The Winds of Change

Amanda PuckettThe Harmattan is a dry and dusty wind that blows right over Nigeria from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea. During my recent trip to Abuja, the Harmattan was nearly ending and the dust was beginning to lift its cloud over the city, making way for clear and sunny days. I thought this was a perfect analogy for CapacityPlus’s work supporting preservice education for midwifery and community health workers in the country.

Just outside of Abuja at the School of Midwifery FCT Gwagalada, I had the opportunity to meet with 19 midwifery students, each a beneficiary of a scholarship provided by CapacityPlus to assist with tuition fees for their third and final year of training.

Seated in a classroom wearing their traditional blue school uniforms, the students opened up to me about how the scholarships are changing their lives.

“I didn’t expect it. I thought it was a promise that would not be fulfilled. I am so grateful for CapacityPlus’s support,” said one of the students.

“Your support has really affected my life and relieved a huge financial burden,” said another.

Amanda Puckett and midwifery students in Nigeria

Nearly every single one of the 19 students took time to thank CapacityPlus and express their appreciation. But it wasn’t only the words of these ladies that touched me; it was also the sincerity in their voices and the looks in their eyes. Clearly, the impact has been profound. 

The students were eager to sit for their exams and move on to the next stage of their careers as midwives in Nigeria, and many said they wanted to serve women and their families in rural areas of the country.

“I want to be a midwife because it is a privilege to be the first to help a woman and bring a baby into this world. And to do it in a safe way and save lives,” noted one of the students. “I want to work in the northern part of Nigeria because there are high [maternal] mortality rates. I want to help reduce this through my knowledge and work as a midwife,” she continued.

Mrs. Adamu Suzie, the school’s vice president of administration, shared that the scholarships have made even more of an impact than paying for tuition. “These scholarships have motivated the students and given them encouragement as they finish their degrees,” she explained. “Some students were sad and demoralized when they were not able to sit for their exams last March and had to retake courses. These scholarships proved that something can happen and give them a second chance. You don’t know what it has done for them.” 

The scholarship scheme is just one of the interventions CapacityPlus is implementing to accelerate the production of quality health workers, with a focus on states with below-average health indicators in Nigeria. In addition to the more than 2,000 scholarships provided for midwifery and community health extension worker students, CapacityPlus is upgrading the teaching capacity of training institutes by providing Life Saving Skills and Integrated Management of Childhood Illness training for tutors at 19 schools. And learning materials such as mannequins, textbooks, and IT equipment, all identified as essential for ensuring the development of competent and qualified graduates, are being procured and delivered to these schools.

At Nasarawa School of Health Technology Keffi, 32 students received scholarships and two tutors participated in the tutor training. Ashigabu Sylvester, provost of the school, noted, “These interventions have been very important in training students. You are not just helping the school but helping the community at large.” Sylvester told me that the state commissioner and state governor stopped by the school to see the supplies the project has provided. “They were very happy,” he exclaimed with a big smile.

Several staff at the Usman Danfodio University Teaching Hospital in Sokoto also attended the tutor training. Hafsat Aliyu Koko, the head administrator of the hospital, said, “The tutors are bringing what they learned at those trainings into the classroom. We are especially happy to see reproductive health training strengthening, particularly around active management of the third stage of labor.”

It is rare for me to have the opportunity to meet so many beneficiaries of our work in one trip. I consider it an honor to work with such a dedicated country team and support CapacityPlus’s work in Nigeria. Because of our efforts and the dedication of the future health workforce in the country, I am confident that health care in Nigeria will improve before the next Harmattan.

Meet four of these students in 30-second videos from CapacityPlus’s “I’m a Health Worker” series: Jennifer Aggrey, Ifeoma Akaniro, Emem Christopher, and Kalu Janet. And help CapacityPlus spread the word about strengthening the health workforce. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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Photo 1 by Jennifer Solomon; photo 2 courtesy of Amanda Puckett (students at the School of Midwifery FCT Gwagalada)