Day 7: John’s story…
Really hot today!
The humidity is energy sapping here at the edge of Nigeria's largest area of tropical rain forest. Yesterday the Ndidem told us that you can walk in forest so dense near Calabar for a whole day without being able to see the sun.
We meet up with James Ibor this morning and look at some potential sites for the Project SAFE Child centre. Including a very interesting existing property near to the centre of Calabar: close to one of the areas that street children gather. Nice, great space and secure within a compound but needs a lot of work.
Can see how the existing accommodation could be split to allow the range of services we prioritised during our planning sessions with partners yesterday.
We need to fundraise first though and this site is a bit out of our price range. Thinking that maybe a clear site so that we can build in stages would be more realistic.
Off to visit Gapolunya, a local centre offering accommodation to children from rural areas who have been caught in conflicts between groups over land rights. Many have lost their parents through violence, natural causes or have been abandoned to fend for themselves. Gapolunya provides long-term shelter and runs a fostering network. Their founder is the incredible Lydia who lives in Manchester. She sums up many of the people I've met on this trip. Lydia has fostered more than 300 children in the UK and now in her retirement instead of taking it easy spends her time raising money and travelling between Manchester and Calabar to support her foundation and its vital work.
I met with Lydia just before coming out here - although she wouldn't be in Calabar for our visit, she wanted me to visit the centre and see their new building they hope to complete soon.
Gapolunya's chair of trustees with James Ibor- he went to school with her son and hadn't seen her for 20 years.
The weather gets hotter through the day. But for the first time since arriving in Calabar I see blue sky and sunshine and try and find as much shade as I can. We're at SYDRI this afternoon to do some workshops with the boys and give them some of the gifts we've brought along, many of which have been given to us by our supporters.
The Ninja Turtle jigsaw is a big hit and it's great to see the boys working together, helping each other complete the puzzle. It's immediately obvious they have a very strong and unique bond.
I also interview John - he's 17 and is one of the first boys supported by SYDRI. He wants his story told…
It’s a sad tale: a mother who left home, a father who beat and whipped him regularly. At 10/11 years old he decided no more and left home. The police kept taking him back and the beatings would start again. Eventually John left for good.
John’s determination is evident and I truly believe he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to. John survived by working at the beach, collecting rubber and metal from the streets and working to keep gardens and grounds tidy in some of the wealthiest homes in Calabar. His determination was more than survival: John wanted to save money to go to school.
SYDRI gave John a home where he was safe, had food, running water and a bed. It's very basic but more than he ever had on the streets or at "home"where he was beaten and abused. At SYDRI he was cared for.
John is now 17, doing really well at school as house captain and the top of the class. That morning he had led his school football team and scored 2 goals.
John wants to be a marine engineer and I believe he will be.
This evening we're invited to the Ndidem's private house in his village.
We are greeted as old friends, the formality of the meeting earlier in the week is forgotten and I am shown how to give a traditional greeting: the ruler takes my hands and blows a blessing on them which I then rub across my chest.
The house is living history and I am treated to stories, demonstrations and explanations of all sorts of regalia including a tooth brush made from the bark of a tree which although I'm told the name of, I'm sworn to secrecy from revealing.
From the laughter I gather quite quickly that everyone knows which tree! My final treat: I'm given a Nigerian Royal name… Etta!
As the evening draws on we speak about our land requirements for our centre and leave with a promise from the Ndidem to find us some potential sites. It's a really positive moment and we promise to keep in touch.
Just before we leave a huge tropical rainstorm unleashes drenching rain and lights up the sky with sheet lightning like I've never seen before: it lights up the whole town. Within minutes there is flooding and we drive back carefully to our hotel for something to eat and a rest.
A long, busy but very satisfying day.
Later I witness something that makes me really angry. As I make my way to the café/ bar to order some food, 3 European oil workers are banging on tables, whistling, jeering and shouting at the young waiters: their problem?
Not being served beer quickly enough. It's shaming and such a contrast with the respect and hospitality I've received from every Nigerian I've met on this trip.