Vanguard (Lagos)

8 November 2012

Nigeria: How I Stopped Flood Victim From Committing Suicide - Camp Commandant

Delta State Commissioner for Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Antonia Ashiedu, runs the Institute of Education, ICE, camp created for flood victims. Recently the Camp Commandant shared with Vanguard Metro, VM, an account of how one of the flood displaced persons at the camp almost committed suicide.

Reason?

Apart from the man losing his home, economic power, including his vast farmland, he was traumatized psychologically as he could not locate the whereabouts of his dear wife, the mother of a six-month suckling baby he was cuddling at the time. The child was crying for breast milk and also in dire need of the warmth of the mother. But that was absent. The man became disoriented and wanted to commit suicide.

In an emotion-laden voice, Camp Commandant Ashiedu narrated thus: "People have lost so much. Think about those who had borrowed money to actually buy seedlings and do so many things. I had a case one evening of a man who wanted to commit suicide. And what was the problem? He had a child who is less than one year old.

He didn't know what became of his wife. Everybody was running, he didn't know whether his wife drowned, he was in the camp with the baby and could not locate his wife. The man was very depressed. Luckily, at about 9pm my attention was called to this by the Reverend Sister who is the chairperson of Pro Labore Dei, Sister Stella Maris.

We called him and started counseling him. He was able to calm down and told us that he wanted to make a request. We asked him what was the request? He told us, with tears running down his cheeks, if we could please take this child off him. And the Reverend Sister gladly took the child from him into her custody. That was how he was saved from committing suicide".

Baby boom at the camp:

Continuing, Ashiedu said: "That brings me also to the other things Sister Stella Maris has done for us in this camp. As at today, Sister Stella Maris has 10 new born children in her house because women give birth here. During the very first birth we had here, we were really very troubled whether to create a home dedicated for mothers, but that would be congesting other rooms.

And she was around and said, no, bring both the mother and baby. Since then, nine more have joined. And keep in mind that when these children are going, they have other little children to go with them. So, as we speak now, Sister Stella Maris has close to 30 persons she is taking care of. So we have a small camp there (Pro Labore Dei, an orphanage)".

Discipline and orderliness is our motto

She further said: "A situation like this is pathetic, no doubt about it. But you must not allow your emotions to overwhelm you, else you will not be able to achieve the desired level of orderliness. So, when I took over the camp, the first thing I did was to recognise the fact that this is an usual situation.

Indeed, nobody envisaged the magnitude of disaster we witnessed; the flood is something none of us had seen before. Now in doing what we're doing, one needs to show a lot of love and in showing a lot of love you cannot compromise discipline.

How do you do that?

You need to bond with the people. I needed to come down also to their level to empathise with them, understand them. So we are having daily meetings all the time and in doing that we are able to tell ourselves, yes this is a camp but we are going to run it like a community. And if you want to run a community properly, you must have order. So, first of all, we decided to have a timetable.

At 5.30am, the bell goes and that is for morning devotion, inter-denominational. At 6am, general sanitation; 7am, breakfast; quarter to 8, the children file out to school behind the camp. Then some mothers, of course, move to the skill acquisition centre.

In between that period, we have little break, those breaks are for general sanitation. Then by 12 o'clock there will be a compulsory sanitation; 1pm we have lunch. After 1pm, we go back to classes again. And because there are so many people who are interested in learning, we run two sessions in our skill acquisition class.

At 5 o'clock we close for the day and there is a Catholic mass, there is fellowship and football matches begin. We have six football teams, by the way, for kids and playing for adults. So generally, because it was something that was worked out in which everyone, the internally displaced persons, we didn't have any problem getting it working.

Apart from that, I have to also give a lot of kudos to the staff of the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation and the four staff from the Bureau for Special Duties who joined us; then the NGOs, Pro Labore Dei, Red Cross, the doctors, the Police; the youth council in particular, they have about 16 of them working here.

"The synergy of all these people make the work here easy and smooth.

"In the ICE camp I wouldn't say we have much challenge because once you have a system and a structure running, the challenge is less. We would have had challenge of security but we addressed that very fast. We had a meeting and I asked when they wanted us to close the gate. Some suggested and we put it to a vote; so by 9pm we lock the gate. Our main gate is never open unless there is a dignitary coming in or people bringing relief materials.

The pedestrian gate is locked by 9pm and we don't open it until 6.30am. We have a lot of women and children here, so we need to see that the place is properly secured. In terms of feeding we have been very blessed. I know that Nigerians are very generous people.

"But this particular situation, I have seen that Nigerians are really their brothers' keepers. There is no way government could have been able to feed these people here. Everyday people come here with rice, yams every kind of foodstuff. That has put us in good stead; so when it comes to feeding, we don't have any challenge at all.

Fighting will earn you expulsion here:

Let me go back to the issue of discipline again, you don't fight in this camp. You don't even quarrel here. In fact here, if somebody pushes you, don't push back; if you push back that's two fighting. Two fighting means expulsion; they agreed to that. And we have our anthem in the camp. It is in Igbo: "Udo ga di ebe ifunanya di, udo ga di". Which means, there would be peace whenever there is love.

How democracy thrives here:

"At a point, we were having problem putting two thousand persons in a place that is a mere classroom block. The SPC camp was also almost bursting at a stage. The Governor now directed that we should create a third camp in Asaba. Everything we do here we bring it to the general assembly, we come to the arena to discuss it.

When we came to the arena to discuss that we needed to offload some persons here, the men were the ones who said they were ready to go. And the interesting thing was that they (men) said they were tired of all these women. You know from the beginning the women outnumbered the men here. The men actually opted to move to Onne camp that was newly created in Asaba.

Democracy reigns here. There was also an option: Do you want to move with your wife? Some families moved, so it was an open thing. Those who wanted to remain and those who wanted to move made their choices".

The Poverty Alleviation Commissioner in her characteristic way of ensuring probity and transparency told Vanguard Metro, VM, that she and her entire work force never for one day ate out of the food meant for the internally displaced persons in the camp. Rather, she opted to be cooking personally at home for the staff and conveyed same down since they spend virtually almost the whole day there.

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