Challenges and Growth in Bodo, Nigeria
by Scott Pegg
Scott Pegg is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts. Beyond research and teaching, Scott is Chairman of the International Friends Committee of Bebor Nursery and Primary School in Rivers State, Nigeria, where he–working in collaboration with Timmy Global Health– is actively raising money to build nursery and primary schools in two rural villages in the Niger Delta. What follows is an open letter from Scott recapping the challenges and growth of work in this region of Nigeria.
Dear Friends and Supporters of Bebor Model Nursery/Primary School,
Let me take this opportunity to give you a few brief updates on our school project and a somewhat more extended update on Bariala, the nursery 1 female student with polio who is in a wheelchair at our school in Bodo (spoiler alert: it starts sad but ends good!)
First, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who voted for Timmy Global Health at the American Giving Awards. They finished in 3rd place and will receive $250,000 from Chase for doing so. Bebor supporters were just a small part of their winning coalition, but we brought votes from IUPUI, Turkey, Nigeria, all over America and who knows where else! It was a real charge seeing Matt and Chuck accept the award on NBC.
Second, it is extremely belated and now somewhat out of date but our 2011-12 Annual Report is attached here. I had hoped to get it done before our daughter was born but that didn’t happen so please accept my apologies on the delay.
Third, although it will probably never be entirely finished and there will always be something to update, I wanted to let all of you know that the school’s website is now give or take 98% fully restored and, in some ways, better than ever. Please take a look and browse through it at some point. We have new pages on women and the school we just started helping in Bori, more information than ever in our documents and reports page and a reorganized Life in Bodo page that highlights the pre- and post-oil spill realities in that community. My sincerest thanks to my former student Kristine Iozzo who has done a lot of the legwork scanning old photos that I had taken from 2000-2005 before I had a digital camera and saved me a ton of work in that regard.
Fourth, in terms of our most recent funding sent, here is a brief update. We have purchased a portable generator on wheels for the school in Bodo that will be used to run the school’s borehole for drinking water and can also easily be moved between the nursery and primary sections of the school as needed. We have also started our pilot health project with 100 of the poorest and most vulnerable students in Bodo. A small sickbay/clinic has been established and stocked with basic first aid supplies. Student health files have been created and doctor and nurse visits have already begun. Finally, work has finished on the wood frame that will support the rustproof aluminum zinc roof we are helping to provide for the school in Bori. The roof panels have either already started being installed or should be installed in the next week or so. Pictures of all of this stuff will be posted to the school’s website shortly.
Finally, I wanted to update all of you on Bariala Tornuelbabari, our student with polio in Bodo (click here for an earlier blog that I did on her for Timmy Global Health). Reverend Moses, the school director recently sent me an extensive letter about her that I want to share parts of with you. Many of you might remember that Bariala was previously kicked out of or denied admission to many other schools in the area because people thought she was possessed by Crocodiles or was a child witch. Reverend Moses’ letter provides painfully bad details about just how serious this problem was at our school.
Apparently, Bariala was initially admitted to Bebor by Reverend Moses’ sister”who serves as the Head Mistress of the school. She told Reverend Moses a few days later that most of the parents/guardians whose wards are at Bebor are protesting that she should not admit the girl into the school; that the girl is a witch and a crocodile incarnate. Two of the school’s board members later told Rev. Moses that his sister had admitted a witch and a crocodile into the midst of angelic pupils, and then went out to explain how this witch and crocodile will possess all the pupils including Rev. Moses.
Later, a delegation from the Council of Chiefs from Bodo told Rev. Moses that although he may have some book knowledge, they are more versed in the Ogoni culture and tradition. They said that the Father killed some crocodile, and that it is those crocodile and the juju that reincarnate through the Father that became Bariala. After consultation with some Oracle, they came to the conclusion that if Bariala were to be admitted into the school, she would cripple all the pupils of Bebor. Obviously, the fact that members of groups that have traditionally been very supportive of our work”like mothers, board members and members of the Council of Chiefs–hold such beliefs is deeply disheartening.
In an effort to diffuse the situation, Rev. Moses informed everyone through a circular that if he removed the girl, those white men/women who had helped to transform Bebor in so many respects must not only be in the know but they must approve. More specifically, knowing that our friend and supporter Gary Foxcroft, from Stepping Stones Nigeria, was coming to visit the school in a few weeks, Rev. Moses made it clear that Bariala would not be removed from Bebor until Gary arrived. Obviously, Rev. Moses knew that Gary”as a noted and highly effective campaigner against child witchcraft accusations”would never agree to such a thing. Indeed, Gary offered scholarship funding for Bariala and purchased a wheelchair for her.
If you’ve read my earlier blow, you’ll know that during my visit in June 2012, I made it a point to hang out with Bariala and take pictures with her so everyone would see that she had my direct personal support. According to Moses’ letter, this worked even better than I had originally hoped. He said those who were thinking that Bariala the crocodile’s”presence would affect their children’s health started to have a change of heart. They thought, œIf Scott, who we love because of his many contributions is not affected by mixing up with Bariala, then Bariala is not a virus¦she is not poisonous as has been speculated. She is not a crocodile.
Since then, two things have come out of this. First, Reverend Moses has provided Bariala with lodging in one of the rooms in our nursery school building from Monday-Friday, so that she does not have to travel back and forth between her home village of Kpor and Bodo. On the weekends, she travels to Kpor to be with her father (her mother died shortly after her birth). Moses has asked for some support for feeding Bariala and we will obviously provide this.
Second, as Moses puts it, there are up to ten kids or more that have been hidden in their houses and they are asking if the white bring them, can the white people assist them the way Bariala is being assisted? I have no idea if these children have physical challenges or disabilities or mental health issues, or what their needs are. Moses would like us to establish a pilot scheme for ten kids, which would not require an additional building, only a special teacher. He acknowledges that due to a scarcity of funds, we may not be able to establish the special unit now. But we can certainly serve more disabled students like Bariala, by employing a special education specialist.
At this point, the first thing that we obviously have to do is to find out more information about what these kids’ specific needs are and how we can potentially best serve them at Bebor or what it would cost to support them beyond tuition fee scholarship funding. If any of you have any thoughts or ideas here on what to do, please let me know.
This is a bit of a new direction for us and I am still trying to figure out how to proceed. All I can promise you is that we will do what we always do”move forward slowly and cautiously; start small, learn by trial and error, and only expand later if we know what we are doing is working.
For all of you who have been touched by Bariala’s story, I hope you will continue to provide support to this project and enable us to replicate this kind of intervention with other kids like her in the future. Thanks as always for reading this far and thanks as always for your past, present and hopefully continued support of the Bebor Model Nursery and Primary School project. We literally could not do it without you.