Oyeboo (White Man)

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By: Faisal Siraj, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Faisal Siraj, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. He will be blogging about his experience every month, and you can learn more about him, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

Everything is meant to be and nobody knows when it is going to happen. Sometimes people really do not know what their destination is – what are they are in this world for and how they are going to achieve what they desire. Lost some where deep in my thoughts, looking at the golden floor of clouds, all off a sudden the captain made this announcement, “we are landing at Lagos airport in ten minutes.” A little smile danced on my lips and I told myself “at last you made it.”

Sometimes it is really difficult to settle down in a new place, but when people around you make you feel like a member of one family then it takes no time by human body and conscious to integrate in. Initially, I had issues with my accommodations so I drove around Lagos from north to south and east to west. During this hunt I learned how to deal with the business block of Nigeria, which really helped me settle down. When I arrived I was strictly vegetarian, though I had never been in my life before, as I was not sure whether the meat they serve here is “Halal”. Fortunately my hotel started providing me with my desired food and I searched a few Halal restaurants around.

My first day at the office was really memorable as a lot of people were there to greet me and I came to know how eagerly they were waiting for their Oyeboo (they call me, meaning “White Man”). We had a lot of work ahead, so after a meeting with all staff we made weekly rota and distributed different activities and different stations. I had to visit every station as everyone was waiting for their Oyeboo and that was the best feeling I have ever had in my entire life.

I met with traditional birth attendant (TBA) associations of three towns. During our meetings, I tried to map out their skills and the difficulties they are facing in carrying out standard procedures. I was really shocked when I heard that they even do not have a blood pressure measuring apparatus. I got really worried as how to train the TBAs in measuring the most initial and necessary step of first antenatal visit of a pregnant women if they even don’t have an apparatus. I talked about this with my mentor and really wanted to have a meeting with health authorities to raise this issue. Unfortunately election is going to start and everyone is busy so we decided to sort out this issue after elections. Due to elections we are starting our training sessions in one week.

We are going to a community awareness session on a daily basis and I can not express how it feels when you start knowing new people and communities. I cannot write the exact wording in Oyeboo language, but the translation of a prayer song that pregnant women sing in a group before the TBA starts the clinic is “I am singing this for my husband who gave me this pregnancy”. During the awareness session we actively involve the pregnant women in the discussion and we talk about healthy diet in pregnancy, importance of cleanliness, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, importance of HIV screening in pregnancy, Tuberculosis (TB), Malaria and family planning. I am happy that the communities are taking interest in discussions regarding the issues and they are very friendly and open about these issues.

Along with all these activates, I managed to hang around and make new friends. I always made good friends with my sweet neighbor country India, and here too I made Indian friends. Lagos is one of the most beautiful places I have visited, especially Victoria Island. A huge construction project​ is going on and after seeing the model of Victoria Island I realized that no doubt they have plans for making another Dubai or New York.

A lot of things to do, a lot of new experiences, and a lot of awareness to spread, times seems too short for achieving the goals, but still I will try to put my entire effort to make some difference. Amen.