Blog 9: Back on the road…

Mid morning and off to Uyo in the state of Akwa Ibom…

The drive is fascinating as we head into the rural delta. The vegetation is immense: the scale of everything incredible, trees, bushes, sky- everything! 

I see birds of prey, fishing canoes in the rivers along the route.  The road is a constant fury of people, noise, colour, and traffic. Although we're in remote part of the country I'm struck that we're never alone.  

This is not a pleasant drive through the countryside: the roads are in various stages of decay. 

Every time you gather speed almost immediately the car brakes, swerves and tiptoes around potholes. I call them potholes but that's misleading. They're craters. For the first half an hour I'm constantly flinching, expecting to underside of the car to be ripped out or the suspension to collapse. Our driver, Sam is amazing. He's driven us on many previous trips and is very careful. 

I take an interesting video of us trying to get past a large truck, the manoeuvre delicately carried out on the inside after a long time stuck behind it. I take lots of pictures but am on the look out for the numerous police checkpoints along this road: cameras make them nervous so I make sure it's away in plenty of time.

 I count about a dozen checkpoints in all. Lots of hawkers selling everything from bananas and water to delicious looking smoked fish.

I begin to wonder if the lack of road repairs is actually a strategic move to make sure traffic on this main road slows enough to buy goods without stopping. Nobody likes to stop completely; every vehicle keeps going until it absolutely has to stop before it hits something or someone. 

We get to Uyo, dusty and in need of smooth tarmac. It's a contrast to Calabar with nice wide roads and feels more laid back, less frenetic. 

We also see street children on our way to the hotel amongst the tuk tuks. 

We chat later with the manager of the hotel. He is very welcoming and introduces us to the owner, a former state Deputy Governor. 

The manager asks what we do and describes for us the situation for street children in Uyo. He's scathing about how child witchcraft accusations are creating the problem.  

It's clear he sees lots of NGOs passing through and asks us what impact we make.

He likes our model of developing capacity with local partner NGOs as we describe our successes, challenges and the cases we've worked with over the last 10 years. We tell him about our plans for the SAFEChild centre and he asks when we will open one in Akwa Ibom as its needed here. 

We tell him about how we work with the children and our partners to tell us what's needed and what needs to change. He likes this very much and is very scathing about some international development NGOs and foreign aid projects.

He tells us how one major international funder built a new medical centre in the city with state of the art equipment. It lies empty, unused and totally useless as nobody has thought about staffing the facility. There is no budget: even if there were, there are no trained specialists to staff it.

It's a timely reminder that you can't parachute in and out imposing things on communities, this is a process to engage communities and those affected by the issues: ask what change is needed, don't assume.

I'm pleased with our workshops over the last week.  They’ve given Safe Child Africa renewed determination and focus for our projects. Our advocacy strategy has been refined and developed in Calabar: we have deepened our understanding of the current issues for street children and child witch craft accusations, developed a plan for change and spent some time thinking though how we'll measure success. 

A good first week!