Last week we begun a series that celebrated Heroes Who Don’t Wear Capes who went to the aid of IDP’s in Plateau State of Nigeria.
Today we continue and read the story of Yil Fomwul Gonsum and her team (which she assembled) who also weren’t content to sit at home while people suffered in harsh conditions as a result of violence chasing them from their homes.
Q. Hello Yil, Please briefly tell us about yourself and your team? (A team photo would be highly appreciated)
A. My name is Yil Fomwul Gonsum, a Film Maker, Actor and a Humanitarian. I am the Director of Saphira Global Center for Social Development and I am one of the organizers of PROJECT QUICK HEALTH/AID IDPs in Jos Plateau State. Three NGOs came together to form the project, my organization (Saphira Global Center for Social Development), Voice for the Girl Child and African Child and Mother Care Initiative. All three are local NGOs based in Jos. We have been working in IDP camps across the state as early as we started having influx of IDPs after series of attacks in some villages by “Fulani Herdsmen” and the journey so far for us has been that of mixed feelings ranging from excitement and passion to help, to emotional and personal attachment with the victims etc.
Q. I’m curious to know what inspired the outreach to the IDP’s beyond the normal one IDP camp visit people engage in.
A. What inspired our project with the IDPs was the urgent need for attention with their basic needs. We were coming back from a community myself and my colleague Mildred and we got a call to go to one of the camps, on getting there we saw lots of people especially women, some with babies and others are between the ages of 2-5 years, pregnant women and even orphans. Some were looking confused while some were trying to find themselves. What captured our attention was a woman from Gashish District of Barkin Ladi, she rushed into the compound with a little girl strapped to her back and looking confused so we called her and asked her what the problem was and she narrated how her daughter is really sick, the girl was running a temperature and was looking very pale, she said she was referred to a nearby hospital from the camp but she was told from the hospital that they had too many patients and couldn’t attend to her. We quickly picked them to Marisol hospital and called Dr. Attah (The owner of the hospital) we explained everything to him, he wasn’t in the hospital at that time but he gave them instructions and the little girl was admitted. She needed Two pints of blood (which wasn’t available in the hospital) amongst other things. We rushed to Plateau hospital and even thought they had closed for the day we placed some calls and begged to be attended to, eventually we got one pine of blood and got another from a donor. Our little girl was later attended to by Dr. Attah at close to no cost and after a few days she was fine and we took them back to the camp with her mother.
After that incident we decided we needed to go back to the camp to see how we could help because we were sure there are lots of other cases like that or even worse. We realized there was no structure in the camp for quick response and we decided to take it up, the idea is to intervene as quickly as we can to control any damages before the solid interventions from Government and big organizations arrive. That was our inspiration to start interventions in IDP camps. We went back to the camp the next day to see if we could help with other things and someone from the community came and met us that IDPs were in dire need of basic essentials like Health care, sanitary pads, diapers, clothing’s, etc., we knew we didn’t have the needed capacity to tend to all those needs so we decided to use our platforms which is our organizations to seek individual help.
Q. How did you assemble your team? And how has work with them been?
A. I assembled my team of volunteers (Saphira Global Center for Social Development). Mildred did same (Voice for the Girl Child). Dr. Attah followed suit (African Child and Mother Care Initiative). We asked our Pharmacist friend Walshak Dagwer the owner of (Damark Pharmacy) to join us in soliciting drug donations from his colleagues and other well-meaning individuals. The idea was to specifically set up a medical outreach in the camp because people were really sick especially children there was a diarrhoea outbreak as a matter of fact. We all came together to form a team, Dr. Attah is a paediatric consultant and we were absolutely sure the children were in good hands, we agreed to work under an umbrella hence we’re all passionate individuals but with platforms and we decided to call it PROJECT QUICK HEALTH AND QUICK AID IDPs to avoid any form of confusion of identity and for each organization to take credit for the work independently. Myself and Mildred having helping with other aspects like toiletries, clothing’s, kitchen utensils etc. While Dr Attah and Walshak help appeal to medical personnel to come out and volunteer and also with drug donations.
Our major challenge was how to get the resources, we had a collective mission, we were positive we could help. Did we have the resources? No. Were we discouraged by that? No. We knew that one way or another we would be able to make a difference. We were the only ones on ground that period and there was absolutely no interventions from anywhere yet, not from Government not from any other individuals or organizations. Even though volunteers of Red Cross were on ground but they were incapacitated as they were awaiting the coming of their mother body (ICRC) to come for assessment first before interventions start. MSF AKA Doctors without borders also came to the Plateau State on their own health mission as required by their organization and we shared ideas on how to engage. For instance, if after our medical outreach we see the need for further interventions we communicate them on that and they take it up in the affected camps. We as a team have been having a very smooth working relationship with so far even though the journey itself has not been a smooth one it’s been very rough and tough but when you’re working with the right people that share in your ideology then the sky is your limit.
Q. How would you gauge the response of both the government and private individuals to the IDP crisis? Where have both fallen short?
