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Agriculture in AfricaAfrica boasts one of the biggest farming industries in the world. Agriculture accounts for 60 percent of the continent’s paid employment and 30 percent of its overall GDP. However, due to a lack of market information, modern farming technologies and financial stability in smallholder farming, the continent suffers from low farming productivity. With so much of Africa’s development being dependent on agriculture and farming, low productivity rates pose an array of problems for the continent’s pursuit of advancement. These five tech start-ups are tackling these issues and transforming agriculture in Africa.

5 Tech Start-Ups Transforming Agriculture in Africa

  1. ZenvusZenvus is a Nigerian tech start-up centered around precision farming and is rapidly transforming agriculture in Africa. Farmers in Africa often don’t have access to information that could help improve their harvesting yields, and Zenvus is looking to change that with an innovative solution that uses propriety technology to collect data like soil nutrients and moisture, PH values and vegetative health. The information is collected and sent to a cloud server through GSM, satellite, or wifi networks, at which point the farmers receive advice from the program. This data arms them with the best information in seeking the proper fertilizer for their crops, optimizing their irrigation systems while encouraging data-driven farming for small-scale farmers. Zenvus also provides specialized cameras to track the growth of crops, as well as features like zCaptial that provides small-scale farmers with the opportunity raise capital by providing collected data from the program’s precision farming sensors to give banks an overall sense of profitability in farms registered with the service.
  2. M-FarmM-Farm is a tech service app based in Kenya that provides small-scale farmers with information on retail prices of products, prospective buyers in local markets and up-to-date information on agricultural trends. Information is gathered daily by independent collectors using geocodes and is then sent to subscribers phones via SMS messages. Collectors use geocoding to ensure that all pricing and market-related data is being collected from traders that are located in the users’ actual markets. The app, which now serves 7,000 users and tracks 42 different kinds of crops in five major markets throughout Kenya, aims to help small-scale farmers connect directly with suppliers, and even provides considerable discounts on fertilizers and seeds.
  3. EsokoEsoko is another striking example of a tech start-up transforming agriculture in Africa where, historically, many farmers had a limited understanding of market pricing and agricultural trade. Market middlemen often took advantage of this and persuaded unknowing farmers to sell products well below market price. In 2005, Esoko aimed to change that by providing farmers with real-time information on market prices, weather forecasts and agricultural techniques through SMS messaging. The start-up currently serves one million users across 19 African countries, gained $1.25 million in equity from two major venture capital companies, with a study finding that farmers who used the app were able to increase profits by 11 percent.
  4. Apollo Agriculture – Founded in Nairobi in 2014, this tech start-up has raised $1.6 million in the pursuit of helping small-scale farmers get maximum profits for their products and diminish credit risk. The start-up does this through machine learning, remote sensing and the utilization of mobile phone technologies. Apollo Agriculture not only assesses credit risk for farmers, but it also uses satellite data to provide personalized packages specific to farmer behavior, location, crop yields and even soil and vegetation health.
  5. Kilimo SalamaKilimo Salama (Safe Agriculture) founded in 2010, is a Kenyan tech start-up that provides small-scale farmers a more informed approach to weather index/micro-insurance for their land. The start-up uses an app to send users SMS messages regarding weather patterns and up-to-date climate data. This ensures that users can more readily prepare for weather that might be detrimental to their crops. The app also includes a feature that allows users to receive confirmation of insurance payouts through SMS messaging. Users also receive educational messages with tips and techniques on how to increase productivity, food security and crop protection.

Africa suffers from low farm productivity due to an array of issues like financial instability, limited access to modern farming technologies and lack of information. However, countless tech start-ups across the continent are actively combating these issues with innovative tech solutions for transforming agriculture in Africa.

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

Education for internally displaced children

Violence or conflict internally displaces approximately 17 million children worldwide. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are those who have been forced to leave their homes but remain within the borders of their country of origin. A majority of IDPs live in urban areas, where they often lack access to basic services, including health care, housing and education. Ensuring access to education for internally displaced children is essential to improving livelihoods and fostering social cohesion.

Initiatives in Nigeria and Kenya represent important steps toward ensuring education for all internally displaced children in those countries.

