Bariala: The face of Timmy’s work in Bodo
by Scott Pegg
Whenever Matt MacGregor, Timmy’s executive director, comes to speak to one of my classes, he always emphasizes that development work is complicated and it’s not easy to do. Matt’s right.
A seemingly benign action like donating food aid can create unintended consequences such as undermining the price that local farmers receive for their crops. Similarly, providing someone with 90 days worth of medication without having any follow-up systems in place to ensure they continue receiving their medications may actually be worse than not giving them the medication in the first place.
Sometimes, though, there are clarifying moments that bring into sharp focus the importance of the work we do and why we do it. I recently had the joy of experiencing one such moment when I traveled to the Niger Delta in late June to visit the Bebor Model Nursery and Primary Schools that Timmy has supported since March 2002. While visiting the school’s main campus in Bodo, Rivers State, Nigeria, I had the pleasure of meeting a beautiful young girl named Bariala Tornunaelbabari who is a nursery 1 student at the school.
Bariala has polio and is unable to walk. Nigeria, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan, are the only 3 countries in the world that the World Health Organization classifies as polio endemic. It is also the only country in the world where all three serotypes of polio circulate. Although more than 95 percent of Nigerian polio cases are from 8 northern states and Rivers State (where we work) is in the far south of the country, people and diseases circulate”and as a result, Bariala became infected as a young child.
Bariala’s story is, however, much more complicated than contracting polio and losing her inability to walk. Throughout the Niger Delta, the belief in child witchcraft is common. Rather than being seen as having a medical or scientific explanation, children with diseases or disabilities or mental health issues are often seen as being possessed by witches or crocodiles.
In Bariala’s case, these beliefs resulted in her being kicked out of and denied admission to multiple schools before someone suggested she try our school in Bodo.
Reverend Moses Nyimale Lezor, the school director in Bodo, immediately admitted Bariala into our school and then worked hard to convince parents of some of the other children that she was not a child witch and could not cast spells on their children.
During my recent visit, I made it a point to talk to Bariala, hug her, hang out with her and take pictures with her so that the teachers, administrators and pupils at the school would see that this girl was a priority for us. I also presented her with a nice pen from Doe Creek Middle School in New Palestine, IN, one of our most important donors, to show that she is a treasured student.
Development is complicated. But some things are pretty easy to understand. Our work is only as good as how it impacts the poorest and most vulnerable children that we serve. Health problems cannot be addressed without education that effectively engages prevalent local beliefs like child witchcraft. And sometimes, if you are wondering why you are putting so much time, effort and financial support into Timmy Global Health, all you have to do is meet one child like Bariala to understand what a great privilege it is to do the work that we do.