How Can We Help Poor(er) Women?

A Page from Tom Paulson I was heading home on November 6, 2018, when my sister called me to get her some juice. It was about 8:50pm and I was really tired. I told her I wouldn’t do it but when I got to my junction, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get her the juice.  It was as I was walking to the provisions store that I saw a woman sitting on the side of the road, with her legs spread out and her hand scratching her head. She was dressed in mis-matched Ankara clothes and she had a look of utter defeat about her. At first glanced, she looked like she had some mental problems; the kind that could not be corrected. And because of how she sat, I didn’t immediately see the children by her side. When I got closer, I saw that she had one child pressed to her body. And behind her on the staircase of the shop closest to the one I was going to, were two other children sleeping on the bare floor. They were covered in dust from rolling on the ground. It was heartbreaking to see that the children couldn’t have been older than 5. I slowed down to really look at her…and then I walked past. I concluded that she may have lost her mind and I didn’t want to be chased down for not minding my business. So, I went to the shop and got my juice.  When I got out of the shop, I looked in the direction she sat and saw that she was still there. At this point, I knew that I couldn’t leave her – with those kids sleeping on the road – without doing anything. It was also at that point that I saw that there were two other children with her, bringing the total number to five. Those children, and the utter helplessness of their situation, convinced me to take the risk and walk up to her.  ‘Madam, wetin happen?’ I asked in pidgin English.  She looked at me and turned away. And looked at me again, as if deciding whether to talk or not.  ‘I need help.’ She responded quietly. ‘Where is your house?’ I asked.  She pointed in the direction I had come from. I asked again, prodding her to say more.  ‘Phase 1 side.’  Those were the only words she said. And hearing that, I made my first mistake.  ‘Ha ahn! Why you allow your children sleep for road like this? E no good now. See as them lie down for bare ground like this. E no good at all. Oya…stand up.’ I remember exactly what I said because I feel so ashamed of it afterwards.  She looked at me as I spoke to her and I could tell that she was equally ashamed to be in that situation. She started to gather her things as I opened my purse and took out money.  N500.  By this time, a crowd had begun to gather, and I didn’t want to be seen giving her money. So, I quickly thrust the money in her hand and said, ‘Oya…get up and go home.’ And I walked away from the crowd that was sending blessings my way as they gathered around her.  I saw some other people giving her money and one man even flagged a Keke for her and her children. The woman was on her feet at this point and that was when I saw she was pregnant; probably in her third trimester.  I realized I had fucked up.  I mulled over everything that happened and when I finally got home and relayed the story to my sister, she confirmed what I had been feeling. I should have done more.  I had prejudged the woman ‘crazy’ before even reaching her. If I hadn’t, I would have seen that she was just a really frustrated woman who was going through a lot. I wouldn’t have waited to get into the shop before making my mind up to talk to her. And when I finally did, I let the crowd rattle me because I am not comfortable with helping people in the eye of the public. But what is worse is that, everything I had learned in the last two years about solving problems flew out of my head when faced with one.  Rather than just give her money, I should have asked a few more questions after she said she needed help. What was wrong? Why was she on the road? What kind of help did she need? Did she have a job? A business? Anything? What skills did she have? Were those all her children? Did she have a home to go to? Did she have a partner? What did he do? Where was he at that moment? Was she running away from him? I know that there are even more questions that I could have asked. The answers to these questions would have better informed how I helped her rather than just giving her a little money. Knowing about the underlying issues that drove her to the road at night with five children and one on the way could have presented me the opportunity to offer her a job or begin to look for someone who could.  But I gave her N500 and left. N500 which was my juice money. N500 which could solve some of her problems for that night and drive her back to the road again the next day.  I am ashamed of myself and how I reacted. I wish I could go back in time and undo my reaction. I wish I had been more perceptive and patient when dealing with her. I wish I had ignored the crowd and treated her as someone with full agency, rather than some I could tell what to do. I wished I hadn’t been more focused on aesthetics rather than her humanity. Because right there is the crux of the matter! I was more concerned about how the situation looked that I did not

