It’s another scorcher here on the Bobi grazing reserve in Niger State – 105*F in the shade this afternoon! Too hot to sleep, too hot to move any but the tiniest muscle. Most of us take our mattresses and sleep outside under the mango trees or on the verandahs, hanging mosquito nets from branches or exposed rafters, to try and catch any stray breeze – which is fine until the breezes turn to high winds and throw mangoes and branches at us! Hopefully the weather will soon break and we’ll have some relief!
The animals on the reserve are suffering terribly from hunger, as the dry season drags on and all available forage is gone. The man in the tree pictured above has cut down branches to allow his animals to eat the few leaves that remain. But this results in the tree dying, being cut down and used for firewood. This is happening all over the reserve. If not stopped, wide-spread deforestation and deserts will soon follow.
I’m not sure words can adequately describe the value of the work and the huge opportunities we have been given us on these three grazing reserves. Opportunities for peaceful coexistence and cooperation between farmers and pastoralists, education for hundreds of children, improved maternal and child health from their own community health workers, successful grazing for thousands of cattle. It seems impossibly difficult to achieve, but doors are opening for us, connecting us with the right people in government and on the reserves, and things are working together for good!
FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE FARMERS ON THE BOBI RESERVE!
Through Pastor Yakubu, the many farmers’ kids in school and now our women’s health training, we’re meeting and falling in love with the farming community on Bobi Reserve.
THE STANDING OF THE FARMER ON THIS GRAZING RESERVE, A MATTER FOR PRAYER.
The Governor of Niger State, after we showed him that over 95 percent of the reserve is encroached by farming, mandated me, as Director of Schools for Africa, to take 500 hectares from each block and return it to grazing for the Fulani. Since that time, the Governor has raised number to 10,000 hectares to be allocated for grazing. What truly has us concerned is, the commissioners have grabbed the mandate from us, and are concocting this huge proposal involving millions of naira, and have gone to the Emir and given the order that all farmers are to be removed from the reserve. The commissioners have tried to block me from seeing the Governor on this issue, but by God’s grace I was able to see him this past week.
At our brief meeting, I was able to bring to the Governor my concern for the farmers, referring to the original agreement for this reserve, that Blocks 1 and 7 of the reserve were to be shared by farmers and pastoralists and used for both grazing and farming. The Governor took all my information, promised to go through it carefully and said he would call me.
In the meantime, Shane is going to do a census of the entire population of farmers, pastoralists, their children and cattle, and on which blocks of the reserve they live. With this information, we will have the ammunition to fight for the farmers’ rights to share this reserve, if not on Blocks 1 and 7, on at least two others with the highest farmer population.
HEALTH TRAINING FOR BOTH FULANI AND FARMING WOMEN
It’s Spring Break in Nigeria, so our teachers and children are home for the holidays. We took advantage of these days to begin literacy training of a group of women here on the reserve, in preparation for their upcoming training as ‘first responders’ in the health care of women and children in their communities. So far, we are training twenty-two women, from both the pastoralist and farming communities, but as the program has just started, (we’re only one week in,) more women could be joining us along the way. Three of our teachers agreed to give up their break and are teaching the literacy course in preparation for the actual health training which will start next week.
John Raji is teaching six of the women to read and write. Faith Tunde has six in her class here in Alhaji Buba’s compound while Hauwa Aiki teaches ten more in Alhaji Ahijo’s area. I visit each of the classes every day, and am so impressed by the progress already made, and the warm relationship developing between these women and their teachers. When Dr. Fatima Gimba begins the health training, John, Faith and Hauwa will be there to assist her, to make sure things go very smoothly. Some personnel from the nearest primary healthcare center will join the women in Dr. Fatima’s class, so as to meet the women and set up a support system for them, for the future.
ZAINAB, THE MUMPS AND IMMUNIZATIONS FOR ALL THE CHILDREN ON THE RESERVE!
It was when Alhaji Buba’s little girl, Zainab, came down with the mumps that we realized none of the reserve children have been immunized. I called Dr. Inuwa who works for the State Ministry of Health who immediately reported the matter to the State Immunization Board. I quickly got a phone call from the Director of Health in the Mariga LGA, and a meeting was convened yesterday.
And I can truly say, yesterday was right up there with some of the best days of my life! Six members of the State Immunization Board met with the reserve leaders in the home of the ‘Over-all’ chief, in his Kampani Bobi palace. The Board members explained all details of the immunization campaign which will begin this coming Wednesday! My great joy is seeing how once again God is orchestrating events to work together for good!
