Sunday, January 9, 2011

Home: It Really Is Where the Heart Is



As a continent, we have always had a lot of organizations coming in and going out trying to make a healthier, richer, better Africa. Since this website is dedicated to people from the continent, I really wanted to start the year off by taking a week to just focus on three organizations started by our own people doing things on the continent to try to make a change. These organizations were started by ordinary people who got up one day and thought “I can do something too!” so if you were thinking of a way to make a difference in your homeland, well, here is some inspiration. Eights and Weights got the chance to interview leaders from these three charities:

Donald Ogisi, Communications Director of Poverty Stops Here (PSH)
Saran Kaba Jones, Founder and Executive Director of Face Africa
Dr. Kingsley Kolapo Akinroye, Executive Director Research & Scientific Affairs of the Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF)

Eights & Weights: Tell us a little about your organization and its cause.
PSH: The mission of Poverty Stops Here is to combat extreme poverty in our world. We believe in transformative community development. Poverty Stops Here focuses on building partnerships with local organizations in Nigeria to help implement sustainable and community owned projects in three specific areas – Economic Development, Basic Health, and Education. These three areas are pivotal to the health of a community.

Face Africa: Face Africa is a non-profit based in Massachusetts, and our aim is to provide clean and safe drinking water in communities in Liberia. There are lots of other issues in Africa, but clean water and sanitation are issues that affect the health of so many large communities.

NHF: The Nigerian Heart Foundation is an affiliate of the World Heart Federation, Geneva and a founding member of the African Heart Network. Its major objective is Heart-health and promotion of medical & scientific research in heart disease and related issues. Our mission is to build core awareness of the burden of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors among the general public, healthcare professionals, and policy makers, advocating measures to address the rising burden of cardiovascular disease particularly in Nigeria.

Eights & Weights: How was your charity started?
PSH: PSH began, and is sustained, by the simple idea that each of us can do something to combat extreme poverty in the world. We don’t have to leave it to big organizations or Celebrities. We might not be able to save the world today, but we can change one life; then another, and another. It is this simple idea that led Efosa Ojomo to initiate what became our first project - a hand pump well for the Village of Balogun in Osun State in Nigeria. He got together with some friends and they were able to successfully implement this project, bringing clean water to people who typically had to walk miles to find it. That was the start.

Since then, PSH has worked on a variety of projects, all with the same goal in mind…to bring sustainable change to the lives of people. Sustainability is the key.  As anyone who’s been involved in these sort of projects knows, it usually needs to be ongoing, rather than a one-off. That is why we partner with communities; to make sure that the change we bring is lasting.

Face Africa: I went back to visit Liberia in 2008 after almost 20 years, and I was taken aback by the level of devastation and damage that was all around me because of the war. My family had moved to the US when I was about 8 right before the war started so before my 2008 trip I hadn’t seen any of the effects of the war. I decided that I wanted to do something to help with the rebuilding efforts. Prior to that, I had done things on a smaller scale like sponsoring a young man’s education, but after that visit, I decided to do something on a much larger scale. And while education was important, there were other more pressing issues that needed to be addressed. One of these issues is the clean water and sanitation issue which is a major issue in the country. There were people dying from so many water borne illnesses that it seemed pointless sending them to school if they may not be healthy enough to wake up the next morning. So when I started Face Africa, I decided that that would be our area of focus for now. We do want to expand to education and health eventually.

NHF: NHF was inaugurated in July 1992 by a group of eminent Nigerian professionals from diverse backgrounds including medical practitioners and mass media experts. All NHF activities and programmes are geared towards achieving 3 goals: the promotion  of heart-health, the promotion and support of research on cardio vascular diseases, and public enlightenment on prevention of heart diseases.

Eights & Weights: What has the positive impact been so far in Africa? What countries in particular?
PSH: We are currently working with four different villages in Nigeria, one in Osun State and the others near Abuja, which is the Nigerian Capital. We have built wells in these villages, distributed mosquito nets, bought school supplies and provided over $8,000 for Small Business Investments and other Income Generation schemes. We have also helped to provide steady income for individuals, while providing easier access to water, and better health for the communities.

