17 March 2009

Nigeria: Woman! Thou Are Loosed From Poverty


Lagos — One of the several developmental challenges facing the southern Kaduna people in Kaduna State is poverty reduction. Ironically, this seems to be receiving the greatest attention. There is still high level of poverty in the region, which has defied several interventions from groups and individuals through different schemes and policies.

Apart from poverty, lack of jobs, income and infrastructure, including safe housing have also contributed to the poor health sector in the area as many residents do not have access to affordable and good health care facilities or services. The medical situation has not been helped by rural urban migration that has led to the brain drain of many professionals to the urban areas to seek better employment which has further compounded the poverty level in the area.

The high level of poverty in the north which includes Kaduna State, where over 70 per cent of its citizen live on less than a dollar a day was succinctly captured by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo when he described poverty, during a function in Kaduna, as a northern phenomenon, to the chagrin of leaders in the region.

He said the high and persistent level of poverty was a result of the northern elite who have not done much to improve the environment, noting that the widening gap between the north and the south in terms of poverty seem to be increasing. He further revealed that there is no state in the north with less than 60 per cent poverty, while some states in the north-west geopolitical zone even have about 90 per cent poverty level. According to him, both the north-central and the north-east geo-political zones are better than the north-west in terms of poverty level.

However, the situation is quietly changing courtesy of some individuals through the Fantsuam Foundation in Southern Kaduna, an area which is made up of 10 local government councils that make up Kaduna South Senatorial district. With about 35 ethnic tribes that constitute 54 per cent of the state population, according to the 2006 census results, the foundation has been working amongst the rural poor of the area, especially the women, with startling results.

Fantsuam Foundation, a rural-based non-governmental organisation works with local communities to fight poverty and empowers disadvantage people. It is committed to making Southern Kaduna a successful and replicable model of integrated rural development in Nigeria. It was founded in 1996 by a group of Nigerian professionals from the area who recognised the need for empowering their rural neighbours and community members, particularly women, to find means of employment and income and meet their own development needs. Its vision is to be a recognised a leader in the provision of rural development initiatives and the foremost and thriving rural knowledge economy driver in Nigeria.

The Foundation, founded by Mr. John Dada is located in BayanLoco, a peri-urban slum of Kafanchan, but their activities and vision extends beyond Kafanchan toward the whole of Southern Kaduna. Mr. Dada is a Master of Public Health (Nuffield Institute, and University of Leeds, UK), and has a PhD in Crop Protection from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is also a Visiting Scholar to ABU Zaria and the ECWA School of Health Technology, Kagoro, Kaduna. He is also a founding member of the Peoples' Open Access Education Initiative, which aims to offer low-cost, high-quality online education and training courses to disadvantaged communities in low and middle income countries.

Since inception, the foundation has provided vocational skills for 500 youth, women and PLWHA annually. It has also expanded micro-finance banking services to 3000 rural dwellers since inception, while providing affordable Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure to five chiefdoms. The foundation has also conducted information dissemination campaign on sexual and reproductive health and environmental hygiene to about 500 people, while 200 adolescent mothers have been engaged to participate in community mobilisation campaign on infant development in four chiefdoms.

A unique way that the foundation get funded, apart from the usual donation and grants is based upon a scheme that allows a resident of the area, whether in Diaspora or at home, who is willing to donate, to select the chiefdom where he wants his money to be applied and still be able to have his/her money back at the end of a specific period.

According to the foundation, "our microfinance support scheme is an innovative programme that enables a successful Nigerian to reinvest in his/her community by making a soft loan of lending capital. The individual specifies the chiefdom and community to benefit and contributes a specified amount that will be repaid, with two per cent interest per annum. Once the microfinance-credit beneficiary repays the principal, the benefactor may roll over this capital, if he/she wishes, at the end of the twelve-month lending cycle. A formal agreement between the foundation and the benefactor governs this scheme."

The foundation also gets support from volunteers who come from both within and outside the country to advise and assist it in its various programmes. It however makes it clear to all intending volunteers that it only provides accommodation. Another area where the foundation has made impact on the lives of the rural poor is in the area of ICT where Dada aims to build a knowledge-driven economy in Southern Kaduna through the use of radio, community theatres and multimedia, in order to give the predominantly farming communities better access to health, farming and education information.

This is because, Kafanchan, located 100 km northeast of Abuja and about 200km from Kaduna, is a poorly connected area in terms of fixed line telephony and Internet connectivity. The Fantsuam Foundation which is also the first rural-based Cisco Networking Academy was the only Internet service provider in the area before being joined by some few commercial ones. The foundation's connectivity, according to it, relies on a VSAT connection and is very expensive. It has been eating up all revenues generated from the Cisco Academy, the ICT training and Internet café to cover its monthly fees.

The foundation is currently sourcing for grant which will allow it to expand and optimise the existing bandwidth and improve access to communications in Kafanchan by implementing a community wireless network. The network seeks to provide better Intranet and Internet access to a set of 13 local partners, which includes educational institutions, faith-based institutions and health service providers. This will be done by building capacity within Fantsuam Foundation to design, implement and maintain community wireless networks.

Some of the achievements of Fantsuam Foundation since inception include Winner of the First Africa Hafkin prize (2001). First rural Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Nigeria, first rural CISCO networking academy in Nigeria, winner of the First Global Knowledge Partnerships Seed Grant and Small Innovative Projects Fund. It was also featured on CNN's Global Challenges, December, 2005. BBC World, Africa Service (December, 2006) and CNN interview on "Inside Africa" (April, 2007).

Meanwhile the Foundation, which also runs a wide range of formal and informal education programmes, such as teacher training, a Computer Club for vulnerable children, economic management and microfinance training and informal training on nutrition, hygiene, community health, reproductive and other health-related issues through their Positive Concern HIV/AIDS support group has another project called Teachers Talking (TT). This strives to connect teachers in rural Africa who have limited access to the Internet with individuals and communities in countries where there is easy Internet access so that they can be helped.

Madam Kariock Kantiock who was given N5,000 through the micro finance programme of the foundation with a payment of 12 months to start frying beans cake has today repaid the money in the first two months, and has graduated from frying the beans cake to buying beans in bags which she takes to some eastern states for sell, courtesy of the foundation.

This is also a proof that with the right motivation and commitment from policy makers in the country, poverty can be reduced, especially from the north as the Fantsuam Foundation is presently doing.

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