A. The response from Government from individuals are far apart, let me break it down to you….
Individuals are the life savers regarding this project I dare to say, they’re the ones that responded swiftly to our SOS call on the plight of IDPs, the response was overwhelming. I have been doing development work for years now and I have never put out a cry for help and gotten massive response like this on any project even though I hardly put up pleas, as an organization we would rather appeal privately to individuals and the rest to help but you see, this is different, it’s not even about me. Because we’re a team we work in agreement as a team in regards to what’s best for us. My friends both here and abroad gave me a pleasant surprise by their passion and willingness to help. As a matter of fact, they’re the ones that encouraged us to keep going because initially we were concentrating in just one camp but due to the cry for help in other camps we had to move further and further even when we thought we couldn’t continue anymore our friends and family refused, they pushed us to keep going. You would think they will get tired of giving but no. Someone told me Yil if you guys stop what you’re doing with the IDPs now what happens to them? Hmmmmm isn’t that some question? I didn’t have the appropriate answer, all I remember saying was. We will find a way. We have been getting lots of encouragement from individuals and even organizations, some organizations came and volunteered with us for some time so also individuals, till date we get calls from people asking how they can help. The other day a lady called me and said she wanted to volunteer her time to teach children in camps, isn’t that a beautiful soul? There’s lots of other instances, I could go on and on but that’s for another day.
Government was slow in responding to the plight of IDPs, and up till now it has not provided alternative health care for IDPs which is a major concern for us. How can people that are fleeing from death be left to die after finding Safety? I don’t understand this and I don’t intend to. SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency) came only a few days later and they came along with a car full of misplaced priorities. I mean how can you come to intervene in an IDP camp as a quick response unit with bags of grains that are not grinded for people to do what with it? Then you bring mats and mattresses, mind you these mats and mattresses don’t usually go round and because of that the mode of sharing is firstly given to the sick then pregnant women, then women with children and then the aged. If this is called Quick intervention then I guess that’s a great job. Good thing there’s now two committees that have been inaugurated to Supply relief materials in camp and the other to work towards resettlement of IDPs so we’re hopefully that things get better.
Individuals have done more good to me than harm regarding the IDPs I mean aside the petty talks of some people accusing NGOs of using IDPs to shine which to me is completely petty but we hear such talks often so if you’re as focused and transparent like some of us, you will not be bothered about small talks. The people that believe in what we’re doing are more than those that don’t so I like to focus on the positive while i climb higher.
Government increased its pace subsequently at least the Governor paid a visit to one of the IDP camps three weeks later which unfortunately didn’t turn out well but some lots of relief materials were taken to the camp that day so they tried small. Also in some of the camps SEMA eventually provided water tanks for IDPs.
Q. What was the response of people on both social media and life to your call for support and contribution of relief materials?
A. Our major contributions and donations came from social media because that is the only medium we used to portray the reality of IDPs and to solicit for support. Like I mentioned earlier the support was massively beyond our expectations. Honestly people responded both via social media and in persons. Our first cry for help was in Facebook and it went viral, people from states as far as Lagos were calling in to see how they could help. Our friends and family in Abuja played a very huge role in helping and encouraging us. Even people from the East. That is the reason why we have been able to cover almost all the camps spread across the state without team of medical personnel, staff and volunteers giving them free Medical care and relief materials.
Q. What are the major misconceptions you feel people have about victims of violence?
A. One major misconception about the IDPs is that they’re the ones displacing themselves or even if they claim they’re being attacked by “Fulani Herdsmen” that they called it upon themselves by stealing and killing the cows. This is a misconception that needs serious attention, if only relevant authorities will pay closer attention to the incessant killings and stop giving it names and excuses.
Q. Beyond hunger and lack of clothing as well as healthcare, what are the other problems IDP’s have that are not so obvious but as real as others? (Psychological, social, etc)
A. Well healthcare is definitely what should be given priority in the camps and also they need more suitable places as make shift camps since the government is slow in resettling them, pregnant women and lactating mothers should be given special attention, the living conditions in these camps are not suitable for new-borns because we have had cases of women giving birth in camp and losing the babies shortly after. At least I know about three cases of such in Riyom Camp. Thankfully we haven’t heard or seen cases of rape and sexual harassment as mostly the case in other camps across the country.
Q. What is your advice to embittered Nigerians who sit at home and wail all day when there are people not far from us in need of help?
A. When you sit and keep complaining about something yet you don’t do anything about it because you feel it’s not your responsibility then you’re part of the problem, get up get involved and do the best you can. I wish we the citizenry knew how much power we have over our leaders, if we know our rights we will know where it starts and ends. Demanding good governance is not by whining on social media it is by being participatory, getting involved and being part of the change. If you don’t get involved in governance you will never know how it works and you will never know when it’s time for you to demand for what’s right to be done. My advice to those that whine is that they should be proactive. “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up” Nelson Mandela.
Q. How can people still contribute to the care of the IDP’s
A. We as a team have decided that anyone that wants to contribute or donate anything can go directly to the camps to either give them relief materials themselves or through the camp officials. We don’t go to individuals to collect funds or any form of help except for those that reach out and insist we take them. That’s why in our initial pleas for help we didn’t give out any account numbers to the public in fact till date you will never see an account number asking for funding for IDPs on any of our posts. Some individuals reached out to us privately and insisted they only had cash and we’re not close by, because they wanted to help we couldn’t deny them that so we agreed as a team to have a central account number for transparency and accountability and then we unanimously picked one organizational account number for that.
You’ve heard it all from Yil! Don’t shake your heads or shed tears only. Take a trip down to one of the camps and spend time with this people. You mustn’t have much – your presence would matter to them.
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