The weekly online UK-Nigeria meetings have been established in their present format for more than three years. However, following Nigeria’s terrible post-election violence, John this week identified a new and unexpected benefit of our regular sessions - explaining that the Dadamac meetings are “evolving into a balm, a tonic, a forum where Fantsuam Foundation can unburden ... a psycho-social element of our weekly meeting”.
The rural community has been badly shaken by the attacks and, although the news reporters appear to have moved on, the real story is still unfolding. For example, how people from both sides of the religious divide are rebuilding trust and their fragile economy with minimal Government support - save from the presence of soldiers and the curfew which we suspect helped to reduce the number of casualties.
Shortly after the burning down of the vital Kafanchan market in April and during these weekly meetings, the idea of first a peace market and more recently the women peace traders has taken shape. It is therefore very pleasing to report this week that six women have now been given their N30,000 (part grant, part loan) to restart their businesses and that the new market, located on the road to Kagoro was opened on June 6th.
We heard from John and Comfort that opening of the market was “very low key”. They added: “Government is preoccupied with swearing-in ceremonies... so no ribbon cutting. Public announcements was all there was to inform people that the new market is now open for business. It has been constructed entirely by the folks; using their own resources.”
We were told that there were announcements made in churches, mosques and by town criers (informed that a battery operated megaphone works well!)
The team discussed amongst themselves Attachab: The French Embassy are not forthcoming about when they might release their grant. They are worried that the crises might affect implementation of the programme. Frustratingly, while those at the grassroots believe this project will actually facilitate the healing process for the communities and support Fantsuam’s efforts at conflict resolution, the Embassy have sadly not yet been convinced.
John told the team he continues to receive letters and messages of gratitude from his affected communities. For example a letter had just arrived from His Royal Highness the Chief of Fantsuam Chiefdom, thanking FF for all the support they had given his subjects.
Fantsuam Microfinance Field Officers FF continue to be a major force in restoring confidence and rebuilding the Kafanchan economy. Following Grace’s brave lead two weeks ago (reported in the blog then) other Field Officers are now making daily trips into Muslim communities and are re-connecting with their clients and re-establishing relationships. As John explained: “These services continues to raise FF profile as a mediator, a helper, a trusted ally for all sides.”
John himself had a meeting on Monday with a Muslim Fulani community leader who is, as John said, “happy to be part of our growing team of peace activists across the divide”.
Fantsuam have identified key people with whom to start meeting regularly and are looking at steps to take to promote peace, rebuild the economy, and to enhance security of the communities. John said: “We are being careful in the selection of the initial group: like-minded folks with a passion for peace, with a conviction that the different groups have a right to peaceful coexistence.”
When I asked if the council members would be at be at personal risk, John answered:
“We will keep folks who are still feeling embittered at bay for now until we build enough momentum. We have a few members who have already transitted from the bewilderment --- embittered ---- to wanting to be reconciled.
“It is a process, and different folks take different times. We are not making any public announcements about these peace moves, partly to minimise the risk to our members, some of whom have been accused of being traitors for their pacifist views. Everybody has to confront the spectacle of destruction and bitterness on a daily basis, and fight it, so that we can move on.”
Other matters discussed:
- Student enrolment at FF Academy continues to increase slowly as people’s confidence about their safety rises.
- First Thursday meeting feedback given Graham Knight had some info re irrigation http://etherpad.openstewardship.net/VK1tei6Bws
- Attachab Re: the much anticipated tractor (deposit paid) still awaiting delivery.We are hopeful that the new Government will sort this once they have familiarised themselves with their new departments.
- Zittnet: The inverter still is not working but the team have found an acceptable work around until the consultant can come and advise. In the meantime some subsciptions have been paid in full which given the recent turmoil was seen as encouraging.
- Sickle Cell Programme: John had heard from a parent who has received confirmation that the child is suitable for and has been offered life changing treatment In Italy. (Bone marrow transplant I believe but will need to confirm this) It is the UN Sickle Cell day this month and John thought fleetingly about marking this again this year but it seems that the staff, the community and resources are overstretched as it is so hopefully next year the situation will be improved enough for this rural community, who organised and held what I believe to be one of the most spectacular and successful UN SC Day Celebrations to do so again.