Nigeria · 128 Days · 33 Moments · April 2015

Sarah Parkes

Sarah's voyage in Nigeria

20 August 2015

Until we live in a culture that not only respects but also upholds basic civil rights for children, most children will not know love. Love is as love does, and it is our responsibility to give children love. When we love children we acknowledge by our every action that they are not property, that they have rights–that we respect and uphold their rights. Without justice there can be no love. ~bell hooks

3 August 2015

(Part 2): I then got home and did my washing while the team laptop charged, helped my host sister cook dinner and ask her opinion on young women's rights (as you do) and then spent the rest of the evening typing up the minutes from my projects last meeting ready to send over to the charity who want to work with us. THIS is more like it - keep the pace!
I'm feeling so positive after today. I went to a committee meeting and got started on the letters requesting help that urgently needed printing and sending, then I got called to a meeting the other side of town about an exciting personal side project that I'm working on with a few other volunteers which went really well. Then back to Aga to go and find a hut to get the letter printed and sealed and then over to Igbo Olwoa for 2 hours to do door-to-door knocking to explain the aim of VSO to the parents and ask their permission for their kids to sign up. It was hugely successful and we already have more than enough to create another children's parliament from today's work alone. Then we walked back so that we could hand deliver our letters on the way. There's a huge car wash that would be amazing if we could actually get them to agree to let us use it on Friday for a fundraising car wash so we've been sucking up to the manager like crazy and hopefully should hear back by tomorrow.

28 July 2015

Very positive day today. 3 of us and a team leader when to the CDC (community development committee) meeting which all of the Chairman's of Ikorodu attend. I've quickly learnt how important ego and status is in Nigeria so this had a slight feeling of attending a cock fight. The Chairman of Aga had got us a 5 minute slot at the meeting to introduce an idea that we have to fundraise for a mobile ICT bus. The bus would go to all areas of Ikorodu to teach kids 21st century skills and would be able to be carried on long after we have left. The response seemed positive except one chairman was annoyed we'd bypassed him and gone above him (ego and status comes into play again) but a higher member said they could help us and strongly supported the idea - we then left the meeting so we await an update as to where the consensus fell after we left.
CDC meeting

27 July 2015

Today we also met the Senior Advisor on Education at his house which was like something from Cribs: Nigerian Style. He has been very helpful to VSO in helping them set up the programme in Ikorodu and judging by the house and cars I'd imagine financially too. His wife was also there and was the first female cabinet member so we are hoping to get to know her better in the hopes she might be able to provide us with advice about our planned 'self-esteem for young women day' (a better title is in the pipeline), if only a photo of her to prove to young girls the positions of power that it is possible to reach and advice of how to handle the inevitable haters along the way.
Today was finally productive though more off our own backs than it being part of the groups work. Frustrated by the policies that VSO seem to find more important than actual work taking place, myself and another volunteer have begun a side project about female self esteem. In a couple of days we have recruited volunteers, come up with a target age range, planned sessions and activities, planned meetings with elders, got contact details of a charity that focuses on young adults and held group meetings so everyone involved knows what's going on and even made attempts at plans to recruit male volunteers to hold an equivalent young men's session. When this much can be achieved in 2 days the constant repetition of 'social inclusion' 'guided learning' and 'communication' just become empty buzz words that prevent anything actually happening. As it is we have an intersectional group of feminists from different ages, nationalities and races coming together to help young women.
Meeting with the Senior Advisor for Education.
(Continued) could do nothing about. We felt awful as if it was because she wasn't allowed by us then we'd made it worse by playing with her and encouraging her to come over, not knowing that she wasn't allowed and what would happen to her. It also would have made more sense to communicate with the adults in the situation rather than beating a child too small to understand what she'd done wrong. Our team leader said that violence against children is very normal in Nigeria but that it has got a lot better in recent years and that even his own beloved mom had beaten him as a child but as much as I tried to contextualise it within Nigerian culture, I was reminded of Hillary Clintons words 'violence against women is not cultural, it's criminal'. Surely then the same must goes for children? Social workers get a lot of flack in the UK but today, more than ever, I was grateful that we at least have the values where that the protection and safety of children is an unarguable right.
Today unfortunately was the first time that I have felt down and hopeless about Nigeria. Our programme will only ever create small change within our community at best but I was always aware of this however today made me realise properly just how much cultural problems have the potential to derail any change, whether local or governmental. I and 3 other UK volunteers were playing with a host little sister and even *I* find her adorable. She's about 3/4 years old and its impossible not to be charmed by her charisma and confidence. A female neighbour then appeared with a stick and smashed it so hard over her head that it broke. The little girl then sobbed and got dragged off and was too scared to leave her house to come near us. It came out of nowhere and she was not misbehaving in any way, neither were any of us smoking (which isn't allowed around children). It made me feel sick and while it might be normal here, I felt I had just witnessed child abuse that I

26 July 2015

What else is there to do with so much time on our hands but lock a volunteer in a generator cage?

