Northern Nigeria, particularly the North-East region has suffered under the terrorist violence instigated by Boko Haram, they have also attacked targets in Abuja, the capital. These attacks have resulted in many innocent lives lost, including civilians, police and military personnel. Boko Haram is an acronym for the Hausa phrase “Western Education Forbidden”. They have bombed army barracks, police headquarters, places of worship such as mosques and churches, their suicide bombers have brought death and destruction to public places such as markets, and social gatherings. The worst affected areas have been; Borno State, Katsina State, and Kaduna state, all in Northern Nigeria.
Bishop John has spoken eloquently on the best ways to counter this ideology in the long term. “Many believe that their stated aim of resisting western education is just a pretext for a much wider terrorist insurgency promoting an extreme version of Islam. This is why it is essential to use our resources in our country to educate our young people and to provide jobs so that they will not be led into such a terrorist organization. I believe that many of those that our corrupt politicians and Boko Haram use to achieve their aims are illiterate and jobless, they are disaffected and don’t see a future for themselves, such individuals are those that Boko Haram targets for recruitment. The present Administration wants to fight illiteracy and the many forces that have resisted growth, peaceful coexistence and development for our nation. Nigeria has the resources to develop a strong economy that will benefit all”
Our next few days were filled with meetings. We were able to spend time at Christ Cathedral observe the primary school. We met with teachers, parents, and students and gathered information and shared ideas regarding the construction of Grace International School.
The conversations were fruitful with all parties joining the dialogue. Parents and teachers alike shared their passion for a quality education for the children. Their combined vision for Grace International School includes a state-of-the-art science and technology building.
They also requested athletic fields and dormitories for both staff and students.This will require significantly more space than the plot they own. By happy coincidence, a large adjacent parcel of land was for sale. Bishop John had already placed a 50% down payment of $30,000 on the property. We, the AEP representatives agreed that we needed to find a way to raise the additional $30,000 on our return to the USA.
In the evening we met with the building committee, and listened to their plans and ideas, their vision for the school was encouraging in its scope.
St. Michael’s College, Kaduna
On Wednesday, the AEP team of six split from the others and traveled to Kaduna to visit St. Michaels’ College, considered to be a model secondary school. We spent time touring the school campus learning as much about their facilities as possible. We talked with the principal, several of their teachers and heads of departments, from them we learned a lot about the Nigerian education system and the challenges of education in Nigeria. The excellent dialogue left us excited to get to Gusau.
Rural Schools Part 3
During our visit our team visited several rural primary schools, in Zamfara State, Northern Nigeria. Our visits to these outlying churches were on week days, we were surprised by the number of parents took time away from their jobs and farms to come and meet with us.
We told the people about the mission of Africa Education Partnership, namely, to promote quality educational opportunities for the children of the region. Our first project is the building of Grace International School, in Gusau.
One of our forays into the rural hinterland was a trip to a church in Sangeiku in the district of Kaura Namoda. It took us 4 hours to get there over the rutted tracks that passed as roads, the sight of camels transporting goods was an indication that we were in the Sahel, the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert..
Each church we visited had a small primary school to teach the basic three Rs. It is anticipated that qualified students from these rural schools will attend the Diocesan school in Gusau.
These rural churches are poor, have few resources, but serve the Lord with an enthusiasm and joy, rarely seen in the West.
Today we will visit with three different churches/school. The first church is over an hour's drive further north than Gusau. For any of you following our journey on a map, this means we were headed towards the Sahara desert, and we could tell. Until this point, we did not have to request the air conditioning in the car, but we broke down on this trip. I suppose if you visit the Arizona desert in the middle of summer you might get a taste for how hot and arid it is, but I believe that this was hotter and drier than even Arizona at its worst.
The further north we drove, the more palpable the harshness of the landscape. How people settle and live here, I do not know. However, Zamfara State has done a wonderful job of putting in a main highway (two-lane), and running electricity to many. What was absolutely remarkable were the cell phone towers in the middle of absolute desert. They are huge, brand new and in impeccable condition.
And so here we are in the northern part of Zamfara State, closer to the Sahara than I will probably ever be in my lifetime, and we had perfect cell phone reception!! Indeed, there was not even any electricity or running water in most of the villages we passed through, but the cell phone reception was perfect!
Now, what is amazing, and I mean amazing, is that the people we met not only had left their jobs and businesses to greet us, in every single case they had gone to great expense to provide gifts of food and beverages for us to eat after our meeting. We were treated as royalty in every place we went. It brought tears to my eyes to see how excited these folks were to meet us and spend some time together.
Mafara, - St. Michael's
This church was a welcome sight after a very long drive in the hot, arid temperatures. It was impressive to see the development taking place as we entered the town. As with any newer community in the USA, Mafara has new homes under construction, the center is very clean,especially by Nigerian standards.