Family Planning For Sustainable Development

I woke up one morning and realized that my neighbors had used up all the water in the house and had not called the Mai Ruwa to refill the containers. I usually don’t go out myself to call him but since I was the only one preparing to go out at that time, I put on my slip and went out in search of him. The Mai Ruwa lived just opposite my house, so I didn’t have to walk far to find him. Because it was quite early, there were few people on the street, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing my messy hair (which is almost always messy) or my oversized slip. As I crossed the street, I saw that the gate to the Mai Ruwa‘s house was open. When I reached the gate, I raised my hand to knock when this little Fulani boy – who bore a striking resemblance to the Mai Ruwa – came to the gate. ‘Ina Mai Ruwa?‘ I asked in Hausa. The boy just looked at me and pointed to the security guard’s corner of the house. I didn’t know that the Mai Ruwa doubled up as the security guard of the house; though, I should have known a Mai Ruwa couldn’t own such a prime piece of property. I walked towards the small apartment and saw the Mai Ruwa emerge from the room.  As he approached me, I couldn’t help but notice that there were kids lying on the floor, almost like the arrangement of fish in sardine packages, with the youngest closest to the mother. From my count, there were four children in that tiny room. Add that to the little boy I just saw outside, and it meant that the Mai Ruwa had five children. Maybe the Mai Ruwa saw my prying eyes, because he quickly pulled his curtains down. I straighten and asked that he brings water to our house. He told me he would be there as soon as he could. As I returned to my house, I wondered how a man who doubled up as a Mai Ruwa and a security guard could have five children and have all of them living in one tiny room. This was a shock to me because I had done an in depth radio show on family planning in Adamawa, with resource persons from the Society for Family Health who explained the necessity for planning. I thought the issue was more rural but here I was, right at my door steps, in a very urban area, faced with an unplanned family. I consoled myself with the thought that the Mai Ruwa already had his children before my program so, maybe he wouldn’t have a sixth child. I went there a couple more times and realized that the spacing of the Mai Ruwa‘s children couldn’t have been more than one year between each child. They were literally just following themselves. In Northern Nigeria, many families are like the Mai Ruwa‘s; poor, not gainfully employed and surprisingly large. The issue of family planning – or the absence of it – is a big problem in this region. The problem is eating deep into the fabric of society. In the Northern part of the country, there are particular reasons why people have an aversion to planned families. 1. Religion: Nothing is a bigger determining factor than religion on the issue of family. Many people are of the belief that God is the one who gives children and as such, are totally against ‘planning’ a family.  This phenomenon cuts across the two major religions in Nigeria. The Bible’s stance on family planning is almost non-existent; I used the term ‘almost’ because many people use the story of Onan and Tamar as a point to ‘prove’ God is against family planning. In Genesis 38:6-10 (better understanding will come if one starts from verse one), Onan kept pulling out of Tamar (that is, the withdrawal method) just so he wouldn’t perform his legal duties to his late brother Er as stipulated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. While this Bible passage may seem to be against family planning, I don’t think it is. If you take a holistic view of the story, you will see that God was angry at Onan not necessarily for withdrawing during sex, but because he did that with the evil intention of not wanting to share his inheritance with any child Tamar bore; a child who would have been the true heir of their father Judah’s estates. In essence, the Bible’s view on family planning is relatively mute. So why are many Christians against planning their families? I believe it is because many of them are uneducated or not properly educated on the tenets of the Bible, which makes them accept any and every thing their leaders tell them. So when a preacher is against family planning, all he has to do is rally against it from his pulpit and his followers will accept it. And for those who take out the time to study, many do not understand the nuances that are in each scripture and that each scripture is inherently connected to others and thus, the whole Bible. They just latch onto one verse and solidify their opinions rather than take each verse as a small part of a whole. So anyone reading about Onan and Tamar would say, God is against planned families.  Similarly, many Muslims say that it is against Allah’s will to plan their families, seeing it as a western idea postulated to pull people away from the ethics of Islam. That been said, I tried to research what the Qur’an says about the concept, but there seemed to be no direct verses about family planning. There are however verses on killing children (Qur’an 6:151, 17:51). I read an article by Jamal Zarabozo titled ‘Is Family Planning Allowed In Islam?’ on Islam Women and he said research has been done by Islamic scholars and they have come to the conclusion that spacing children is allowed if the parents have mutually found a reason that is Islamically acceptable to space them. He went further to explain that

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