25 July 2015

Actual cuties.

22 July 2015

Part 2: One girl asked why I am white and why white people let their hair grow long when they need to cut it. I said our hair is different texture so we can and let my (rather yucky at that point) hair down for her to touch to show her at which point all 20 kids leapt forward to touch it and said 'oh my goodness! It's so nice!' After this we had some photos and the kids were lovely and so happy to see us all and were shouting 'auntie sarah!!' - hopefully this positivity means we shall see them all back next week and maybe with extra children too! After this our lovely team member Fash said it was still early and he knew somewhere we could get food and drinks... And took us to a huge Nigerian celebration going on in memory of someone. We shamelessly gatecrashed it but I've never received such hospitality in my life. All 10 of us ate like kings and they packed extra for us to take home and had all the drinks and refreshments we could manage.
Part 1: Today was a packed day Ikorodu West (all 10+ of us) crammed into one tiny van and drove an hour away to the school which we will be focussing on during the rest of our time here. The kids were so different to UK kids and how I expected them to be. I told them they could ask me anything they wanted and expected them to ask about the queen or other daft British questions and instead one girl asked me 'why does Obama want to bring gay marriage to Nigeria?' 'Why is it in UK when there are problems they get solved whereas in Nigeria they don't? If I get attacked the police do not come but in UK if there is a bad politician he is arrested'... Anyone who knows me knows my level of skills with kids anyway without being grilled on current affairs so thank god for my counterpart.
So much to update! We've had a few slow days over the weekend which would normally be filled with community action days and work when we get the ball rolling but for now we just relaxed, had a few meetings and celebrated a volunteers 21st birthday. Yesterday we met with the police chief commissioner which initially looked set to be another annoying long afternoon as it seems to be the culture that an important person will always keep you waiting to prove their own importance and your lower status and big up their own ego. There is usually then a social test of some sort where they maybe ask you something in Yoruba and if you pass it the meeting can only then start. Luckily once we proved our worth and actually got to speak to the commissioner he was friendly and bought fizzy pop into the room for everyone which was heaven. He advised on our security in the area and confirmed the high presence of gangs in the area and begged us to stick to our curfew of 7pm in order to stay safe.
All the kids gathering to say bye and get photos

21 July 2015

Police crime commissioner

19 July 2015

So today my lovely momma snook my counterpart and I to a private swimming pool to relax and spend time with the family. Then all the volunteers had to make our way to a meeting point ready to host a welcome party for all of the host families to meet and for us to show our appreciation for all the people who are helping us during our stay here. Momma pretended to be unavailable for the party so that she could surprise us as the last minute guest of honour. Always doing it in style! I also got to meet her sister and brother in law who dropped us all back home which is a big relief as the road and motorbikes are a lethal combination!
A day out with my gorgeous host family.

18 July 2015

This morning my host mom and her friend taught me how to make home made Akara. It's my fave new dish since getting to Nigeria, tastes amazing ... And is vegetarian! (At least I made it veggie after persuading my host mom that crayfish are indeed fish and therefore cannot be eaten). Today we went for a meeting with the Chairman to show respect in the hopes that he will continue to help VSO to do their work. He is also a host dad and looks like he takes absolutely no shit from anyone - certainly made me grateful for my host family! Host momma is partying her night away like the dancing diva she is but for now it's curfew so it's another night in with the girls 💕❤️

16 July 2015

Today I have been the first person in Team Ikorodu to go to hospital! (We all knew it would be me!). Luckily nothing serious, just a mosquito bite turning bad and possibly spreading infection into bloodstream but VSO were bang on it and got me sent on my way to be checked out within 2 minutes of me showing them. The hospital is the smaller of the 2 that VSO has deemed okay to use following a full risk assessment from VSO doctors and nurses and was very basic and worn but functional and I was triaged and seen and treated by 2 doctors within 30 mins! An incredibly painful injection in my bum, 5 mystery courses of tablets and a course of malaria treatment later and I'm back at my work. Obviously the health insurance and the pre-vetting of this place eased things along but there were locals there too and I just wanted to share a positive story of Nigeria in a country that has so many struggles to overcome and negative terror stories about it in the media.