In Marfara, the streets are relatively clean, the shops are modern looking, and the town is clearly developing in large part because the main road has been put into place and electricity brought to the town (not to mention the great cell phone coverage!!). Yet, in spite of all of that, there is still no running water. Anyone needing to use the facilities was out of luck!!
St. Michael's has about 92 members. The hospitality shown to us was wonderful. They went to great lengths to buy beverages similar to what we would see in America; Coke, Schweppes tonic water, and of course, our standby, bottled water, which we have been surviving on since we landed.
Bakura, "St. Peter's
St. Peter's only has to a small building in an as yet undeveloped portion of the village.
I got some excellent pictures and video here to give you a feel for how difficult these conditions are, and yet how African the landscape around this church is.
The people at all of these churches are fun, funny and just so proud to be practicing their faith. There is something so profound about seeing people so dedicated that puts life into a different and proper perspective.
The last church of the day was perhaps for me the most amazing. It was the smallest building, in a well settled town with perhaps the least harsh conditions of the three churches we saw today. But the energy in that small space would take your breath away.
As we entered, the choir was practicing, and every single member of that choir could enter American Idol and be a hands down winner without even proceeding to the Hollywood session! I was moved by their energy, talent and strong voice. You will be, too, when you see the video here, here and here.
The Pastor of this church is Ishaku Audi, and the church has about 100 members. I don't know how they all fit into this space when they all attend (and in these churches, the attendance rate is extremely high " one does not make these sacrifices and then stay away). This church is very far along, in that the pastor has a house (rectory of sorts), and the membership is large for the space and very dedicated. After listening to this choir, sing in both English and Hausa.
The next few days were spent visiting numerous rural Anglican churches. Bishop John's priority is to see as many churches planted in his diocese as possible. We were encouraged by the churches and the pastors and evangelists we were able to visit. Although our visits were during the week, some of the members turned out at every church. At each stop we were given a warm, enthusiastic welcome, some refreshments and greeted with some wonderful singing and dancing.
Monday 16, Rural Schools part 1
It is 4:45 a.m. local time on Monday, I hear the morning wakeup call that precedes the first call to prayer at the local mosque. The wakeup call and all calls to prayer are broadcast over a loud speaker system, and although I have been awake for some time now, due to jet lag, it woke me up yesterday, as it is intended to do.
After breakfast we saw two churches and the primary schools attached to them. We also visited the site of the future “Grace International School”, the main reason for our trip.
Kotorkoshi - St. Mary's
The first Church we visited was St. Mary's in Kotorkoshi. What impressed us the most when first seeing this church is that a primary school was in session right on site.
Kaura Namoda -St. John's
The last church of the day was again the most impressive of the day. It was a fairly long distance from Gusau, again north but on a different road.
The plan for the remainder of this week to visit different churches and schools.
Gusau - Grace International site
Gusau -The School Site
We finally had a chance to see the empty plot of land where the future Grace International School will be built. The property is right in the middle of a rapidly developing middle class and professional community, that currently has no other school planned. You can see the school site here. In at least one of the photos, you can see that the houses being built are very large
We were woken at 5 am by the dawn call to prayer from all the neighboring mosques:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar: God is great,
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God;
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
Hasten to prayer, hasten to prayer.
Prayer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep.
The call goes out 5 times a day, the last after dark, it is a regular reminder that Zamfara State like the other the northern states of Nigeria is overwhelmingly Muslim.
After breakfast, we were taken to the Cathedral Church of Christ the King. The Cathedral compound consists of the Cathedral itself, a community center and several other buildings including a primary school and two smaller churches, one Igbo speaking, the other Yoruba.
During the Cathedral Church service, we each brought greetings and explained the purpose of our mission..
Lunch, rest, supper and back to the Cathedral to discuss with the board of the Diocese and their Education committee our decision to partner with them to build Grace International School. We were very encouraged by the evident enthusiasm for the project and the thoughtful comments and insights that were shared by the community leaders.
Why this project is important?
Like parents everywhere,these folk wish to provide a quality education for their children, in an environment free of ethnic, gender, and religious discrimination. Our Nigerian partners recognise that girls need to have the same opportunities for a quality education as boys. Our partners also recognize that having an educational milieu that is free of discrimination ethnically and religiously will help to promote peace in the society at large.
Grace International School will therefore accept students from every background. The school will aim to offer a high academic standard, an environment that fosters understanding between different ethnic and religious communities.
Grace International School building committee
After returning from church, we all rested a bit. We returned to the church at 5:00 for a meeting with the school building committee - those interested in building the secondary school. This was a very fruitful meeting. We explained our purpose in gathering data to build the school, and listened as the building committee described their vision to us. It was really a wonderful meeting, and as tired as the Americans were, I think we all communicated nicely. We left the meeting to return to Bishop John's house for dinner feeling very satisfied by the enthusiasm of the Diocese for our mission.