As the final act of community empowerment this calendar year, ASHA visited Gberefu community, an island located in Badagry three Thursdays past.
Gberefu is one of those underserved communities that brings tears to the eyes when one notes the abject and dire state of existence bedevilling its citizens despite its wealth of natural resources. It has no health centre, no tarred road, improper sanitation, no community centre, no schools and no electric power. Surprisingly, there is mobile connection on the island. And, yes, there is government presence in the form of PHCN poles without cables!
The people, friendly yet suspicious of outsiders, had warmed up to ASHA team the first time they had been engaged. Same obtained this time around, friendly yet suspicious. Their suspiciousness might be borne from the failed promises –over the years- from successive governments and development agencies to empower the community.
Studies have shown that for any community, social infrastructures and amenities are vitally important if the community is to thrive and sustain itself. Evidence at Gberefu indicates a community that needs all the help it can summon.
Consequent on its benign neglect, ASHA’s aim was to spread the cheer and significance of the festive season. Over 100 items of donated and purchased clothing was distributed to women and girls. In between, questions of development and empowerment that were troubling the assembled women and girls where answered to the best of ASHA team’s ability.
The nodes from the Q&A were the usual: schools and better life chances; cottage industries, jobs, internship and disposable income; better sanitation and modern infrastructures and, finally, attracting government attention.
Leading the women is Mama Segun. She is the wife of a retired Nigerian Prisons official, Baba Segun. She and her husband have been ASHA’s liaisons in the community. A stop at their home brought the first wave of women. Being a work day, the team, led by Baba Segun, had to move to Ilaje where there is a thriving cottage industry built around the blue economy.
The need for government attention is telling. The boat ride to and fro the community is fraught with danger. The boats are often rickety; overcrowded and infrequent; their engines sometimes refuse to start at first pull; passengers are unusually disdainful to the need for life jackets -when there are any- and, water hyacinths are an ever-constant menace seeking to unbalance any boat. Gberefu needs investments. A link bridge will be a lifesaving start. Schools and a vocational centre or two are equally welcomed.
The honest view is that Gberefu needs development. And, sadly, it is not the development of relocating this fishing community and parcelling out the island to hotel chains, real estate developers and other international investors. Development and growth is not sustainable, holistically, where indigenous citizens are uprooted from their ancestral communities. The long term financial and social cost of such are being felt from Australia to Canada and Colombia to United States.
Many communities are like Gberefu. They are vulnerable, underserved and marginalised but possess a clean pristine environment that is far from health-damaging industries and carcinogenic pollutants. ASHA can settle here even with it wretched amenities. A lungful of air here will serve a marathoner far longer than anywhere else in Lagos state.
The women and girls of Gberefu needs what all women the world over need and even more: to be sustainably empowered and, subsequently, empower their community.