Sunday, 13 May 2012 20:49 | Author: Administrator |
I’ve known Fiona Lovatt Davis virtually for a couple of years. I’ve known her as a woman who is from New Zealand and as a person who has a strong interest in Africa (Nigeria). She is also an author and a teacher who is recognized and respected in her field.
But long before then she was a young woman in a teacher training school back home, who was asked to strap an errant kid during teaching practice, as a pre-condition for the award of her certificate. Fiona believed that she did not have to use a strap and punish a school kid. Always one to think outside the box she took the errant kid out and spoke with him. In the end, the kid was so remorseful that his return to the classroom and his changed behavior and attitude were enough for the supervising teacher to believe corporal punishment had been delivered. Young Fiona earned her certificate.
She had not trained to perpetuate the injustices and anomalies of the system. She had trained so that at least one class per year could have something better, and to save her own future offspring from the dullness and repetition of schooling as it was. Eight year later, she was a principal in a tiny school and it became a center of interest for teachers, musicians, artists, and writers.
She was welcomed in the conference circuit in New Zealand for the practical workshops she delivered, showing what is possible when education becomes a passion not a duty, for the teachers and the kids. Eventually this brought her to Abuja as keynote speaker at the Pan African Reading Congress in 2001, from there friendships were born that lead to the project Books Without Borders New Zealand-Nigeria and more than 190 libraries in Nigeria have received gifts from New Zeal anders by the container load.
Fiona is currently based in Kano which is a state in the Northern part of Nigeria. For those who follow world news, we know that the Northern part of Nigeria has been in the news as one of the most violent places to be in right now because of the activities of Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a terrorist group that is apparently anti westernization. The question becomes why would a western woman choose to live in Kano, Nigeria. Join us as she shares her story.
Why did you choose to go to Nigeria?
I came to Nigeria ten years ago for a pan African reading conference. I met many friends who were teachers across Africa. That were the host of the reading association of Nigeria and it was just after 911 in Manhattan and the trouble in Jos and the world was being portrayed as a frightening place. But, prior to my arrival, I was told many bad things about Nigeria - scam, kidnapping, the killing of at least one journalist. I was told several times not to go. I was reminded that I was a white woman and a white blond woman and it will be dangerous my being in Nigeria. But, I found the media imagery of Nigeria to be wrong, I found the most wonderful, gracious and patient people in Nigeria. I was so touched. While in Abuja, I realized that my children’s bedrooms had more books than Nigerian teachers had in their schools. So when I returned to New Zealand, Books Without Borders was born. Over the years, my partners in the Reading Association of Nigeria have been telling me to come back. I thought it is better to delay it until I could give much more time than a fortnight of pleasantries. I wanted to bring a benefit. Thank God, this time, I have been able to give six months so far. So that's the love of Nigeria but, my reason for coming to Kano, was because of this media promotion of the idea that children are being brainwashed by mad mullahs into being violent. So I have been trying to get to the bottom of that myth. I can walk in the evening and find young people, studying and working. Every little lane and alley seems to have its own little schools operating from homes and courtyards. The atmosphere is universally pleasant and the mallaams are greatly loved and very calm. I have not found one person feeding poisons into the minds of children. I’ve only found kind people here. So, I am trying to find out where the story comes from.
You know right now, the image that the world has of the Northern part of the country is one of violence because of Bokoharam - being in the North, but you are painting a different image of what we hear? So who are these people?
I really don’t know. But, I know that the truth is being under-reported.
But, I don’t know who these people are but it is really hard when we
are here and people come to us from this angle. You know we hear about explosions
in different parts of Nigeria but sometimes, nothing happens at all. It
seems as if there are people are striking matches of mischief and discontent.
I am getting pressure from foreign organizations who are asking me
to leave Kano because of their perceptions of security issues here. There has
been a push to get foreigners out of Kano. But, I
do not feel under any threat or any dangers. Kano doesn't even rate among the
top 50 most Dangerous Cities in the World and there is not the kind of risk one
has living in a population where alcohol and drugs are a common recreational choice.
But, don’t you get people from home asking you to come back because they are worried?
My family are anxious about me and they are anxious about my coming back home. You know, I am in my 50s, my mothering years are finished and I am in great health. But, you know, I am so glad that we have modern technology, so they can say, "Are you alright?" and I can say that yes I am. Do you know that it is quite interesting that we get horror stories about Nigeria while some other countries that are worse off - we never hear about them. It is quite interesting that we do not hear about them because it does not serve the media’s desire. You know the present media lens is focused on the idea that Christian and Muslim are fighting each other EVERYWHERE and that they hate each other and there is no common ground. Which isn’t the case? The media creates this picture and it scares people.
When you went to New Zealand originally with this idea of sending books to Africa, did they accept this idea?
People asked what material would be useful and English is the official language in Nigeria. We are both commonwealth countries and knowledge is knowledge. Literature is literature. We rarely included text books, they werejust gifts and the Reading Association of Nigeria provided us with feedback on what was useful. You know, all the projects I find myself engaged with, are done according to the resources I have on hand: time, literacy, passion, networks, opportunities and so on. Social networking has helped quite a bit. I have about 500 friends all over the world on facebook and I use that to let people know what difference they can make. Many have contributed to this project. They’ve either made monetary , books or time commitment to the project. Also, I have ensured that I have remained accountable by showing where their money is going into. You know, I am not really into big projects, I
am more into small projects.
What were the challenges that you faced setting this up?
It turned out to be perfect timing on every front. I remember opening up my door and there were six teenagers in my doorway and I had to say, what’s mine is yours. They are all well mannered.
When I interview others, they often say that Nigerians are not very charitable - have you found that to be true?
You know, I am touched by the poor. They are extremely generous. But, I have to say that I have seen some thing over here that have astounded me. I have seen extreme wealth over here and I have often wondered how some
can carve so much for themselves and sleep comfortably at night without sharing. You know that often use of wealth shocks me.
Fiona doesn't feel comfortable being placed on a pedestal. We find that very commendable but you can participate and learn more about her library projects by sending her an email at: