Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ma May by Pamela Braide

I willingly went to simple funeral today and left enlightened, grateful and awed.

Chief Mary Ekpiken normally called Ma May, was tiny, pretty, and the de facto head of my mother’s mother’s side of the family for as long as I had any memories. In fact she is so ingrained in my consciousness I wrongly believed her to be older than she actually is. Every one came to pay respects.

If my mother is my inspiration then Ma May was hers. Some people feel I’m a strident feminist. I don’t know what the term even defines. What I do know is that I grew up knowing that my extended family on my grandmothers side looked up to a woman for counsel and respected her voice. She blazed trails for them to follow and still managed to be fun loving and raise her own. This is what I knew growing up.

I didn’t know I should walk a step behind or understand biblical interpreters telling me a rib isn’t as important as the whole skeleton. I learned limitations later and I’m still trying to unlearn them.

I didn’t know many details about her public life. I knew she retired as a director in the Federal Civil Service. I knew she was given National honours decades ago. I knew she was educated when many women were not. I knew she was the head girl of Queens College in 1943.

But I never knew she could not write her science final exams despite the fact that she studied science subjects because though QC girls were eventually allowed to study science they could only write thier final exams in Kings College. (Schools for girls then focused on grooming, secretaries, teachers or simply literate wives who would keep good homes so science subjects were not originally available to girls) Even though it was technically possible it was regarded as extremely unfeminine and as the head girl she felt pressured to show example and eventually backed down from writing them. But my great aunt wanted to be a doctor and tried again! She registered as an external candidate in Kings College after leaving QC but still wasn’t allowed to do the exam (some crap about her being too tiny to be a doctor) She then settled for studying Economics in the UK.

I also just discovered today she organized women to seek equal pay once she realized her £38 a week salary was £8 less than that of a man with equal qualifications and the same job title. They won. Of course they did, she was a labour expert. I didn’t know this. She went to the ILO before I was born, I just went there a few years ago. We never realize what trails women blazed for us because we document nothing in this country (Nigeria).

I’m grateful her son Tunji Roberts put together such an informative funeral brochure. I loved all the tributes and pictures especially the one of her driving her convertible in the 60s and the one of her in shorts, sun shades and a jaunty hat. I read the tribute from her friend who said she would miss their outings to the over 60s dance in the London and watching free movies together. I saw the pictures of her with American politicians, her chieftaincy ceremony, her beloved Red Cross Society, her son’s family and her age grade mates.

She followed her dreams, fought for her rights and that of others, kept her doors open to many others in her family who have gone on to be “big” men and women. She made unusual seem normal to me. Sadly I’m sure as extraordinary as her story may seem to me there are many more stories we never get to hear. We need to do this.

Rest in Peace Ma May. I applaud you.

After posting this note on my blog I got an email telling me more about my Grand Aunt. Apparently she was featured in a book Pioneering Women: Riddel Hall and Queen's University Belfast By Gillian McClelland, Diana Hadden. None of my family member knew this! the internet is awesome.

Mary Ekpiken, who was resident in the Hall from 1953 to 1955, was the first Nigerian woman to graduate from Queens’s University. She returned home as an Economics graduate to take charge of the employment and statistical section of the Nigerian Civil Service. Her post required her to travel to the United States for research into establishing new industries as well as training teachers from the United Kingdom and the United States to assist in Nigerian educational projects

By Pamela Braide

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bridging Clean Water and Maternal Health

Yesterday, on the Carbon for Water campaign trail, we met with Francis Odhiambo, the provincial public health officer of the Western Province in Kenya. He had a great impact in helping connect the dots between having safe drinking water, combating diseases and women having safe pregnancies and deliveries. Mr. Francis Odhiambo believed strongly that women suffer twice as much as men on health issues relating to water borne disease because of their daily activities and chores around the house and for their families. Women not only face the hardship of looking for nonexistent safe water, but they also have to trek miles to get stream water and firewood for boiling it. In his words during the interaction with the two Women Bloggers Deliver winners, Mr. Odhiambo explained that the LifeStraw public health intervention by Vestergaard Frandsen would go a long way in supporting the already stretched government health facilities in the Western Province.

A visit to Emusanda Health Centre, a health clinic built by Vestergaard Frandsen, brought to light many other concerns in relation to maternal health. In our interaction with James Okwiri, who has been living with HIV for the past 7 years, the clinic has saved many local residents from having to travel a long distance to the hospital in Kakamega. Not only do they find the treatments at the health center life-saving, they also consider the plan by Vestergaard Frandsen to build a maternity ward at Emusanda a much needed intervention.

