Enlightened - My First Week as Media Officer At Gede Foundation

Like every other person, I have my own opinions on just about everything. A lot of times, I'm convinced that I am correct. However, on May 16th 2016, one of the things I felt strongly about, was turned upside down, topsy turvy, completely annihilated. Turns out, mentally ill people are less likely to get violent than members of the general population. Imagine my surprise. This is only one of many things that happened to me during my first week at Gede. 

As I reported for work on the 16th, I was thrown right into meetings. I found out I was not going to be in the office most of the week. There were events I had to attend in Dutse-Alhaji, Mpape and Mararaba, in Nassarawa State. 

My first concern was the need for safety. Imagine this, I am going into the community (not a hospital), a community where mentally ill people will be walking around with no support and no one to put them in a straitjacket should they become ‘unruly’. Naturally, I was concerned for my safety and that of my colleagues so I asked what measures the Foundation has in place, in case a mentally ill patient ‘loses’ it. This is when I learned the aforementioned lesson. 

This was a shock to me. In truth, the media has escalated this notion because when we see a mentally ill person in movies, they are either fighting with someone, struggling to get away or causing some other type of havoc. Therefore, many of us naturally assume we need protection from mentally ill people. Even though I consider myself informed and less likely to stigmatize, this was me stigmatizing mentally ill people. 

The next day, I went out with a few colleagues to Dutse Day Government School for an HIV/AIDS & Reproductive Health Workshop. Not knowing what my place was, and what to expect exactly, I positioned myself at the front of the classroom and settled in, waiting for the workshop to begin. When it started, I was amazed at how much these kids knew about HIV & AIDS. They did not shy away from difficult questions, they did not seem embarrassed by things I’d have been embarrassed at, at their age. It was very refreshing to see kids for once, not focused on social media and the latest music or fashion trends. There was a short test for them where they performed quite well, not at all what I was expecting. 

After the Duste event, I joined the BasicNeeds team for their very first key informant interviews and monthly meetings with the Community Based Volunteers in their two communities. Before I proceed, the BasicNeeds Project in Nigeria, in line with the BasicNeeds (BN) purpose, seeks to enable people with mental illness or epilepsy (PWMIE) and their families to live and work successfully in their communities by combining health, socioeconomic and community orientated solutions with changes in policy, practice and resource allocation. I was privileged enough to attend one of their events this week. The first person to be interviewed was a local pastor at one of the newer churches in Mpape. The man has prayed for over 10 people, 8 of who are working or earning an income. This was immensely inspiring as the pastor, without even knowing, had helped a lot of people in line with what the BasicNeeds project actually stands for. One of the people he was still helping was enrolled at a local community computer school, while the other was inside the church - chained to a pole. Without a doubt, this sight was unsettling. However, after a moment of reflection and discussions, a few questions were raised, what if the young lady was aimlessly wandering the streets, what if she was violent? Admittedly, the situation was not conducive but what was the alternative?

Community Based Volunteers Monthly Meeting, Mpape.

The other challenge, of course, is that he cannot support everyone because he has many other dependents. The other person that we did an interview with was the person in charge at Mararaba Primary Health Care (PHC). There is a lot that the PHC does not have that is necessary to cater for someone who is mentally ill. They encouraged that instead, the patients visit the Federal Medical Center (FMC). 

It was very refreshing to know that there are scores of people that are willing to assist, they just don’t know how. There are also various cases that the BasicNeeds project does not cover at the moment; these are mental development cases, such as, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, etc. Mental illness can affect anyone, in fact, after my week at Gede, I want to say almost everyone has some form of mental illness they may be battling with but don’t even know at all. When we think of health, we tend to only think of our physical health, but as the World Health Organization has so often and eloquently put it, there is no health without mental health.

~Zunzika Thole-Okpo

Media Officer