Stigmatized, isolated, and conditioned to undertake hard labor, 14 year-old Chinaecherem Nwodo shows that one can overcome the most dire circumstances. Chinaecherem was despised and accused of witchcraft in her community, the Onu-Orie-Obuno-Akpugo village in Nkano West Local Government, Enugu State, Nigeria. Her abusive treatment by community members reflected the challenges facing some children in rural areas of Nigeria.
The community blamed her for her mother’s death and father’s insanity. She was barely two years old when her mother died, and she was abandoned to the care of her sixty-three year-old maternal grandmother. As a teenager, she was traumatized and suffered intense malnourishment. To this day she looks like a 6 year-old girl, though her health has improved.
Chinaecherem does intensive labor crushing palm kernels in a mill; she makes, on average, 76 cents a day. As she struggled to make ends meet, Chinaecherem’s hopes for a better life were rekindled, when Spring of Life Support Group (SLSG) visited her community in June 2011. SLSG is a civil society organization, supported by the Community-Based Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CUBS) project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and implemented by Management Sciences for Health in collaboration with Africare.
Concerned about Chinaecherem’s plight, mill-owner Mr. Torphe informed SLSG about her situation. She was enrolled by CUBS the same month and issued a birth certificate. She was also placed under the supervision of a community volunteer, Mrs. Loveth Ogbuanu, and counseled for trauma. Chinaecherem underwent a series of tests at the Comprehensive Health Centre in Nnkano West. Her test-results revealed she was HIV-positive. She has since been placed on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) and Plumpy Nut, a therapeutic food for severely malnourished children.
Chinaecherem was enrolled in school for the first time in September 2011. “My dream is to become a teacher,” the 14-year old girl told SLSG. Determined to realize her dream, she used her savings from the mill to buy textbooks, supplemented with a school bag, school uniform, and shoes from CUBS.
Today with good care, Plumpy Nut, and CUBS-facilitated treatment from the State Teaching Hospital at Ituku-Ozalla, Chinaecherem looks healthy and attends school regularly. Her volunteer, Ogbuanu, describes her as dutiful and dedicated. “Every morning she informs us when she’s going to school and is always the first to be in school. She keeps her records very well and is always the first to remind me to replenish her drugs at the health centre.”
Although she still works in the mill after school hours, her grandmother now works on a farm to support the family. Community members have also come to realize Chinaecherem was not possessed and joke now that true to the literal interpretation of her name, God thinks about me, “her God was thinking about her all the time.”
Safiya Madhi is program officer for the Community Based Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Nigeria (CUBS) project.
Community Based Support for OVC in Nigeria (CUBS) project is a US government, PEPFAR-funded intervention implemented by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) in 11 Nigerian States, in partnership with Africare.