The Director was sharing his major concern, that is, how to reach all the reserve women, give them accurate information about the program and ensure their participation with their children, when it struck me! We have new, community health workers available to spread the news!
I told the Director about our on-going health training, that we have twenty-five women from all corners of the reserve presently learning how to meet the health needs of women and children in their communities! They are the perfect ones to carry the news of the immunization campaign to all women in the reserve!
So, on Thursday, the Director and his team came to Bobi, met our twenty-three women and gave them all the information they need to carry back to their people. And with the help of our new trainees, the immunization campaign will begin!
We are also taking advantage of Spring Break to expand two of our school buildings which cannot accommodate the rapidly growing student population! Shane’s been doing much of the buying and transporting of building materials which are mostly available in the nearby town of Mariga. The parents themselves molded and donated the necessary ‘local’ blocks. When the buildings are finished, Shane will paint them and also design and paint sign boards for each one.
Because of our need for accommodation on this reserve, (we’ve been sleeping in tents, which presents many challenges in both the hot and rainy seasons,) at the invitation of Alhaji Buba, we’re erecting a small house right next to the teachers’ quarters in Alhaji’s compound. The house will have four bedrooms, an office and a kitchen, and will be our reserve headquarters. Two of the bedrooms are for guests….so, come on down!
Living in a barnyard!
Shane and I have been living on this reserve for five weeks now, in the middle of a barnyard, basically! Sheep, cows and goats roam freely through the camp, sometimes sticking their heads right into our sleeping quarters, sometimes nibbling on our shirt sleeves as we sit in the shade of the mango tree. These animals are all hand-raised, so are very gentle and part of the family! In the middle of the night recently, a baby goat got stuck between Shane’s tent and the adjacent wall, and proceeded to noisily bleat for help! Shane tried pushing it away, (through the tent wall,) but each time Shane would push it along the wall towards freedom, the baby goat would just come back! Apparently, the goat thought Shane was playing with it!
My experiences so far range from having a goat poke its nose through the drain while I was bathing, and finding a giant millipede curled around the ‘hole’ in the outhouse just when I needed to use it! I tried to rescue the millipede, but accidently pushed it farther down the hole. Oops!
I love it when sheep and children gather around my chair when I’m sitting under the mango tree! Then there’s Mr. Grumpy Camel who strolls along the shady, forest paths! Recently, Mr. Grumpy’s handler allowed our guest, Judy Hildebrant, to ride on Grumpy’s back after which Grumpy seriously punished his handler by trying to chew on his arms and legs!
We are really enjoying the children here in Alhaji Buba’s compound, especially now that we can communicate with them a little more than before! They’re all in school, so are hearing and speaking some English! Shane has been spoiling them rotten with lollipops and cheese balls, so they’re around us all the time when we’re home. He’s taught them to play catch with his football, (which usually ends up in a huge pile of kids with the football somewhere beneath,) how to jump rope and how NOT to mess with his laptop when he’s trying to work! He also regularly treats their wounds and has given their dads bars of soap, hoping that the children will learn to keep themselves clean! They are beautiful children, these Fulani, as many of you have seen from Shane’s awesome photos on Facebook!
A great way to see these photos now, is to find me on Facebook, do a ‘friend’ request, and follow our daily pictorial journeys.
TWO NEW SCHOOLS ON BOBI RESERVE!
“Come and give us a school for our children!”
In two new areas of the reserve, we’ve been asked to provide schools for the hundreds there who’ve never been educated.
Three communities share the village called Angwan Zaure – two Fulani communities and one group of farmers. They live peaceably together, and have asked for a school. We plan to build in August, and will call this school Peaceful Village Primary School.
The second new school will be built at the same time, and will possibly be our largest school yet! We were invited to a meeting of the parents in the area; at least 75 men were present and over 150 children! We asked the parents to choose a name for their school – we’ll let you know when that happens!
I’m so thankful for the support of Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello. When we met with the Governor after he’d visited our reserve schools, he said, “Build more!” And so, we will build more!
But we will need your help! Please consider supporting the building of these two new schools, by either donating through our website, schoolsforafrica.ngo or sending a check to the following address:
Schools for Africa
6811 191st Pl SW
Lynnwood, WA 98036
Thank you so much for your interest in the work among the Fulani and farmers here on Bobi Reserve and in Kachis and Garbagal as well.
Phyllis Sortor and Shane Verschelden