Africa here I come.

April 16, 2011

Yes, I am going to Africa.  I leave May 8th. Nigeria to be specific.  Although this trip is going to be extremely different than my East Asia trip to Thailand(which by the way will be exactly 2 years ago the day I depart from DC to Nigeria) I am looking forward to the new experiences, cultures, people, and food I am bound to encounter. These two trips are not only going to have huge contrasts because of the differences in the things mentioned above, but also because I have changed and I like to think anyway that I understand the developing world in a new way, a better and more knowledgeable way….thanks to my graduate experience thus far.

I really didn’t think Nigeria would be the first African country I visited, but hey, I’m not complaining–not many people have the opportunity to even leave their home state.  I am very grateful for this experience and all the others I have had.

So…why am I even going many ask?

I have explained this to my mom, and others, on several occasions, yet it seems the same question always gets asked over and over again :-).  So..here it is in writing! I am getting my MA in International Education at AU, and my focus within this program is development–basically I study education systems in developing countries.  I will be writing my thesis on child slavery/labor in Nepal/India and the effect this circumstance has on their ability to attend school. There are of course many more details involved as Nigeria and Nepal/India differ greatly contextually.  The non-profit I currently work for (GoodWeave, look it up if you get a chance, goodweave.org) in DC works to end illegal child labor in the carpet/rug industry in Nepal, India, and Afghanistan and provides educational opportunities for these children once rescued from factories (btw, these are rugs we as consumers have ALL  been purchasing for years unknowingly..I was upset when I found this out…check out the website. like I said..its an awesome organization).  I am hoping to visit one of these schools in December as part of my research for my thesis, examining the successes of these schools for the rescued children.  It is a much more complex and I am still working out all the logistics..but this is pretty much the foundation.  So, back to Nigeria… I will be conducting my own field research in a small town in western Nigeria called Yola.  Here, I will be visiting orphanages and schools and observing/interviewing teachers, parents, and students, to see what access these children have to educational facilities. I know Africa and Nepal are going to be extremely different, but I think it is important to compare these two different experiences as they both relate to extremely vulnerable children.

A brief background on orphans in Nigeria.  Because the majority of these children are HIV/AIDS orphans, meaning they have either contracted the disease from mother to child transmission or have lost one or both parents from it, many of them are socially stigmatized and are not allowed in regular public schools. The orphanage I will be visiting has a school  in the back of the house and I will (hopefully) find out if these children ever move on from this school and if the school is even connected to the government in terms of funding and resources. Basically…I will (hopfully) find out what opportunities these children have and what happens to them after attending this school

A few facts I think are important to know about Nigeria…

  • Average life expectancy-48 years
  • # of orphans, children aged (0-17) orphaned due to HIV/AIDS-2,500,000
  • Average % of government expenditure on education (1998-2009)-3% (only!)

HIV/AIDS is obviously a huge problem in Nigeria, and the issue is rarely spoken of for several reasons.  One being religion.  The country is basically divided by 2 religions, Muslim and Christian.  Muslims predominantly in the North while Christians make up most of the south. Discussing the issue is not common and because it is rarely addressed HIV/AIDS education does not happen often–and the infectious cycle continues.  The way we in the US perceive the disease is very different than how Nigerians (and most Africans) do.  Also, many people won’t even get tested because of the negative stigma attached to having the disease. This is true even when knowing that if they do in fact have it, drugs could help and there would also be a greater chance of them not consciously spreading it.  Also,  similar to many other African countries, many believe that having intercourse with a virgin will cure them of the disease. I am not joking.  This also perpetuates the problem further–health education is extremely important, however getting across the obstacles that prevent health education  are extremely difficult.

Wow, I just went off on such a huge tangent, but these are all issues (there are many more–but I will spare you all) that I have to be aware of when researching and talking with people, especially since I will be working with stigmatized HIV/AIDS orphans.

I am so excited to get there, actually sit down with people and children and just talk…see what they have to say.  I have done so much reading and literature review and now I am ready to just be there!  I think we can understand what is happening in other places, and even here in the US, by just reading or listening to the news….but actually seeing what you have read or heard is so much more powerful and really so much more eye opening.  I wish going abroad to a “developing” country was required of everyone, somehow. Not just vacationing….but really living within the culture, with the everyday citizens.  It is such a life changing experience–so I think.  BUT, I know a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to do so..and no interest really, but I hope some of the experiences I share from Nigeria will inspire you all to look at the world in a different way.

Not sure I will be posting much more before I leave, but just wanted to give a (semi) brief summary of what I am doing over there…mostly just for mom, so she knows I am alive…sorry to do this to you again, and grandma, because I know that you love to hear everything your 14 grandchildren are up to.

love love-

lauren

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