Thursday, November 12, 2009

The 203rd good thing about Lagos: A waystation to get people off life on the street

Last week I went with some other American women to visit a Lagos State rehabilitation center in Majidun, Ikorodu. It is one of the charities that the American Women's club supports here. It's kind of a distance away, so I hadn't yet had the opportunity to travel there. We got a bus from Chevron and had a nice little day trip. Unfortunately, the big boss met us on our arrival and told us he didn't want us to take pictures of the facility, so I only was able to take a couple of shots of our group and our pile of donations that we brought with us.

This center we call Majidun is almost a city, sometimes with as many as 2000 residents. Although the week before our visit there had been 2000, when we were there they said there were around 900. It's basicaly the place where Lagos police bring people when they do a sweep to get people off the streets. There are some people there -- mostly mentally handicapped or mentally ill -- who are long-term residents. They are allowed to stay because they need care and support that they wouldn't be able to get on the outside. But when someone new is brought to Majidun, they are given a health screening and then the staff investigate which is their home state. Many people that come from outside Lagos State are sent back to their home state and hopefully to the care of some family. It sounded like Lagos State was saying to other States -- this is your problem, not ours. Lagos gets many people come from other areas in the country, as it is considered a place to come to make money. But people frequently get here and find that making money is not so easy here. When people are taken to Majidun, they are not free to go as they please from there, so it's kind of an incarceration, but residents have a place to sleep and food, so some people are happy to stay there for a long time. But the staff there try to get people well and functioning and into some place where they can live a productive life.
We were given a tour of the medical facilities which are pretty spare. The really sick are given access to a hospital. The place they called a school was basically a day care -- the kids moved their attention from the TV to us when we came into the room. The staff said they didn't see white people very much, so we were quite a sight -- some children were scared of us and started crying. The children are usually brought in from the street with their mothers. They are allowed some time with their parent, but many of the women are unable mentally to care for their children, so here the children are able to get some care, though there were a lot of children for the staff and space there. There was one little baby that looked very sick and malnourished, but most of the kids seemed healthy and happy (except for the white fright!). The sleeping facilities for the children looked fairly comfortable. We walked around the women's barracks area (there are separate living facilities for men and women and -- they said -- never the twain can meet, though I'm sure plenty find a way). They said most residents there have a mattress, basically a piece of foam, on the floor, though when a lot of people come in, they sometimes have to put out mats for them to sleep on. She said they have a constant problem with bedbugs and have to burn mattresses, but companies are good about giving them foam for mattresses when they need them. Each resident has their own little bowl that they bring to the covered patio area at meal time to receive something to eat. They serve 3 meals a day. Some days charities will come in and cook and serve a meal, giving a better meal than what the State provides. Our liaison for this charity, Maxine, has been watching out for Majidun for over 20 years. She said that long ago Lagos only allowed something like 30 naira per day per resident -- which is nothing -- and there was a lot of malnourishment. But these days the food is adequate.
There was an area which was used for vocational training -- a shoeshop and wood workshop and a weaving area and sewing room. There were a few people working on things. Maxine said they have a problem getting enough materials for them to use to make things. The volunteers and staff there help the residents sell the things they make to buy more materials to make things, but there's never enough. They want the residents to learn something useful that they could use as a trade when they get to live in the outside. They are in need of crafts and things they can make and sell that have little initial cost. It seemed to me that there is a lot of time there with nothing to do. The staff said that the residents have some jobs and responsibilities, but there are a lot of people there and not much going on.
We were impressed with how clean the place is -- there wasn't any garbage piled up around and it seemed to be swept, even though most buildings had the kind of decrepit look that most Nigerian buildings have . But I realized that the lack of trash was likely due in large part to the reality that people there didn't have any stuff and they weren't given access to things that would create garbage.
In the end, we were quite favorably impressed with the facility. It wasn't scary or really awful looking, as it could have been. There are certainly many improvements that could be made to help the residents, but for many of them, I'm sure it's a big improvement over the hard life on the streets.


Kelly said...

You don't know how much this touches me. I'm drawn to tears. I also wished you were allowed to take more pictures(Same Old Laws) of the children's home so I could see the changes. When I get back to Nigeria, It would be the first place I'll visit.

Kenny B Davies said...

I have to say i disagree with the write up. I have been to this centre many time, and every single time, i am moved to tears.

The site is little more than a prison to the adult people there, many of who are there against their will. These are beggers, touts, mentally ill and even women accused of prostitution who are forcibly removed from the streets to be taken to this centre.
It is filthy and must have been swept because they had foreknowledge of your visit.

Despite all this, i currently support the centre and i am in the process of putting together a charity venture in the UK with the sole aim of helping this centre and other rehabilitation homes/orphanages in Nigeria. It is the only hope the people there have.
If you still support this centre, iwill encourage you to get in touch with me at