Gussoro, made up of twelve villages and seven hamlets, is bounded by the Kaduna River on the north and west. There are only two roads. One leads south; the other ends in the river..
The river serves as a source of income through fishing; of recreation through swimming; of water for drinking, washing clothes, dishes, sleeping mats, etc.; and as the main route to other nearby villages and towns. Gwari is the name of the local ethnic group tribe. They are mainly farmers.
When MMMs first went to the area in 1981, the general aim was to build a Christian community of care and self-reliance. Initial steps involved raising the level of the people’s health through a process of awareness, education and organized community action. This involved training leaders and volunteer health workers selected by the community. It meant putting existing facilities and resources to the best use in development of self-support systems for health promotion.
The pioneer Sisters, Pauline Connolly and Theresa Jane Ogu, saw themselves as animators and facilitators while the people led the way. They focused on preventive health services. Sick people were either referred to the local government dispensary or given a prescription for medicines in the local pharmacy.
As new adventurers, they encountered a lot of difficulties and resistance. In the early days, Sister Pauline wrote, “Here we must travel slowly, listen deeply, pray and await the birth of the unexpected. We must be prepared for a slow response and live in hope that things will grow patiently, like the tree which sprouts from a tiny seed.”
Teaching by Drama
They lived close to the people regardless of social, academic and cultural barriers and other differences. Most of the teaching was done by drama. The Sisters formed women’s organizations. They introduced the idea of the health festival. Each village presented a drama according to the topic chosen in agreement with the Sisters. The best presentation was rewarded with the winning cup while others got consolation prizes. No group was ever left without recognition of their efforts.
The programme expanded to many villages with great impact on the lifestyle of the community. Many people were able to build latrines and gutters for drainage. Sanitation was considered important.
As time went on, new ideas and methods were brought into the programme. As the needs of the community changed, the Sisters listened. Curative services became part of the project. In April 1996 there was an outbreak of cholera. It spread very widely and quickly and killed a lot of people in Erena and other villages. Gussoro lost only three people due to the care, education and leadership available there.
Many mentally and physically challenged children were helped through Liliane Fonds. Some were sent to special schools. Some had corrective surgery; others received walking aids. Wells were provided for potable water. Income generating projects were introduced, including the production and sale of soya beans and cassava. A HIV/AIDS programme was put in place.
Gussoro remains a very needy area with no electricity, good markets, or schools. Houses and roads are poor. Traditional beliefs and practices are highly respected. For example, sickness is still seen as a punishment for some offense against the gods. Usually a diviner has to be consulted when someone is sick to find the cause. Very few believe in children’s education. Changes or new ideas are rarely welcome. Nevertheless, the Gussoro people are very friendly and caring and they love the Sisters.
Sadly, the question of sustainability forced us to make a hard decision. Due to shortage of personnel, one Sister was left on her own for almost a year. The local people were very supportive and caring, coming around in the evenings to make sure things were alright, but that could not substitute for a community life.
Around the same time, some major donors changed their funding system. A service like that provided in Gussoro needed a large amount of funding from outside. Also the uptake of the services was low while there were great demands elsewhere.
When the time came to say our final goodbye, the Bishop celebrated a farewell Mass. Many villages were represented but the local chief and his assistant did not come. It was unbelievable because they had always given us their support no matter what. I visited them the next day. They were still in shock that we had made the decision to go. The junior chief could not hold back his tears; he left us to cry in his room. It was very painful.
The morning we were due to leave, people came early to say goodbye. They brought eggs and some local rice. What a widow’s mite! It is a day I will not easily forget in all my life. I left the house at about 7.30 am to see a neighbour who had had a Caesarean section and she started crying. Her mother came in and joined her. We could not say a word to each other except through the expression of our tears.
We finally assembled in the chapel to say our final prayer together. Some sang, prayed and cried. We had only praise for our friends and neighbours, especially those who helped us at the beginning and continued with us over the years.
We proceeded to the cars. I will never forget how the people gazed after us as we drove out.
The things we will remember about Gussoro are the simple lifestyle of the people, their hospitality, their generosity no matter how little they had, their appreciation, their attachment to culture and beliefs, and their great sensitivity.
Our gratitude goes to our beloved traditional rulers, who were like fathers, friends and brothers to us. We thank God for your generosity, support, protection and encouragement and will always remember you in our prayers.
We will miss Gussoro: the natural atmosphere and remoteness, the surging of the river, the early singing of the birds, the hot rocks, the fish and the special greetings of these lovely people.
MMM handed over our programmes in Gussoro in 2006.