The overarching issue on maternal and child mortality has had its effect on this community. Ms. Sinafu Mapesa, a woman living with HIV, explained the danger of home delivery and how a lack of access to skilled care has claimed the lives of many women. She experienced post-partum hemorrhage during one of her deliveries, but she was lucky to have her bleeding stop. Many other women were never that lucky. She stressed the importance of having a maternity ward in her community that can attend to pregnant women, most especially women living with HIV/AIDS. Ms. Brenda Opika who has an 11-year-old HIV positive child, shared her pain that she never got tested for HIV when she was pregnant. She said that she wished she had the information and knowledge to lower the risk of transmission of HIV by delivering through caesarian section. Not only was she excited that many women would now have the care and education she never received at a new maternity ward, she is ready to volunteer to assist pregnant women that might be living with HIV.

Only 44% of women in Kenya deliver with skilled birth attendants and the maternal mortality ratio is 560 deaths per 100,000 live births. The interactions and visitations with the authority on public health issues and people of Kakamega showed me the story behind these statistics. To attain the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, (Reducing Child Mortality Rates and Improving Maternal Health) especially with so many preventable cases, a much need maternity ward will be a round peg in a round hole for the people of Emusanda in Western Province Kenya.

"The provision of a 24 hours running maternity health centre would help pregnant women at Emusanda Community" – Pelista Chibole

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The brains and the bruises: meeting the girls of Malava Girls High School Kakamega

As part of the Women Bloggers Deliver contest, and the Carbon for Water campaign, I am excited to be traveling around the Western Province of Kenya, meeting women and girls who are hard-hit by the issues associated with the Millennium Development Goals. Yesterday, I got the chance to visit the Malava’s Girls High School -- a reaffirmation time that the Millennium Development Goals are so important, especially the goal addressing women and girls’ issues.

Team Vestergaard Frandsen and Women Deliver (consisting of Janna Oberdorf, Elisabeth Wilhelm, Rachel Cernansky and I) visited the Malava Girls High School to demonstrate how to use the LifeStraw Family water filters, a water purification tool that is being distributed to 900,000 Kenyans in the Western Province. The findings about water borne diseases and lack of safe water were very revealing -- teachers told us about how they have to use some form of chemical to purify their water or boil the water for drinking. While some of the girls mentioned that they often went home thirsty and empty-handed after spending a whole day in a very long queue to get tap water (where available). They said they would just let the stream water settle and drink, or their family would use firewood to boil the water thereby adding to carbon emissions in the atmosphere. A few of the girls who shared their experiences with us during questions and answers time, explained how some of them have suffered some form of water borne disease ranging from typhoid fever to diarrhea or having their family members suffer bilharzias.

The female students, who were up to 500 in attendance, believed in healthy living and safe drinking water as a disease free mechanism. The discussion took a turn as the girls began to trust in the team, and they spoke in confidence to each member of the team about prevailing issues affecting them as a girl-child, affecting their family and their development. It was an electrifying moment of revelations and counseling. It was not so long ago that I was in this stage of life too, with issues so germane to me I wish I had trusted and knowledgeable people to share them with. I was glad that I am part of a team with whom these brilliants girls can share their bruises, their concerns and their struggles in an unequal world.

Interacting with us were some of the female students who had to contend with different life issues – from physical and sexual abuse in the home to questions of sexuality and sexual health. Many more girls gathered around us in different groups to recount different stories of their young but bruised life. Beatrice suffers extremely painful menstruation (Dysmenorrheal) and her mother has prevented her from using the oral contraceptive that the doctor prescribed for her without any other alternative, she goes through pains for more than 10 days as long as her bleeding last to the point paralyses! There was little we could do to attend to all the needs of these brilliant girls but to exchange contact with promises to refer them to organizations and individuals within Kenya working on these issues of concern to them.

In less than one hour, discussions had gone around empowerment of girls and their family, provision of safe drinking water, and even though the female students are not having children yet nor are they children themselves, they were able to discuss the challenges around child mortality and maternal health. They also know a lot about the recurring danger of climate change and global warming if no intervention is offered by all of us. Just in one meeting MDGs goal 3- Promote gender equality and empowerment of women , 4- Reduce Child Mortality Rates, 5- Improve maternal health, 6-Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and 7 – Ensure environmental Sustainability were discussed!

We have all started on the right path; supporting each other, educating each other, demanding that quality of our lives are improved and that we have access to basic amenities of life. I had a wonderful time with these incredible girls.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Emusanda ‘Straight from the heart’ Global Partnership

In the cause of making a scheduled trip to Rhodericks Maliatjo house, to carry out ‘fencing’ for the protection of his cows- this is to test the potency of the new project of Vestergaard Frandsen on Food Security- we met Mr. Mathews Olumatete Ofuwamba. Before I share the story of Mr. Mathews, I will quickly touch on the ‘fencing’ method in relation to food security. While skype talking with Torben Vestergaard Franden, he had elaborated on the company ‘fencing’ project in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. This new project aims at preventing tsetse flies from killing off livestock’s of famers’ especially those that are into husbandry. The ‘fencing’ is a net system; the net which is black in colour has the potential of keeping off and killing off flies that could pose imminent dangers to the livestock. Live stocks are important food in many places in Africa and farmers who have being struggling to keep their animals disease free, have little to worry about if they can surround their animals space with the nets.