Barriers to Education

For internally displaced children, schools are crucial to integrating into their new host community and regaining some normalcy after fleeing violence. Unfortunately, a myriad of challenges prevents many of these children from being able to attend school. A lack of documentation, financial struggles, language barriers, physical distance from the nearest school and a lack of education facilities in the area could possibly prevent internally displaced children from pursuing their education.

Furthermore, child labor, child marriage and recruitment by armed forces and gangs are other significant barriers to education for internally displaced children. IDPs often experience severe poverty and, as a way to make more money, send their children to work within the informal sector, thereby preventing them from going to school.

Child marriage is seen as another way to help overcome poverty, as marrying into the host community can provide economic and social benefits. Child marriage is frequently forced onto internally displaced children, especially girls. For IDPs who choose to marry when they are young, becoming independent from their parents may be a motivating factor. Once married, children rarely begin or continue their education.

Additionally, internally displaced children tend to live in poor, crime-ridden districts. They are more likely to be recruited by local gangs or armed groups in these areas. In Colombia, armed groups seek out children because they are able to avoid heavy criminal sentences if caught.

Conflict also negatively impacts education infrastructure, hurting educational opportunities for internally displaced children. Displacement disproportionately affects girls, who face additional challenges. Girls are 2.5 times more likely to not attend school in countries experiencing conflict. Gender-based violence and harassment that occurs at school and on the route to and from education facilities keep many girls at home. The abduction and rape that has occurred in at least 18 countries, along with the bombing of girls’ schools, also encourages families to keep their daughters at home rather than sending them to school.

UNICEF Recommendations

UNICEF recommends several tactics to overcome these barriers to education for internally displaced children. The organization’s primary goal is to ensure humanitarian organizations and governments begin to see education as a greater priority for IDPs. Education is commonly seen as secondary to addressing violence. Unfortunately, when conflicts last for years and decades, waiting to invest in education can leave generations of internally displaced children without schooling.

Key recommendations include strengthening education systems, abolishing school fees to reduce financial constraints and adapting curricula to address prejudices and promote diversity and social cohesion.

Case Study: Kenya

A study conducted at a Kenya school in 2013 and 2014 provides valuable insight into the benefits of educating internally displaced children alongside local children. At the school studied, 71 percent of students were internally displaced. However, efforts were made to provide an inclusive education that strengthened community relationships.

The study found that many internally displaced children were initially apprehensive about being accepted by their new school community. This sometimes lasted, but usually dissipated after a few weeks as the children become comfortable with each other. One student, Jey, told an author from the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy, “I like this school because pupils like me. I don’t have any enemies all of them help me.”

Furthermore, students at the school developed community-consciousness. Many were aware of social inequalities that existed in Kenya. Internally displaced children recognized the disadvantages they and their families faced and were motivated to complete school to improve their futures.

Overall, more schools like this one in Kenya are needed to help bridge gaps between host communities and IDPs. This will improve opportunities for internally displaced children.

Plan International: Nigeria

In Nigeria, Plan International is creating learning centers to provide education for internally displaced children. These centers are created in areas that lack educational infrastructure and seek to support IDPs.

Patim, one of the teachers at a learning center in Maiduguri, noted that many of the children she teaches have lost their parents and require a great deal of support. The learning centers are doing what they can but often lack adequate resources and staff. However, the work being done is still directly benefiting many children. Patim recognizes that many of her students would be working on the streets if it wasn’t for the learning center. Attending the center helps keep children safe during the day.

Moving Forward

More communities and nations need to adopt UNICEF’s recommendations to ensure the availability of education for internally displaced children. Hopefully, recent attention to this issue will spark significant change in more countries, improving the livelihoods of IDPs around the world.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Nigerian Dance Company
People primarily consider dance a form of art or entertainment, but this Nigerian dance company is using dance to make a difference and better its community, as well as provide the determination and focus for the younger population. QDanceCenter is a dance studio, touring dance group and community development center all in one. It has received international recognition for touring and performing shows that focus on a variety of current socio-cultural, personal and political topics.

History and Mission of QDance

Qudus Onikeku, an internationally acclaimed choreographer and dancer, founded QDance in 2014. QDance started as a way to promote dance and tradition in the Lagos community. Onikeku also realized the need for employment and personal development opportunities and decided that fighting unemployment would be a major goal of the center as well. It now works with dancers and non-dancers and provides many employment and internship opportunities throughout Nigeria and the rest of the African continent.

