Nigeria: Why CARE is there, and what we are doing

By: 
Laurie Lee
Laurie Lee describes his visit to Maiduguri in Borno State in north east Nigeria

How would you feel if you were a young woman in your 20s, and you already had 8 or 9 children?

I was recently in north east Nigeria, where I met women in their 20s who had their first child aged 13.

Over 20 million women of childbearing age in Nigeria lack access to safe family planning methods; only 20% of women who want contraception can access it.

When they become pregnant, they have  a 1.5% chance of dying during childbirth because only 1 in 5 births are in presence of a skilled birth attendant.

Meanwhile the armed conflict that is raging in the area has destroyed the few health clinics there were.

Many girls and women have also been forced into so-called marriages and raped, leading to even more unwanted pregnancies.

Sexual, reproductive and maternal health is one of the least served sectors in the humanitarian response in the region – and that’s why I was delighted to visit CARE’s newest country office and programme, and see how we are helping women and girls caught up in this terrible situation.

The Lake Chad crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis in Africa. Boko Haram, new armed groups and the military response to them, have created insecurity and destroyed homes and livelihoods across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, as the the UN refugee agency map below illustrates.

Nigeria crisis map May 2017
Source: Nigeria Situation – UNHCR Regional Update, May 2017

According to the UN, 17 million displaced people, refugees and host communities are affected by this regional crisis. CARE has been supporting refugees and host communities in Cameroon, Chad and Niger for several years; and we began our first programmes in Nigeria in August 2017.

CARE thought hard about how we could ‘add value’ to what other organisations were already doing. One of the things we are trying to do is work in some of the hardest to reach areas.

CARE is working in eight districts in Borno, which is largely inaccessible to outside agencies due to the conflict – including in areas in the east of Borno, where the only way in is by UN helicopter.

Sofia Sprechmann, our global program director, was able to visit one of the areas, called Rann. She posted this short video about it – it’s well worth a look.

What CARE is doing

CARE’s programmes will help 100,000 people between August and December 2017. We are providing ante and post-natal care to mothers and children, family planning, gender-based violence prevention and support, and HIV testing and counselling.

During my visit, I met young women who finally had access to family planning services: they were so relieved to finally be able to decide when they would have another child. CARE is providing long acting injection and implant contraceptive methods, which can last 6 months or 3-6 years.

They told us they were finally able to let their bodies recover, they would be able to earn some money selling food or clothes, and be better look after the children they had.

One pregnant woman told us how ante-natal care provided by CARE had helped her feel much less sickness and pain during her pregnancy, compared to all of her previous pregnancies. One woman told us that for the first time her pregnancy avoided sickness and back pain.

But while we heard gratitude from women in Borno for health care, we also heard a strong unmet need for opportunities to earn income, to pay for food and ensure their children can go to school – which is free but you have to pay for uniforms, books and maybe transport.

Our long-term commitment

CARE is committed to working in Nigeria in the longer term and the team is already developing plans for women’s economic empowerment programmes, including our Village Savings and Loan Associations which we started doing across the border in Niger over 25 years ago.

CARE Nigeria is also already thinking about how we can apply CARE’s best practice and future vision to the way we work in Nigeria, by taking a very conscious approach to supporting national organisations and not trying to build a very large CARE team. I met some wonderful volunteers in Borno and Abuja from the National Youth Council, for example, who truly represent a bright future for Nigeria.

We have a wonderful but brand new team in Nigeria who deserve and need our support and I really hope we can help them.

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Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website