Early in the morning on March 26th, Chris Cloyd, his mother Cindy Cloyd, and I left their home in Ft. Collins, Colorado, picked up several board members of WADSO (West African Development Support Organization) in a shuttle, and away we went to DIA. I remember sensing the nervous anticipation within the group as we traversed the expanse that seemed already unfamiliar as it was hidden in a thick fog on that particular morning. What was it going to be like in Nigeria? Would we make it safely? What were we going to find? I think these questions were on all of our minds. I was mostly nervous about the amount of gear I was going to have to look out for as Chris and I were headed with the WADSO group to film their experience and to create a feature film that raises even larger questions about models and problems of Healthcare that are present in both Nigeria and America.
Chris Cloyd, the director, and I posing in front of the Madonna Hospital. Umuahia, Nigeria. April 2011
Chris (with my help too) raised enough money through Indie GoGo and I want to say thanks here to all who helped and donated! Without your support, we wouldn’t have been able to have the equipment that we needed to make filming this project a possibility.
In the fundraising campaign, Chris wrote this about the project:
“Like may others, you may have received an email from a prince/banker/family estate in Nigeria with an embarrassing legal problem that if you would just help them out with your social security number/bank account, a portion of their windfall fortune could be yours. You may have heard the news, and deleted that email out of hand. You may have even wondered how to help people in Africa, but you have probably dismissed anything coming from Nigeria as a scam. I did. That is, until I heard about the Madonna Hospital Project. Through the efforts of the Diocese of Umuahia and a small NGO half a world away, an abandoned project has been given new life.
In March, the Madonna Hospital will officially open her doors to the poor and under-served communities of Southern Nigeria. Through the remarkable actions of the West African Development Support Organization, a Colorado based non-profit, the possibility of health care is becoming a reality for a community that has been overlooked and left behind in a pay-to-play system.
The Madonna Hospital is a remarkable example of global grass roots activism in an age when at home, and abroad, governments seem unable or unwilling to address the very real problems that face people every day. Through international outreach, ordinary people have made a profound difference in the lives of a community they have never visited and people they will never meet. They give because they can, or because it is the right thing to do. They work to help others because they still believe that individuals acting together can change the world. The dedication of this hospital is a once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the actions of these everyday heroes.
The impact of the Madonna Hospital is direct and immediate to the lives of the people of Umuahia. Their quest will continue to be serving the community in which they live. The impact of this film will be to raise awareness for their cause. If this film is not made, the efforts of so many who have contributed to a worthy and immediate cause will fall into the obscurity of underrepresented causes around the world. The Madonna Film is a project of celebration of the community Madonna Hospital serves in Nigeria as well as an exploration of the health care challenges we continue to face here in the States. The Madonna Film will ask if health care is a human right, or just a luxury for the well to do.” - Chris Cloyd
Anyway, we arrived in Abuja, Nigeria somewhere about 3pm or so but it took us about 2 hours to clear the little line of customs and to locate all of our 20-something bags we brought full of medical supplies, gifts, and film equipment. Father Francis, a Priest in the Parish of the Catholic Church of Umuahia in Abia State, was there to greet us. Father Francis comes into this story through having met several members of WADSO while he was doing a 2-year residency as a Priest of the Catholic Church in Ft. Collins. He apparently answered the ad that was placed by the regional Bishop in Colorado and got the job… Anyway, he told the WADSO group about a project in his hometown of Umuahia that was needing funding for its completion. This was the Madonna Hospital. This was the main reason for us coming to Nigeria as the members of this small non-profit have raised the money (and are continuing to raise) that will complete the Hospital which will serve a community who’s access to healthcare is very limited.
Bishop Lucius During Our Interview At the Cathedral.
We left Abuja, slept the night on the outskirts, and woke up to take a domestic flight to Owerri where we were driven to Umuahia. Upon arrival, we met with the Bishop and had dinner with all the doctors and nurses at the Madonna Hospital as well as the other Fathers and Sisters in the Parish. My first observations about this specific region of Nigeria where we were based are the following: there is a lack of trash removal services, electricity is unpredictable at best and scarce on average, soap is a luxury and clean water is a relative term as “Dettol” can apparently be poured into your water to make it clean enough for bathing, the earth is all red clay, people greet us with “you’re welcome” in a tone that makes you want to answer “thank you?”, Africans eat “everything”, and we are the first white people a lot of people had ever seen in person. I think all of these things can be expected of West Africa but my unexpected observations were that people on a whole were elated to see and meet us, alcohol was served to us all the time and everywhere with the clerical people, we were all made Chiefs, female circumcision is the norm, school girls in remote areas like watching Smallville and the OC, the average wage for working 12 hours a day is about $100USD/month, there is no dairy except for powdered milk because of the tsetse fly, and the average person does have a cell phone and doesn’t know how to turn off the standard Nokia ringtone.
The Head of the Autonomous Community’s “Posse”.
Despite the fact that life is slowly developing and progressing in Nigeria especially now under the new rule of leader Goodluck Jonathan (took me a while to understand this was a first name and not a campaign slogan during the election time we were there), there are still major issues regarding the lack of resources to the people. Imagine if you lived in the bush and there was no access to healthcare or emergency facilities as the roads are too rough to make it anywhere near an actual hospital. And then even those “hospitals” have equipment that is becoming so outdated. HIV is a reality as birth control is not used and people are not tested. People die at an such early ages it becomes a natural and normal part of life. If statistics show you about the conditions in Nigeria, then about 20% of children die before the age of 5, infant mortality rate is about 10%, the life expectancy is only 46 years, and the median age is 19 years of age. In the US, the median age is 37 and the life expectancy is 78. Enough said.
Sister Amauche, Me, and Sister Stan at Christ the King Church Mass Led By Father Francis.
From our experience there, it was obvious how far the US dollar can go, how helpful “plumbers without borders” would be in addition to the “doctors without borders”, how the thought of a Home Depot in Nigeria is so far out, and the fact that we could do so little to help so many. I also just recently visited Planned Parenthood and must say here how extremely fortunate we are to have such a system set up for us. Absolutely amazing.
My entire experience in Nigeria is a whirlwind of bizarre occurrences seen exclusively through a lens. We visited private clinics, clinics in the bush run by the autonomous community leaders, Federal Clinics, and clinics built through the aid of the Rotary Club of Umuahia (we also spent a lot of time with these Rotarians). We toured Secondary and Primary Schools, interviewed a range of people on the issues facing Nigerian people when it comes to healthcare, and also were greeted with huge celebrations of performance by means of music and dance. Never in my life have I seen such joy in people as when we danced with the ladies who had walked for hours just to meet us and watch the ceremony where we were made Chiefs.
Photo Taken By Cindy Cloyd of Me Being Named Chief.
I will forever be grateful to the people in Abia State who welcomed us with open arms, to the school girls who petted me with such curiosity, and to the onslaught of ladies who were curious about my marital status. I’m sorry I couldn’t marry all of their sons and I am also sorry I couldn’t provide medical attention to anyone. I do hope that the camera work that I did will help bring attention to the needs of these people who are falling away from the International spotlight because of bad press concerning internet frauds.
I am also incredibly humbled by this experience because it makes me realize how much we as Americans take for granted in our daily lives. It’s amazing how wrapped up in our immediate realities we can get and how easily we can slip away from that reality by just merely getting involved with the amazing efforts of non-profits like WADSO. They truly are inspirational people and I thank them for showing me how it is possible to actualize a dream even for people who are half a world away.
**Thanks also goes out to iKan and Manfrotto for sponsoring us in Nigeria!!**