QDance has a mission of “embracing creativity and innovation as a way of life.” It places high importance on innovation, using it as a means to create a goal, generate creative ideas, follow through on development and practical application and make it deliver real value and products. The QDance philosophy combines art and business to create a social enterprise and works with young people primarily in order to keep striving for the future of the center. QDanceCenter believes that dance is a business and employs not only dancers but also non-dancers who ensure that all the content and intellectual properties QDance produces returns an income. Its primary focus is to make sure that the center can continue to pay employees as well as continue to tour and perform.

Dance to Make a Difference

With over 203 million people in Nigeria, 19.81 percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 24. Of that number, 12.4 percent of the people within that age range do not have employment and are dealing with homeless issues. QDance is trying to make a difference both in the world of dance and within its own community. Currently, the Nigerian dance company employs nine full-time positions, 150 part-time positions, 20 internship opportunities and 230 indirect/outside jobs. Although it focusses primarily in Nigeria, it has made an impact in nearly 50 countries.

Onikeku considers QDance to be comprised of change-makers and says that they “have to be willing to attack something that society’s failing woefully at.” One of the other major focuses of QDance is working with dancers and artists living with disabilities. The center provides a platform for all dancers, based on talent and regardless of ability or disability. To date, QDance has trained over 100 young dancers, including those disabilities. It has amassed over 10,000 active followers and has worked with over 200 artists.

By providing employment opportunities for both dancers and non-dancers, QDanceCenter has been able to provide an income to hundreds of people as well as make a positive impact on the Lagos community in the past five years. In addition, the international community has recognized the work and talent of the center and its dancers, with many clients and artists located outside of Nigeria. Through these continued efforts, the Nigerian dance company is using dance to make a difference in the community by fighting against poverty and unemployment. Over the next several years, the organization will have helped many more people follow a passion, receive a steady income and foster a sense of community and development over an international following.

– Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr

Technological consumer base in West AfricaThe whole of Africa is known for being an incredibly poor continent. While improvements have been made in certain aspects of life that have provided citizens with better and easier lives in some regions, Africa is still in need of advances that work towards lessening poverty throughout this vast nation. The growing technological consumer base in West Africa, particularly the digital economy and mobile outreach, is becoming a very big deal.

When it comes to technological advances in smaller countries or regions of countries, some nations are way ahead of others. This is largely due to the fact that certain countries have more money than others to invest in these advancements. Even though money may be limited, some areas have found ways to achieve technological improvements.

The technological consumer base in West Africa has experienced a major increase in users in only a decade. Subscribers for the mobile economy of West Africa have reached 47 percent, up from 27 percent ten years ago. These advancements have created new opportunities for government, various industries, start-up businesses, and more. A conference held in April 2018 addressing West Africa’s digital revolution in the last ten years revealed two major factors that contributed to this new digital age: people and technology. People are the ones who rely on, create, and consume technology in increasing numbers while technology and technological advancements continue to broaden their impact the more they are improved upon. The conference was devoted to these two factors in an attempt to bring continued support for integrating mobile and digital technology into society in these regions and bolstering the new growing base of users.

An example of the impact of the increasing technological consumer base in West Africa occurred in 2017. To begin, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Large companies such as Google realize that what works for citizens in western culture may not work in the most heavily populated regions of the world. When 1GB of data can cost a consumer almost 10 percent of monthly income, better user options must be considered to grow the consumer base. Recognizing this, Google broadened the YouTube Go app to Nigeria. This app is data-friendly and allows viewers to save and watch videos offline. Google also created an app called Datally for Android which helps users conserve data. As an internet conglomerate, Google realizes that areas like West Africa are the future of the world’s growth. It focuses on ways to enable these areas to grow in a technological age and improve life for its citizens.

Organizations, such as the World Bank Group, have been promoting a digital economy in all parts of Africa. A digital economy will connect Africa’s citizens to various industries, services, information, and each other. In addition, it will provide people with a digital ID to validate their identity and help them connect to necessary government services. Citizens will also gain easier access to formal financial services including mobile money, such as e-commerce and online markets. West Africa’s most recent technological developments and increasing consumer base provide proof that these advancements are possible, they work in these regions, and they make life better for its citizens. This can influence other regions of Africa to continue developing a digital economy.