Across Maliatjo fence was the Emusanda Health Centre built by Vestergaard after their 2008 HIV/AID project in Kenya- called the “Integrated Prevention Demonstration”. The history of the health centre was better appreciated when heard from the local who not only donated the land but also believed strongly that Vestergaard has indeed saved lots of lives via this project. According to the down -to-earth, Mr. Mathews Olumatate Ofuwamba who I spoke with, he lost two sons to malaria as a result of lack of medical centre at Emusanda in Lurambi District of Kakamega. The first son died before they could found vehicles or any other means of transportation to take him to the far distance city hospital and the second died on the arrival at the far distance hospital. Both cases where too late and could have being prevented if there were existence of medical centre in their district. Mr. Mathews met Mikkel Vestergaard, the CEO of Vestergard Frandsen during the 2008 HIV project in Kenya and told him about his late son and the burden of taken care of his 10 grand children. That was how what I would love to call ‘Global Partnership” for saving lives began between the man who wanted a change and a company who is ready to offer one.

Emusanda Health Centre is now going on phase two development project of providing maternity centre in the district as Vesteergard Frandsen partners with Women Deliver to address goal four and of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – improving maternal health and reducing child mortality rates. As reported by Women enews Kenya ‘the best estimates for Kenya suggest that approximately 14,700 women and girls die each year due to pregnancy-related complications’. In Mr. Mathews own word, some pregnant women at Emusanda had died at home due to long distance to get medical help during labour and also due to lack of medical facilities for women. He is so happy and optimistic that a maternity centre is going to be built in Emusanda. The cost of this project is estimated at 70,000 US Dollars.

I am one of those who critically look at the motives of help coming from abroad but having seeing on ground what it is like for many to have access to basic amenities of life and access to services that keep people healthy and alive, then I would say it is high time for many government to see how their priorities can be rearranged and how they can’t partner with organizations and companies home and aboard to earnest resources to address what matters. There is no nation that can boast of good standard if its people are suffering and if its women are worst off.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Carbon for Water, the first taste of a visiting Blogger in Kenya

As I rode through the city of Kisumu, as jet-lagged as I was, I was kept awake by a fun-loving driver who thought it was imperative to get to know Kisumu. As we journeyed through the Western Province, I began to imagine how many of the township people have access to safe drinking water. By the time we arrived in at Kakamega, I had stored in my ‘brain document' questions to ask, contributions to make, and how to satisfy my curiosity by interacting with the many people that are benefitting from the Carbon for Water project.

Carbon for Water—nice concept! LifeStraw Family—fantastic idea—but how do they all fit in together? How do they work? How will the people of Western Province, especially the women, feel about not having to boil water using firewood and purifying with a filter instead? How would they feel the impact of LifeStraw water purification on their health and time? How involved is the government of Kenya through its Ministry of Public Health? How do carbon credits work? What does this initiative mean to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals? How can we connect all the dots of all the MDGs in relation to global partnership, environmental sustainability, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, gender equality and women empowerment, maternal health, reduction of child mortality, education, and poverty alleviation with safe drinking water and reduction of carbon emissions as public health issues?

In Kakamega with Rachel Cernansky, the other Women Bloggers Deliver winner, we worked through the details of the campaign as we were debriefed by Elisabeth Wilhelm. The Carbon For Water project in Kakamega will cost over 30 million USD with distributions of LifeStraw water filters reaching nearly one million people in five weeks with 4,000 community workers and 4,000 transporters involved. All in all, 4.5 million people will benefit! This project will be run for ten years and families will be offered free replacement of the LifeStraws when they wear out. Vestergaard is committing all these efforts and finances without collecting a single dime from the beneficiaries but with the hope that carbon emissions will be drastically reduced and Vestergaard Frandsen gets paid through carbon credit!

Today is a beginning for me: to learn more, to work with this amazing team, to critically look into how deforestation of local forests will be addressed, how carbon offsets will pay off for the entire planet, how linking public health with carbon emissions by Vestergaard Frandsen will change things for the better here in Kenya, and how it will improve the quality of women’s lives and their families.

Tomorrow is when I join the Vestergaard Frandsen staff on the campaign trail, and it will all start at 6:30AM in the morning, time to get some sleep.

My Passion, my focus, the change that I want to see in the world - is my propellent factor.

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