Doctor!!! Doctor!!! , help!!! , the thin voice kept calling out from the large general out-patients department (GOPD), a large hall where patients sat patiently waiting to be attended to, it was the immunization day and usually a very busy day at the health centre, Sarah had been positioned to fill in for a worker who was off for a few days, she heard the thin voice calling for help over and over, she had to leave her desk not minding the workload, it was a case of diarrhoea; a condition in which faeces are discharged from the bowels frequently and in a liquid form, this is a very common health condition occurring more in babies under the care of an adolescent mother, the young mother had no idea on what to do and her baby looked very pale due to loss of bodily fluids, Sarah administered oral rehydration solution to the baby and spoke to the mother about personal hygiene, leaving the young mother and baby in the hands of a nurse, she strolled back to her desk with thoughts of introducing her plan on addressing the issue of child marriage in the community.
The following day Sarah decided to speak to Mrs. Coker who was the resident doctor at the health centre and had stayed in the community for quite some time, she narrated her findings about the trend of child marriage in the community stating the exposure of the girl child to a lot of health risks and even death sometimes while giving birth, their babies are also exposed to health risk and many die even before their first birthday, apart from the health risk, these girls have no education after marriage, thus they have neither skills nor knowledge needed to live a healthy fulfilling life where they can support their family financially, and their offspring grow to follow the same trend. Mrs. Coker was amazed at her findings during her short stay, she commended Sarah and agreed to support her campaign to stop child marriage in the community, Sarah was excited. Plans were made to kick start an outreach program in the community, and Mrs. Coker helped to set up a team of volunteers, a day was picked weekly for the outreach, it was an avenue where the volunteers moved from house to house talking to people about the effects of child marriage and the economic importance of girl education, free medical care was given where necessary. It was a lot of work for the team due to a language barrier, although few of the volunteers could speak the local dialect but it wasn’t enough.
Luckily for Sarah and her team, after months of hard work the team started to get some recognition from the community leader, an invitation letter was sent to the health centre by a representative of the community leader, the letter stated that the presence of the outreach’s team leader would be needed at a forthcoming conference that took place once in a year in the community, Sarah saw this as an opportunity she had always longed for, she shared her excitement with her team, some expressed fear while others saw it as a stepping stone, Mrs. Coker advised Sarah to use the opportunity wisely. Back at her residence, Sarah was getting some negative attitude from some of the occupants that lived closely to her, they saw her as a threat to their cultural trends and religion, at some point she had been confronted by the husband to one of the girls she tried to talk to, he had warned Sarah to stay off his wives, saying that she was bound to corrupt them.
The day of the conference finally came, it was a Friday morning, Sarah and her team including the ever supportive Mrs. Coker made their way to the community hall, a few people showed up at the venue, the conference was organized by an external body that that came to the community once in a year to create awareness on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Sarah and her team had smiles on their faces while the speech was ongoing from the external body, male and female condoms were shared after the speech and tutorials were given on how to use them, it was like a dream come true especially for Sarah, she was excited about the speech because it was in line with the goals of her team.
The time came for Sarah to give her speech, she thanked the community leader for the opportunity to be a speaker at the conference, Sarah started her speech with her findings at the health center where she worked, she talked about the high rate of teenage pregnancy in the community, most girls were already infected with HIV and other STIs, there were cases of maternal mortality and infant mortality, Sarah pointed out the case of a baby who almost died from diarrhoea due to poor personal hygiene of the adolescent mother. Sarah explained that to a majority of the parents, girl-child education was less important because no matter what level of education the girl attains, she gets married and answers another family’s name. To some parents, western type of education is termed to be a way of negative transformation and initiation of an individual into materialism, promiscuity, and inculcation of western cultural ideologies. Sarah emphasized that low enrolment of the girl child in schools is a dehumanizing practice and it is widening the educational and economic gap between the men and women folks, families and Nigeria in general. she continued by saying that the inability of most parents especially in the north to invest in the future of the girl child makes poverty spread like wide fire and this cuts across to their great-grandchildren. Sarah concluded her speech by giving ways of improving the girl’s access to education; these include and are not limited to – strong political will involving an umbrella of NGOs and traditional councils for better accomplishments of the girl education project, parental and communal involvement, low-cost education and flexible school timetable and schools close to homes with women teachers.
what next? find out in my next article on this series.