ActionAid done for you? She confirmed that ActionAid, through their LRP partner (Participation Initiative for Behavioral Change in Development) built them a health centre and a school with a children’s playground. I thought I should visit them.


We visited the school first. It had a playground, gender sensitive toilets, beautiful classrooms with chairs and tables, and water tanks. I was amazed! I had such a big smile on my face that I could not hide it from my guide. The one beautifully painted building in the middle of the village was from ActionAid. I was happy to be part of an organisation that could make such a big difference.



School built by ActionAid


We had a brief stop at the health centre, but it was under lock and key because of the nation-wide doctors’ strike. The community provided the land on which ActionAid built the health centre and provided all the equipment needed to run the clinic effectively. The community, with the support of ActionAid, visited the local government to request that doctors and nurses be posted to the health centre. And they succeeded! Four nurses were posted ; one is there full time as the main nurse while the others come only occasionally due to lack of transportation to the community.


My last stop in the tour of the village was the stream which serves as the main source of water for the five communities in Ofuloko, which are spread over 30 miles (Egbahieme, Ajire 1, Ajire 2, Etutu, and Okpoyogodo). After about 15 minutes descending the muddy and slippery hill leading to the stream, I apologetically excused myself from having to ascend carrying a big bowl of water on my head. Where the women draw the strength to do the things they do, I might never know. My visit left me with the thought that women are truly the strength of any community and home.


‘ActionAid!!! No Woman,No Nation!!!’ ‘No Farm, No Food!!!’ These are the slogans that I noticed are mostly used in the communities. It is gradually becoming a form of greetings used when you see a gathering of women, whether it is a formal or an informal gathering. They learnt these from the women’s enlightenment programme ActionAid organised for them. A selection of women are trained to enlighten others on their rights and how to hold their representatives/government accountable. These women then go back to their communities to train other women, a programme, essentially,for training the trainers.


I spent the night with my host family in Egbahieme watching a movie shot in their local dialect; thankfully, Favour was still around to interpret for me. At 11pm, we all went to sleep.


I slept soundly and woke up to a cool Sunday morning with the urge to use the restroom. Of course, I knew the restroom would really just be the bush, but it turns out I was wrong. Their toilet is actually their farm, not the bush, because human waste is what serves as their fertilizer. Favour said their land has been destroyed by erosion and sadly they also do not have fertile land, so the ‘human manure’ is very useful.


After I had my breakfast, I was still going round saying my good byes to families in the community when Victor came to announce it was time to leave for Abuja. The community’s reaction to my departure was overwhelming – a lot of them wanted to give me a parting hug and kept reminding me to come again soon.


The visit to Ofuloko left me perplexed at how the community has been able to live through their challenges all these years; with a dilapidated school that had broken chairs, tables and a muddy classroom floor, and no health centre. The closest clinic they had before ActionAid’s intervention was many miles away.


I still reflect on the happiness the people of Ofuloko and Etutu exude when they talk about the work of ActionAid in their communities, but I have also been left wondering what the Local Government chairman of Igala Mela/Odolu ward (which covers Ofuloko) has been doing because even the basic needs of the ward have not been met. I also ask myself, what if ActionAid did not provide them with a school, a health centre, and medical equipment and supported them in their request for nurses and teachers to be posted to the community? The school structure erected by the state government is inhabitable and absolutely dangerous to the lives of children. It is evident that the rights of these children are being violated. Has Kogi State Government then willfully neglected the future of the Nigerian child in Ofuloko?


I am happy and proud that I am now part of a team that supports local communities, the poor and excluded in holding their governments to account!


Author: Oluwakemi Oyeleye, Sponsorship Communications Advisor, ActionAid Nigeria

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