West Africa’s growing technological consumer base is a possible stepping stone to a better future for Africa as a continent. This growth of the digital economy in Africa that will give citizens much-needed resources, provide more economic opportunities, and create a better way of life.

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Nigeria
After 20 years, Democracy in Nigeria remains true to its goals of sustaining a strong political authority for socioeconomic growth. Home to Africa’s largest economy, 65 percent of Nigeria’s wealth derives from its oil and gas production. The country itself continues to recover from a recession in 2016. However, it also suffers from its recent unemployment rate increasing to 23.1 percent in 2017. A study from the World Data Lab revealed that an estimated 90 million Nigerian people continue to live in poverty.

Government Efforts to Reduce the Wealth Gap

Fortunately, the Nigerian government’s implementation of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill seeks to change these conditions. The bill functions as an investment to promote Nigeria as a future leader in the oil production industry. Research from the International Monetary Fund indicates that between 2019 and 2020 Nigeria’s economy should grow by at least 2.2 percent.

Amid strides towards economic development, many Nigerian people find it hard to put their trust into newly-elected leaders. After gaining independence from the British in 1960, Nigeria’s government endured corruption from previous leaders that led to polarization both politically and economically.

Nigerian legislators earn the most globally, with salaries starting at $48 million a year for senators. With the average Nigerian salary at $1,294, most Nigerians feel disconnected from their leaders because of this wealth gap. In most cases, optimal advocacy for Nigerian citizens translates to decentralizing power to more local government representatives. Consequently, this would ensure more groups of people receive equal access to policy implementation. The decentralization of government in Nigeria corresponding with democracy in Nigeria elevates the power of the population.

Reelection of President Buhari

The current democratic government, known as the Fourth Republic, attempts to restore hope to the Nigerian people. In February 2019, Nigeria re-elected its President, Muhammadu Buhari, for a second term. Only 28 million of the 80 million registered voters in Nigeria voted in the election. The majority of the four million votes that allowed President Buhari to win the election emerged from his popularity with the poor population in the north.

Democracy in Nigeria succeeds in giving a voice to the voiceless, as opposed to utilizing mass poverty to exclude impoverished people from the political process. In the end, the essence of democracy encompasses a nation that can elect its own representatives.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) helps to:

  • Establish civic organizations.
  • Strengthen political leadership.
  • Promote accountability and openness in governments around the world.

For over 35 years, NDI has partnered with more than 156 countries to advance democratic progress globally. By getting citizens to recognize elections as a fundamental human right, the NDI strengthens the political power of that country, which solidifies the idea of accountable democratic governance. The NDI also understands the importance of inclusion in policymaking and works to increase democratic participation from marginalized groups by addressing laws that target them.

As a result of this organization, Nigerians with visual impairments had the opportunity to vote for the first time in the 2019 election. Democracy in Nigeria exemplifies that growing global efforts to impose effective societal change starts with a government that truly reflects and endorses the interest of its citizens.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr

Gender inequality is one of the biggest issues in many African countries. In many regions, women stop attending school when they begin menstruating while others have high rates of child marriage. Many women around the world are also often subject to gender discrimination in the workplace. That said, today, more than ever there are numerous individuals and organizations that have taken a stand to improve women’s rights in Africa.

3 Efforts to Protect Women’s Rights in Africa

  1. Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire and Fellow Female Soccer Players
    In Africa, soccer is seen by many as a man’s profession; as such, female players have an enormous pay gap compared to their male counterparts (female players earn R5,000 (approximately $338) for every game won while men take home R60,000 (around $4,000).Along with a large pay gap, women’s soccer teams also receive less media coverage and funding. Many of these women are also victims of abuse and harassment as a result of being athletes. In response to all of this, many these players have been conducting protests and sit-ins. They have been supported in part by the SheFootball Initiative, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower women by educating and motivating female soccer players in Africa. The founder, Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire (a former soccer player herself), began the organization because she wanted to get rid of the cultural stigma that women should not take part in athletics. So far, Yusuf-Aromire’s work has seemed to pay off, as the organization has become a major voice in women’s soccer in Africa.
  2. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
    In many parts of Africa, individuals are not properly educated on safe sex practices, and this can lead to high teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS rates. To help better educate young people about these issues, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, who works as the director of communications for the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, has created a blog called Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women. The blog aims to provide a safe space where African women can discuss sex and sexuality issues and become educated on safe sex. Resources like these are a great first step towards reducing rates of HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy in Africa.
  3. Kudirat Abiola, Temitayo Asuni and Susan Ubogu
    Child marriage has become increasingly prevalent in Africa, especially in Nigeria, where roughly 44 percent of girls are married before they turn 18. To combat this, Kudirat Abiola (15), Temitayo Asuni (15) and Susan Ubogu (16) began It’s Never Your Fault, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce child marriage in Nigeria. The organization has started a petition for the government to raise the minimum age for consent to marriage from age 11 to age 18. To date, the petition has gained more than 130,000 signatures globally.

