From Nigeria with toothpaste...
From Nigeria with toothpaste...
On July 1, 2009 The Kilkenny People covered the story of Karen Reidy in the article From Nigeria with toothpaste. Karen is one of the winners of EIL Travel Awards 2009 and will be in Nigeria to work in AIDS and HIV clinics for 10 weeks. This is what Karen recounted to the newspaper before she left earlier this month.
NIGERIA has a bad reputation and not without reason. Ask someone what they know about Nigeria and invariably the negative responses will outweigh the positive. Corruption, human rights abuses, attacking of oil installations, and election rigging are just some of the reasons why Nigeria has had so much bad press in recent years.
Tell someone that you're going to Nigeria and if they haven't been there before, they offer sympathy. Tell anyone that has been to Nigeria, they laugh first, and then they offer sympathy. Tourists don't go there. Journalists treat it as a war zone. Diplomats see it as a punishment posting, according to experienced African traveller Richard Dowden. Well, you'll never guess where I'm going for the next 10 weeks… Nigeria!
My main motivation for going to Nigeria is to experience what life is like for people living in a country so vastly different from my own. I did a lot of travelling last year throughout Asia and South America and from what I have read about Nigeria, I don't think anything will prepare me for what life will be like over there. I think this is an amazing opportunity to learn first-hand about the difficulties and challenges faced by people living with HIV and AIDS in Africa and also about the positive contribution that programmes such as Living Hope Care (LHC) are making on a daily basis to improve the quality of life for others. This is where I will be working over the next three months in Ilesa, Osun State.
HIV and AIDS are a global pandemic and yet people remain oblivious to this problem in Ireland because it is not directly on their doorstep. I think that we are extremely privileged to be born into a developed society and that we have a social and moral obligation to empower those less fortunate, especially when Western societies have done continue to exacerbate the problems faced by our African counterparts though unfair trading laws, the exploitation of Africa's natural resources and work force, and by pollution.
I hope in some small way I can help to raise awareness about some of these issues on my return to Ireland and if I can reach just one person and open their eyes to something new, then I shall feel that my trip was worthwhile.
My first exposure to EIL's Global Awareness Programme came via the Ryan Tubridy radio show. The ethos of the Cork-based company, which is to enrich lives through intercultural learning, was explained and details of the Global Awareness Programme were given. This programme offers four volunteers the chance to experience first-hand the impact of HIV and AIDS on the lives of millions of African people. Two volunteers will be sent to South Africa and two will be sent to Nigeria. The participants will be placed in HIV and AIDS clinics for the duration of the programme, living with host families, working within the local community, giving workshops in orphanages and brothels to enhance further understanding and education about HIV and AIDS.
After listening with great interest about this fantastic opportunity I sent in my application form and thought nothing further of it. That was until I got called for an interview and presentation in Trinity College Dublin. So here I am a couple of weeks down the line, packing my malaria medication and mosquito net and heading for sub- Saharan Africa during the Nigerian raining season. Excited is not the word!
In exchange for this life- altering experience I shall be saying goodbye to a lot of things we take for granted in western societies - from running water and showers, for example, right down to smaller things like sanitary products and toothpaste - if you're anywhere but the capital city Lagos. I hope my taste buds will soon adapt to the culinary delights of pounded yam and guinea corn!
Electricity cuts and water shortages are part of daily life in Nigeria. The State-run NEPA Nigerian Electricity Power Authority, operates at only half of its generating capacity and Nigerians refer to it as Never Expect Power Again. In 2006 NEPA became PHCN Power Holding Company of Nigeria or Problem Has Changed Name! One thing that can certainly be said of Nigerians is that they definitely have a sense of humour.
After meeting so many Nigerians in Ireland over the past few years I'm delighted to be finally learning more about the culture and the history of their incredibly diverse country.
Today, 140 million people live in a country one and a half times the size of France, with most of these people living in cities. This figure has jumped dramatically from 35 million in 1960.
Despite Nigeria being know internationally as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, having a poor human rights record, and poor infrastructure, it functions amongst the organised chaos of its cities and manages to produce leading international talents in fields of business, law, science, art, literature, music, sport and human rights.
It is also home to the second-largest film industry in the world according to the latest UNESCO figures, surpassing Hollywood and second only to Bollywood. Unsurprisingly, it's referred to as 'Nollywood'!
Religion is a huge feature of Nigerian life, with the country being predominantly Muslim in the North and Christian in the south. I shall be staying in Ilesa, south western Nigeria where society is shaped by God. I was surprised to learn just how deep and revered the attitude is towards Christianity in this country.
People frequently break out into impromptu hymn singing; women on buses sing religious songs under their breath for the entire duration of their journey and businesses are named after God, for example, Let God be my Witness Tyre Menders; Thank the Lord Bakery and Praise the Lord Optical Services. I've learned so many interesting facts about Nigeria and I haven't even left the country yet!
As part of the volunteers pre-departure training, we attended a DTALK course called 'Understanding HIV and AIDS in a Development Context'. This was imperative in deepening our knowledge of, and sensitivity towards, HIV and AIDS-related issues.
Over 3.5 million Nigerians are HIV positive, which is a very significant percentage of the 22 million people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa. Part of the remit of this voluntary programme is to help raise awareness on these issues on returning home to Ireland. I hope that this article will be the first step in highlighting the difficulties and challenges faced by Africans living with HIV and AIDS through my own personal experience.
These are some of the weakest and most marginalised people in the world and it is extremely important to help keep these issues firmly on the Irish political agenda on my return.
Recently I met Aine Costigan from DTALK who spent three years living and working in Nigeria during the 1970s. She told us that Nigeria may not be the most beautiful country in the world, but it is very, very interesting. Aine said that whenever she thinks of Nigeria she 'dreams in colour'.
I look forward to immersing myself fully in this foreign land, embracing new cultures and traditions and facing all the challenges that may present themselves as part of this exceptional and unique opportunity. For those of you who maybe interested, I plan on submitting further updates on my progress through news-paper articles and via a blog on the EIL website: http://www.eilireland.org/community/blogs
Karen Reidy from Parkmore in the city studied Media Arts in Dublin Institute of Technology and plans to do a MA in Development Studies in September.