Author: Uche Joy Nnogo, August 3 2016 - A small community in Nigeria is demanding better services to protect their children from diarrhoea. Joy Nnogo, of radio show Talk Your Own - Make Naija Better, shares their story.

A young woman sits silently. Older women in her community are consoling her.

"My two year old woke up one morning with a fever,” she tells us. The young woman had taken the child to the health centre for medication. A day later, her child started convulsing with severe diarrhoea. She had no idea how to deal with it. She is crying now. In-between her tears, she tells us that the child became weak and collapsed. She’s grieving but doesn’t blame anyone or anything. She just looks tired and defeated.

It’s a hot morning here in Murkurdi, in Benue State. It’s my first trip to here and I’m keen to understand the challenges people face so I can tell their stories in a programme I produce, Talk Your Own-Make Naija Better, a radio show in Pidgin English aiming to help people understand how they can participate in government and hold those in power to account. ‘Naija’ is slang for Nigeria and ‘Nigerian-ness’.

Unfortunately, the young woman sharing her experience isn’t an exception. I’m sitting with a group of women, each with their own heartbreaking story of loss. Benue State has one of the highest death rates of children due to diarrhoea. This community lacks basic amenities and civic infrastructure – it’s poor and underdeveloped.

Diarrhoea accounts for over 16% of child deaths in Nigeria and it’s mainly caused by poor sanitation and hygiene practices.

But the people here are determined to take action and stop this happening. Zaki Iorungwa Anum, the inspiring head of a small community group here in Murkurdi is in his early fifties and organises regular public meetings to discuss community issues and think of ways to help achieve change.

"The high rate of diarrhoea in the community is a concern. We are trying to create awareness for women that have children to take proper care of the children and wash their hands when they return from the farm.”
Drinking dirty water is another huge health problem in the area and one of the main causes of diarrhoea. The community group has organised petitions to local government, and after numerous attempts to raise the issue, the local government finally dug a borehole – a new source of clean water for the community.

Zaki says the community won’t give up their demands until they are met.

During my visit, I notice that the community also has a lack of toilets. People defecating in the open are making the hygiene situation around here very dangerous but again people are taking action.

A community effort

Zaki tells me, "We don’t have latrines so we dig holes in specific areas so that children can go and relieve themselves there”.

These marked areas are away from the residential space – reducing the risk of food and water contamination. I’m impressed with how the community is trying to raise awareness of the issues and help bring about behaviour change.

The community head described all this as being a community effort to improve things and save lives while awaiting further government intervention.

Through radio, Talk Your Own is featuring Murkurdi as an example of a community that is making Naija a better and safer place to live. We know this works – BBC Media Action radio shows have a long standing track record of helping communities hold their leaders to account. I hope this will inspire others in the same way that it has inspired me, not only as a programme maker but as a citizen of Nigeria. The experience of the young woman I met here is something nobody should have to go through.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Nigeria.
Image credit: BBC Media Action

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