Friday, January 30, 2015

Week Two - Meetings!

Priscilla, Abolnab, Rory, Ak, Festus and Muniru all dressed up for traditional Friday.
Tagree means ‘change’ in Buli.

Our second work week in Sandema has just come to an end and it’s been an active week with the team getting out of the office for some more important meetings.

We started the week with the most important and regal of all meetings. We met the Sandema Chief and his noble elders. We wanted to introduce ourselves and also receive some advice and hopefully be blessed by the Chief. By the time we got to the palace, the Chief was not around yet so we had to wait under what can only be described as a shed like structure with logs to sit on. The place was so airy that we immediately felt relaxed. As we were relaxing under this shed, the Chief arrived. In a show of respect we instantly stood up in his presence and were filled with a reverent silence.

The Chief then entered the palace and later came out again making all of us to stand up once again until he had his seat with his elders and we also had the chance to continue sitting under “our” shed until we were called to come over to where the Chief was. Whilst the Chief was passing, Abigail was talking and suddenly, she was told by a local that because she spoke as the Chief was passing by, she would be “made” to stay in the village and get married to  the Chief… “What a shock”? Of course, it was a joke, as the local admitted when he saw the horrifying and surprised look on Abigail’s face.

The time finally came for us to meet the Chief. We all went before the Chief and his elders and took our seats, which were facing them, quietly and rather awkwardly staring at each until one of the elders broke the ice by greeting us in Buli. Most of us could not understand what was being said. Fortunately, our in country team leader David understood and responded in the local language, and acted as our official translator, whilst the rest of the team responded by nodding of our heads.

We also introduced ourselves individually. Ak went on to thank the Chief and his elders for a successful “Feok Festival” during last year which included People with disabilities taking part and also how fascinating the “war dance” performed by Abolnab was. Ak went on to thank the Chief for his support towards the last cohort and later ended by seeking any advice, blessings, and support from the chief for this new cohort.

The Chief later replied with beautiful smiles supporting us and also made us know how happy he was to have us in his community, and how he hopes that our voluntary work will reignite within the community a desire to regain their long lost communal spirit. The Chief was later asked permission to take a photo of us and them. The Chief and his elders were glad and finally gave us their permission, expressing a happiness to see a photo of them end up in the distant lands of Coventry and Wales. We then thanked him and left the palace to return to do some more office work after filling up our empty stomachs.

A visit to the Wiaga Girls Club on Tuesday was great. We took a tro-tro which was supposed to take three people on a row, but in this case, we were made to sit in fours – a tight squeeze!

We were met by one of the executives from the girls club who took us to the meeting place. When we got there a guest speaker was leading a session on sexual health. We came forward to introduce ourselves after the end of their session. We were gladly welcomed by the whole group of girls with smiles all over and later joined them for their session.

It was an interesting topic which had the potential to really engage the girls on thought provoking issues; such as, teenage pregnancies, abortions and their effects. Yet, rather disappointingly, it seemed to be centred around urging the young women to promise to abstain from sex and remain virgins until they got married. Some of us were troubled by the way in which the session was led – feeling that the entire range of options regarding sexual health were either being reluctantly discussed or not mentioned at all. This is why we all strongly felt that we should continue going to the Girls’ Club to lead sessions in which all issues can be openly discussed without shame or embarrassment and where the girls can make educated choices rather than having ideas imposed upon them.

The girls finally had a closing prayer and left to their various homes after shaking hands us individually. We then met two of their executives and they were finally glad to also know that we’ll be coming round on a weekly basis to have various sessions in which we can openly discuss a wide range of issues ranging from girls' issues to disability rights.

We walked back to the station where we sat down for a while, worrying that there would be no more tro-tros to take us back to Sandema –after all, it wasn't a market day which usually means limited transport! We reluctantly started the long walk back home, walking up the road towards Sandema until we finally saw a tro-tro in the distance. We hailed it down and yes! – there were a few spaces – (space can always be made here) which took us back to Sandema.

While the girls were on the way to Wiaga, the boys went to speak to someone at the Sandema Resource center, a small basic building, which serves as the central ICT building to discuss disability Inclusive ICT support groups commencing within the community. The inside of the building was bare - aside from a handful of locals huddled around a single laptop. After a couple of minutes spent trying to work out exactly who was in charge of running the building, we approached the desk and put our idea to the confused looking man who stood behind it. We stumbled through a few sentences, which only helped to add to the man’s confusion, until Abolnab took the lead in Buli. This cleared everything up and he accepted our proposal gratefully.

Next week should involve more fieldwork as we get stuck into researching the policies on inclusive education. Here's to another productive week!

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