14 July 2015

Day 10 - Part 2: Despite the subject matter, there was huge laughs in the discussion about FGM and circumcision as the 2 Kenyan volunteers told us that there are 42 tribes in Kenya and every single one of them would insist on circumcision before viewing someone as a man. Any man who is not circumcised are made to sit on the floor to eat with the children and are made to wear black to tell them apart from the 'real' men who wear red. I asked if they were allowed anaesthetic of any sort for the cutting (usually done aged around 14) and they laughed and said no pain was a crucial part of it. I said surely that's incredible painful? They laughed again at the obviousness of my question and said OF COURSE IT IS!!! I asked 'so didn't you cry?' .... Silence. 'You cannot cry. Your parents are there, every elder is there watching' they say absolutely seriously, no laughter. I ask but surely you can't help but cry? 'No! You cannot cry or you will not be a man even after circumcision'
Day 10: So today we all went to a primary school because it's the annual tree planting day in Lagos, which started in 2008. There was a lot of sitting around introducing people as the guy holding the event frantically played for time until the main Chairman got there so frankly it bores the arse off us all, HOWEVER then it ended and the kids went absolutely nuts and were so excited to see us. It felt a bit odd seeing as the only reason they were excited was because some of the UK volunteers are white which is uncomfortable for us and excluding for the rest of the volunteers but it was still a crazy experience. After that we went to a meeting room with air con (!) and talked about our personal development goals which is normally another thing that bores me to death but this time we were in group discussing which global issues were important to us and I actually had a fantastic discussion about female genital mutilation and circumcision from the Nigerian, Kenyan and UK perspectives.
The school kids making me feel famous.

12 July 2015

Part 2: 2 guys apparently from a gang with blunt machetes stopped our tuk tuk on the way to the meeting and wanted money (apparently a normal thing) so we walked the rest or he way there and then walked half the way back to a safe area of town to get a motorbike back. Luckily we'd all been told to bring our helmets and our driver was very good and drove quite safe compared to the standards I've seen. My Dad will be chuffed I've actually got on a motorbike for the first time. Now I am home with the sisters who were in the dark as the generator had cut out so we all went into my host moms room for a chat and to properly introduce ourselves. She is lovely and said we are welcome to come to her room any time and the conversation made even more funny by the fact that she was butt naked the whole time. Both my UK and Nigerian's mothers are free spirits. The generator is now back on so the sisters have instantly gone back to season 4 of Mako Mermaids which I am quickly getting into.
Part 1: So today was the first day that I finally felt adjusted and reasonably settled. Most of that is thanks to my amazing host family and their lovely home. This morning my lovely friends all came to my host home to check it out and were jealous of my digs (they are pretty sweet and the best by a mile) and even more pleased when my host sister bought out ice cold coca cola's. I then went to see where the others volunteers in Agga are living and their host families and luckily they're all only a few minutes away. Then I went home and chilled with the sisters who were binge watching 3 seasons of an Australian show about whites people who were mermaids who also had magic powers (Mako Mermaids). We all had to go to a VSO meeting in town ages away which I'm sure was just to test our creativity on how to get there and more importantly how to get back!
My host family and counterpart.

8 July 2015

Day 4: After much negotiating, explaining and flattery of the cooking staff it has finally been understand that I am a vegetarian and what a vegetarian is. During the 4 days that these discussions have been taking place the meat eaters have longingly eyed up my plain rice as they struggled to chow down on cow intestines and fish heads (most of which was then found again on the bathroom floor later). By day 4 evening the queue for vegetarian food was out the door and I am once again proved victorious!
Day 3: Woke up at 4am after hearing a gunshot. I assumed it couldn't be and that it would be ridiculous and went back to sleep. A guy broke into the men's dorms on the first floor, the cook screamed 'thief' and woke everyone up, the guards ran through with their AK47's and chased him out and fired a bullet. Kingsley, head of security, the next morning said it was all a drill to test our response to a break in however there are still suspicions as one girl (the amazing Lydia who stayed up all night terrified) saw the guards chase a man through the stairwell which only she could see and the security guard changed her story when we asked her. So my third day in Nigeria was either a massive attempted murder or a masterclass in method acting.

4 July 2015

The big day is finally here and we are on our way to Nigeria! The sting of having 2 long flights has been fixed once we saw how amazing the emirate plane is. Films, wifi, phone signal, phone charger. More importantly, all members of team Ikorodu have now met each other and bonded over hay fever and rom coms. There's another 15 hours until I'll actually be in Lagos and hopefully in a bed!

15 April 2015

This is test post to see if I can figure out how to use this app in time to hopefully use it when I go abroad. 2 weeks away from departure to Nigeria! I still have no idea what the flights are but I have bought everything that I (think) I need and I am busy seeing all my friends before I leave!