Millions of children live in poverty in Nigeria;lacking access to clean water, food, health care services, and education. Two and a half million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, “defined by a very low weight for height (below -3z scores of the median WHO growth standards), by visible severe wasting, or by the presence of nutritional oedema.” In Nigeria, 430,000 children live with HIV/AIDS.1 In April, I attended a wedding reception where I saw masses of children scramble for leftover food from the guests’ plates. It was an awful sight, to witness and a reminder of the plight of Nigeria’s children. Where are their parents? Why do they look so unkempt? When was their last meal? These were all questions that ran across through my mind as I reflected on their pitiful condition.
May 27 is recognized as Children’s Day in Nigeria. While not a public holiday for the country, the day is set aside for observance and celebration of Nigerian children. On this day, the government, religious institutions, schools, non-profit organizations, and parents take time out to reflect on the situation of the Nigerian child and do something special for children. Events throughout the country range from picnics, amusement park outings, parades, and visits to orphanages and to internally-displaced persons camps where food items are shared to with children. This year, the acting President/Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, hosted students from the local public schools at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. He tweeted that “[Children] and future generations are the reason we must remain committed to the growth of our nation and shared prosperity of its people.” This shared prosperity remains a farfetched dream for many children in Nigeria, particularly to the millions who are living in poverty.
To commemorate Children’s Day, I participated in a community medical outreach to in a village called Waru located on the outskirts of Abuja. Waru is the kind of place you don’t imagine you would find in a modern capital city such as Abuja. My visit to Waru was another glaring reminder of how much farther Nigeria has to go to achieve economic and social justice for all citizens. The roads were evidences of poor maintenance and infrastructure. One resident lamented to me about how many of the homes in the community lack a latrine because the landlords have refused to provide a latrine one (not to talk of a toilet). Hence, residents release their bodily waste in nearby bushes, which contributes to contamination of the water and outbreak of illnesses including diarrhea and malaria.
When I asked why conditions were the way they were, residents responded “[The leaders/landlords] don’t care”. Because rResidents cannot afford to go somewhere else, so they simply manage with their conditions.
The medical outreach aimed to enlighten members of the community about teenage pregnancy and HIV, and to provide an opportunity for free medical check ups, including HIV testing and counseling. The organizer of the program – a member of the community named Ayo – acknowledged the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the community as the reason for the event. “I discovered that in this community teenage girls are more pregnant and they are pregnant to young boys,” he said. The chief of the community showed his support by attending the program and encouraging the community to practice healthy lifestyles. He also provided his palace compound as the venue for the event. Interestingly, this was the first time an outreach like this had been done in the Waru community. Residents are typically not able to access or afford health care services, so this event was a welcome. The chief also promised to provide an office space to the event organizer to enable coordination of future projects. This outreach was a reminder that on Children’s Day, Nigeria must not forget its hard-to-reach communities – those living on the margins of society.
- SOS Children’s Villages International. General Information on Nigeria. http://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/where-we-help/africa/nigeria. Accessed: 05/06/2017