– Chelsea Wolfe
Photo: Flickr

women's empowerment in nigeria
Hajiya Amina Ahmed inspires women all over Nigeria to become more involved in making decisions that affect their daily lives. She believes that women should have a role in decision-making processes concerning peace and security. Women in Nigeria are often on the receiving end of conflict situations, but people do not give them a voice in rectifying such situations. Ahmed is a voice that empowers women in Nigeria; she acts against the inequality that women face by empowering women and building communities across religious and ethnic lines.

A Long Way Toward Women’s Empowerment

Achieving women’s empowerment in Nigeria is a very difficult task, especially considering that Nigeria has been violently divided by sex for so long that even some women are against complete equality. There are prominent women in Nigeria who believe that men and women should be different, but equal. Some believe that women should have careers, but that men are the heads of the house and are in control of their wives in the home. Ahmed is counteracting the notion that men and women cannot have equal rights in Nigeria.

Some believe that men and women cannot be completely equal thinking as it will not end gender-based and may increase it. This is why education is the most important aspect of Ahmed’s initiative to involve women and girls in their communities.

Ahmed’s Work

Ahmed is the Executive Director of the Women Initiative for Sustainable Community Development in Plateau State, Nigeria. She has been working in peace and conflict transformation since the 2001 ethno-religious crisis in Plateau State. Since 2001, the recurring communal violence in Plateau State has killed at least 4,000 people.

Ahmed’s work involves countering this violence, specifically the violence against women and girls, as well as promoting their involvement in development processes. She believes that the more women and girls involve themselves, the more they will want to continue and be a voice in their communities. The end goal is for men and women to have equal voices in their communities. Slowly, but surely, she is seeing the difference that she is making as she empowers women in Nigeria.

Ahmed, along with her co-workers, also believes that the most important aspect of women bridging the gap between men’s and women’s roles in their communities is education. When women know what is at stake and what could be different about their lives, they are much more likely to take action and to become models of their communities.

The Nigerian Parliament

In Nigeria, men are disproportionately in control of leadership positions. Even though women make up 49 percent of the Nigerian population, they do not make up even close to 49 percent of Nigerian leadership positions. There are seven female senators out of a total of 109 senators and there are 22 female representatives in the House of Representatives out of 360 total. Nigerian women are trying their best to be a part of their government, but it is difficult when others force them into their cultural and religious obligations of ceding governance to men. Ahmed’s work is an important aspect in giving women more of a say in the Nigerian government.

Ahmed’s Impact

Ahmed is one of the many women who contributed to the Promoting Women’s Engagement in Peace and Security in Northern Nigeria Programme. The E.U. funds the program and supports the Nigerian government strengthening women’s leadership, gender equality and protection of women and children from violence. This program exists in three northern Nigerian states, including Ahmed’s home state of Plateau. Women that are tired of conflicts in which innocent people have perished are leading and carrying out this plan.

Nigeria’s government lacks female representation, but Ahmed, along with her fellow peacemakers, is making a difference by achieving women’s empowerment in Nigeria. Hopefully, more people will join the cause in making Nigeria a country that men and women lead equally. Peacemakers are the starting point of making Nigeria a country that does not divide itself based on sex.

– Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr

Plastic in Exchange for EducationPlastic pollution is one of the worst global environmental issues to date. On average, around 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year and most of it is not recycled. This unrecycled plastic becomes waste on land, in rivers and oceans, and can be consumed by multiple breeds of animals. Scientists predict that if nothing is done about the production or lack of recycling plastic, the ocean will more than likely have more plastic in it than fish by the year 2050. Poverty-ridden countries are more susceptible to having plastic waste filling their streets and water sources, which is why many areas in these countries are turning to a new solution to both end plastic pollution in their country and decrease their poverty rates.

