Agents of change in Nigeria

CISCOPE improves lives and livelihoods through One Great Hour of Sharing

by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Engagement & Support | Special to Presbyterian News Service

CISCOPE, the Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication, a PC(USA) partner, serves Nigeria’s most vulnerable populations, including women farmers. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

LOUISVILLE — Although Nigeria ranks among Africa’s richest nations, Ohel Swade would never know it.

A full-time farmer living in the agrarian Demsa community, a Local Government Area in the Adamawa State in northeastern Nigeria, Ohel and his wife struggle against all but insurmountable odds to provide for their family of six.

“I do nothing more than farming and my wife does petty trading so our family can eat,” said the 52-year-old, whose resilience is daily put to the test. “We live in a place where help never finds us.”

That is, until CISCOPE came on the scene.

CISCOPE, the Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication — a partner of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) since 2018 and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) since 2019 — serves Nigeria’s most vulnerable populations, especially women, by acting as an agent of change and an influencer of the nation’s public policies and programs.

“Even though Nigeria is really one of the wealthiest oil-producing countries in the world with an abundance of natural resources, corruption is militating against us, our government is not strong and the money doesn’t go where it needs to go, to the people,” said Peter Michael Egwudah, who is now in his 10th year as program coordinator for CISCOPE. “The funding that we receive from PHP and PDA might not be huge, but it goes directly to the needy in the community in the most hidden locations. Whenever we go [to Demsa] we always find people who have never benefited from any support from government, donor agencies or non-governmental organizations.”

The PHP is able to support partners like CISCOPE thanks to Presbyterians’ generous gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing. Founded in 1946, the Offering’s purpose of helping neighbors in need around the world remains constant, giving the PC(USA) a tangible way to share God’s love since Presbyterians first joined the effort in 1947.

The daily operation of CISCOPE is expertly managed by Egwudah, who describes Nigeria as a complex and diverse landscape, “a big country fashioned out of the American system of democracy on paper but not in practice.”

Easily Africa’s most populous nation with over 200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is composed of six states, 774 local governments and over 250 ethnic tribes.

Valéry Nodem, associate for International Hunger Concerns with PHP, marvels at the way that Egwudah so seamlessly navigates Nigeria’s complicated systems and structures toward improving its people’s livelihoods and quality of life.

“To see the talent and capabilities that Peter and an organization like CISCOPE are able to bring is amazing,” said Nodem, who was born in neighboring Cameroon and lived there until he began his work with the PC(USA) 10 years ago. Nodem visited Nigeria a few years ago when PHP’s partnership with CISCOPE first began in order to better understand the organization as well as to speak with displaced families and bring back their stories of survival and hope.

A number of varied skills, including a facility with multiple languages, are required for organizations like CISCOPE to do their jobs well. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

“I’ve seen Peter talk to communities of people who are really hurting for millions of reasons,” said Nodem. “People don’t realize how many skills it takes for Peter and the CISCOPE staff on the ground to do the work they do. You need to speak multiple languages, be a trained psychologist, a project manager and a fundraiser. You need to have management skills to train and place your staff and know how to work in intercultural settings. Peter probably speaks five or six different languages, which allows him to go from one community to the next and feel at ease. If you don’t speak the language, it’s harder to create the trust and build the relationships.”

Another unique aspect of CISCOPE’s work is its focus on the country’s immediate needs while simultaneously attempting to address the underlying root causes. Among Nigeria’s most critical longer-term concerns are its large population of unengaged and disaffected youth and its legions of unemployed. These issues are compounded by the countless number of people who have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency or by the farmers’ herders’ crisis, in which heavily armed herders seeking pastures for their cattle destroy people’s farms — and often their lives.

Additionally, the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus scourge has been compounded by mismanagement, misgovernance, corruption and political conflict, not to mention such natural disasters as flooding.

In the light of these pre-existing and more recent challenges — such as COVID-19 — Egwudah characterized his homeland as “more or less a roller coaster waiting to destroy a lot of people.”

“The people need something right now, like food and seeds,” he said, “but we also need to get communities to a place where they can become agents of their own self-development. We can train them in new agricultural techniques. We can also help amplify the voice of women to ensure they get a good return when they bring their produce to market.”

Egwudah noted that although 70% of Nigeria’s farmers are women, when it comes to decision-making, women are not part of it.

“Some cultures in our country don’t allow women to own land,” he said. “The culture also gives credence to the perpetuation of the patriarchal system of leadership. That’s why we are into policy influencing in our country, and not just about the women.”

Ultimately, for Egwudah, the success of an organization like CISCOPE is dependent upon one basic principle.

“Whenever we go to communities, we always ask ourselves, what can we do to add value?” he said. “We don’t want to just distribute food, but also equipment to help them with their God-given plans.”

Toward that end, CISCOPE organized 200 farmer households in 40 communities — including Ohel’s family — into five-person groups. Each group of five received a water pump for irrigation farming, 10 kilograms of rice seedlings, as well as vegetable seedlings such as amaranth and okra, and agricultural training.

“This approach has far-reaching benefits,” Egwudah said. “Mr. Ohel now has more money to spend on his farm. Because of the water pump, his wife can spend less time on the farm and more time trading vegetables. His children can go to school.”

Nodem said that CISCOPE’s philosophy is the embodiment of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 invitation.

“Working with CISCOPE has been really inspiring, because they are addressing the root causes,” he said. “Not only are they right there with the people displaced by crisis in their time of critical need, but they are also looking at short-, medium- and long-term development, especially working toward the Matthew 25 goal of eradicating systemic poverty, which is an integral part of their name and mission.”

With help from groups like CISCOPE, a partner of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Nigerian farmers are hopeful about future crop production. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

 

Because of CISCOPE, Ohel, his wife and children look forward to a better future.

“We now have a little bit of money to pay our children’s school fees and our medical bills,” he said. “We get market value when we sell our produce. We have hope.”

Nodem credits CISCOPE — and the power of One Great Hour of Sharing — with helping families like Ohel’s stay “strong in the face of evil.”

“What I see in the One Great Hour of Sharing is our sharing the gifts that we have received ourselves,” said Nodem. “I have also observed that our gifts really have a multiplier effect, especially when you see what a couple hundred dollars can really do for a family. Our gifts to this Offering are the strongest expression of our putting our faith in action and being there with siblings who need us.”

For Egwudah, the funding that CISCOPE receives through the annual Offering is not a handout, but rather “value addition” to what Nigeria’s people can do best so that they can stand on their own.

“I thank the Presbyterian Church from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the people in the communities where we help,” said Egwudah, “because it is not easy for anybody to give a dollar to somebody that they have no relationship with. It speaks volumes about our humanity as a people.”


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