Face Africa: So far, our impact has just been on Liberia, but we are working towards getting involved in other post-conflict countries like Sierra Leone. It is a fairly young organization and we have only recently started implementing projects. We completed our first project in October 2009. The project was around building a water purification system in a little community in Liberia. The system now provides clean drinking water to about 600 people every day. Just last week, we completed our second water purification project in a village of about 300 people. The wells we build last a lifetime so the impacted people would definitely have access to clean water for the rest of their lives. That’s major. Also, because most of the homes in these villages don’t have bathrooms, sanitation is also a big issue. People may use the bushes as toilets and then the rain washes all the dirt, grime, and faeces into the same rivers where they get their water.  Therefore, in addition to water purification, we also focus on educating the villagers on hygiene and sanitation.

NHF: NHF was a founding member of African Heart Network (AHN) in collaboration with Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa and AHN has presence in 13 African Countries now namely Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Mozambique, Sudan, Tunisia etc.

NHF has initiated a Heart Check Labelling Programme which is a systematic endorsement of food items certifying them heart-friendly and healthy. Through this programme, NHF has collaborated with Grand Cereals, a subsidiary of UAC, to endorse a product called Grand Pure Soya Oil, after completion of rigorous laboratory analysis. Today, Grand Pure Soya Oil is available in most West African Countries, carrying the Heart Check logo on its product pack. And plans are on the way to collaborate with other Manufacturers on their products through a similar process.

NHF has strong Tobacco reduction projects in Africa and is an active member of ATCA.  

NHF launched the 'Go Red for Women' in Nigeria in 2009. The event themed ‘It’s a Red Alert’ was to raise awareness that women are at the risk of cardiovascular disease and encourage them to care for themselves and their family through healthy eating, regular exercise, quitting smoking and regular health checkups.

NHF collaborates on Research projects with Federal Ministry of Health, World Health Organization , International Research Centre, Canada and other similar institutions to exchange experiences and to bench on best practises.

Eights & Weights: What’s your charity’s next big step? Anything in the works right now?
PSH: We have recently partnered with two local organizations (Hands at Work and Oria International) to help us execute our sustainable projects. These organizations are quite experienced with local projects. They have a good understanding of the nature of the challenges. As they say, two heads are better than one. Working with them means we can hopefully impact more lives in a positive way.

Our first project with Hands at Work will involve sponsoring 150 children in Ilaje Community in Lagos. We will also be partnering with a new village - Paikon Kore, Abuja. Here, we hope to invest $30,000 in Small Business Enterprises.

Face Africa: We’ve implemented two projects thus far, but this year, we are hoping to complete about six more well and sanitation projects in villages in Liberia. These villages would contain between 200 and 600 people. We will also be doing a much larger county-wide project in partnership with Unicef and Irish Aid, which should benefit about 20,000 people. So the impact next year will be much larger than what we’ve done so far.

NHF: We are working hard:
•    To see more African National Heart Foundations introduce the Nutrition Programme in various countries.
•    Towards the establishment of more National Heart Foundations in Africa
•    To strengthen the Advocacy & fundraising activities
•    To strengthen and promote Heart-health in Africa
•    To implement the proposal for a National Institute in Abuja, Nigeria

Eights & Weights: How can people find out more about your charity and how can the readers get involved?
PSH: There are 3 big ways you can help us. You can help us by raising awareness of our cause. Start a Local University Chapter or organize events. You can also purchase a T-Shirt (Take a picture and email it to us so we can upload it to our Facebook album). All the information you need is at http://www.povertystopshere.org/act.php. Or please visit our website at www.povertystopshere.org  or email info@povertystopshere.org with any questions.

Face Africa: To find out more, readers can go on our website www.faceafrica.org. It has some general information about the projects we are working on, and how people can help. Also, you can find some information on our Facebook fan page www.facebook.com/faceafrica or follow us on Twitter @faceafrica. We also have a blog we just started recently, which Andrea Cuttler updates and maintains to inform people who are interested about learning more about the organization. We would love people to donate because we always need extra money. But we are also always looking for volunteers who bring skills to the table.

NHF: If you are interested in becoming a member of this National Heart Foundation, please fill our Membership Form online at www.nigerianheart.org or visit us at our Corporate office at 4, Akanbi Danmola Street, Off Ribadu Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. If you have any questions, please email us at info@nigerianheart.org or give us a ring at +234 1 8923618 or +234 1 4715212.

These charities are all making a lot of difference in the place we all call home. Please get involved today. 

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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