Many schools in poverty-ridden countries have begun to accept plastic in exchange for education by using the waste as payment for school tuitions. Nigeria is ranked 11th in the world for plastic pollution and it is estimated that nearly 450,000 megatons of plastic waste are discarded every year in the city of Lagos’ water sources alone. Because of this, a partnership with Africa Clean Up Initiative (ACI), RecyclesPay and Wecyclers has allowed parents to start paying their children’s tuition with the plastic waste they collect. How much tuition is covered depends on the amount of waste brought in each week; the more that is brought in, the more tuition is paid for. This helps parents relieve financial burdens and to be able to use what little money they have on school materials while the plastic waste they collect and turn in pays for their child’s tuition.

In 2016, Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar opened a school in India where parents could pay for school tuition by bringing in 25 pieces of plastic waste to school each week. Their plan was to help children receive an education while also cleaning up their town from plastic waste. At the time the school opened, most children were being sent to work rather than attending school because parents either could not afford the education or they could not afford to care for the entire family. This initiative has since been extremely well-liked by the community, and its popularity has grown. The curriculum focuses on generic education practices but also includes curriculum on environmental issues and the importance of keeping the community clean. Because of the positive impact and growth of using plastic in exchange for education, the couple plans to open 100 similar schools within the next five years to increase education in India.

Reducing plastic pollution while improving children’s education is one step closer to resolving plastic pollution and ending world poverty with increased educational opportunities.

– Chelsea Wolfe
Photo: Unsplash

diagnose birth asphyxiaBirth asphyxia is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It occurs when a child does not get enough oxygen before, during or after birth. However, an app under development could detect asphyxia in as little as 10 seconds. As such, this app has the potential to diagnose birth asphyxia and save the lives of children.

Causes and Symptoms of Asphyxia

Some causes of perinatal asphyxia include low blood pressure in the mother, placental abruption wherein the placenta separates from the uterus wall and the compression or entanglement of the umbilical cord. Additionally, birth asphyxia can be caused if the uterus does not fully relax. This is because it can impede blood flow to the placenta and thus the child.

As a result, the symptoms of children suffering from asphyxia include a weak or irregular heart rate, weak reflexes, being blue in color, lethargy and/or a soft cry.

This last symptom, a soft cry, is important. It is what Ubenwe, a Nigerian AI company, relies on to diagnose birth asphyxia. Moreover, Ubenwe plans to save children from debilitating illnesses resulting from brain damage caused by asphyxia, like blindness or deafness.

What is Ubenwe?

Ubenwe is a mobile app that uses proprietary AI technology to detect weak crying that can be a sign of asphyxia. In their words, the app can “analyze the amplitude and frequency patterns in the cry to provide a diagnosis of birth asphyxia.”

Ubenwe is an Igbo word that means “cry of a child.” In clinical trials, where the app tested 1,400 recordings of children crying, the app can diagnose birth asphyxia with a 95 percent accuracy rate. By recognizing this key symptom of asphyxia immediately and accurately, Ubenwe can save many lives.

Nigerian student Charles Onu and his research team invented the app at McGill University in Canada. Additionally, Onu is an associate fellow at the Royal Commonwealth Society. He is one of 12 fellows from around the world chosen to take part in the Jeanne Suave’ Leadership Program. This program brings together the world’s brightest young leaders to end global problems.

In 2017, Ubenwe was one of 141 teams from around the world to make it into the X Prize competition. This competition encourages inventors to apply AI technology when solving global problems. Subsequently, Ubenwe began research and development in 2012. In 2014, Ubenwe began pilot testing.

The Importance of Ubenwe

Currently, the main method to diagnose birth asphyxia requires drawing blood from the umbilical cord or the baby. However, this method is not suitable because 60 percent of women worldwide do not give birth in a hospital. Half of all deaths that occur in middle- to low-income nations could be prevented if the afflicted had had access to a hospital. Often, by the time the parents of a child are able to reach a hospital, the harm has already been done.

However, 95 percent of the developing world has a mobile phone. Ultimately, every one of those 95 percent could have access to Ubenwe and potentially diagnose birth asphyxia. With the majority of developing countries having access to mobile phones, they have increasing access to apps with the power to save lives.

– Sarah Bradley
Photo: Flickr

Victims of Boko HaramSince 2002, the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, has killed more than 27,000 people and displaced nearly two million from their homes in the northeast regions of Nigeria. For victims of Boko Haram, recovery will be a lifelong process. Although it has been estimated that nearly 4.5 million people remain food insecure since the insurgency, it is the psychological toll that remains most difficult to measure and treat. With the help of organizations such as the U.N., the Neem Foundation and Tender Arts Nigeria, victims of Boko Haram in refugee camps are offered much-needed psychological treatment, including art therapy and training on how to reintegrate into society.

The Role of Therapy in Combating Trauma

Many victims of Boko Haram are taken as children and forced to both witness and commit acts of unspeakable violence, even to members of their own families. Girls as young as 11 are forced to marry and undergo rape. These girls are frequently used as suicide bombers, while the boys are trained as soldiers. The victims of Boko Haram are indoctrinated and occasionally radicalized themselves. For this reason, they are often shamed or feared upon their return, being referred to as epidemics.

The Neem Foundation highlights the importance of therapy to help victims recover from psychological trauma. After being kidnapped, witnessing their villages being attacked and their loved ones being killed, many people suffer severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Children also frequently suffer from cognitive delays and a proclivity towards violent outbursts.

The Neem Foundation brings individual and group therapy to refugee camps, visiting the camps on motorized tricycles called kekes around the country. Terna Abege, a clinical psychologist with the Neem Foundation, uses various methods of therapy, including visualization techniques called “thought-stoppers” to help victims of PTSD deal with disturbing flashbacks. The Neem Foundation and other nonprofits, such as MANI, seek to fill the gap in mental health care in any way they can, including offering therapy to suicidal victims over Twitter and WhatsApp.

How Art Therapy is Used in Nigerian Refugee Camps

Art therapy is also being integrated in refugee camps to help people sort through their mental trauma. The use of drawing and painting, among other art forms, can divert attention from negative thoughts and help people communicate in alternative ways. Art therapy can also help victims preserve their broken cultures and identities and express feelings that they cannot put into words.

In an emergency school set up by UNICEF in Cameroon, children gather in groups to draw as a form of art therapy. The trauma is evident in the scenes of violence and bloodshed that seem to flow naturally from the reservoirs of their memories. Under Boko Haram, children are beaten for crying at the violence they witness and not allowed to play with toys or make noise. When they return, they are often desensitized to violence and either act out violently or withdraw entirely. The art therapy helps the children to express what they have been suppressing and helps therapists identify those in most need of treatment.

Since 2013, Tender Arts Nigeria, created by Kunle Adewale, has used art therapy to help children suffering from physical and mental illnesses and impairments, such as cancer, Down Syndrome and behavioral problems. Since the war with Boko Haram, Tender Arts has reached out to victims of violence and radicalization. They use art therapy to assist in deradicalization efforts and to heal those traumatized from the violence.

Like the Neem Foundation, Tender Arts believes its efforts are not only important avenues of healing but important in helping people avoid radicalization or other areas of crime. More than 10,000 victims have already benefited from the art therapy offered by Tender Arts Nigeria. Because Boko Haram preys on the poor, young and uneducated, Adewale believes that valuing the arts and education is the best way to fight Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden.”

The Importance of Greater Access to Mental Health Care in Nigeria

The Neem foundation highlights the importance of increasing the availability of psychological treatment for refugees in Nigeria. There is a major deficit in mental health care in Nigeria, with only one mental health facility available in the northeast and only one therapist per 375,000 people. The Neem Foundation is working to implement programs that will train more people to offer therapy. They now offer an intensive nine-month program in Maiduguri to train lay counselors who can work more immediately as therapists for the traumatized population.

Although the road to recovery is a long one for victims of Boko Haram’s violence, the Neem Foundation believes in the need to act quickly to prevent more severe mental illnesses from developing. They are working to spread awareness about mental health and want to gain more governmental support for the mental health crisis in the coming years. In the meantime, as more therapists become available throughout Nigeria, it is their hope that these victims can recover and start to live normal lives again.

– Christina Laucello
Photo: Flickr