Where life starts in Monguno



"Sitting in the helicopter I can see my destination from far. It is part of a land I have wanted to visit for a long time. It is a land of beauty, struggles, and strength. Little did I know just how much this place would impact me. 

My name is Ghinwa and this is my journey to Nigeria.”

A helicopter view of Monguno

A helicopter view of Monguno

We had worked with ALIMA several times before this project came along. The organisation provides quality medical care to people in need by pooling together the expertise of international aid workers, national medical organisations, as well as global research institutions.

We would be filming two videos, one in Monguno and the other in Maiduguri. Monguno is surrounded by desert and has been deeply affected by the presence of extremist groups in the country. As a result, Monguno is unsafe to travel to by road, and the security surrounding the area is stringent. We traveled there by air; a helicopter ride above faded yellow plains of sand taking us to the first free maternal health clinic of the area, co-founded by the amazing Dr. May Murithi. We had the opportunity to spend an entire day there and our mission was to film as much as we could, to get to know Dr. May, and potentially to film the birth of a child.

As a result of the chaos at the hands of extremists an estimated 2.6 million people have been displaced. In 2016, as the security forces of Nigeria began to recapture villages and towns, the severe humanitarian needs began to show. In June 2016 ALIMA screened 12,000 children in Monguno, revealing that 32% were suffering from acute malnutrition. Many of the children had contracted measles, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. Infant and maternal mortality rates are also high due to malnutrition. Clinics such as the one we filmed in are a vital lifeline in towns like Monguno. Many of the women we filmed and interviewed that day live in internally displaced camps in Monguno. Some women walk miles through the desert in order to get the free medical care solely provided by the clinic.

I have always wanted to go to Nigeria: photographs taken by Alicia, my colleague, stoking my longing to travel there. So when the opportunity presented itself, and the project one that my heart had connected with, I couldn't pass it up. 

Positive stories, important projects and beautiful people aside, another favorite thing about being in Nigeria was the food! My first day in Maiduguri, I had an incredibly delicious Cameroonian dish prepared by Dr. Adelaiid. After every stressful and busy day, we found a succulent meal and a cold beer waiting for us. There were nights when we would gather around the food, all coming together to spend beautiful times getting to know one another and ALIMA’s medical team.

One of the many outstanding doctors I met in Monguno was Dr. May, who co-opened the town’s maternal clinic. Besides providing women in the area with free health care such as delivering babies and pre/post natal consultancy she also educates midwives and runs the entire clinic. Dr. May is devoted to her work with a passion that drives her in a place where movement is highly restricted between the safe-house and the clinic. 

The medics in the area cannot go anywhere else but the clinic, and they also have strict early curfews. To get in touch with her family in Kenya, Dr. May can only use the wifi whenever it is available at the safe house, since there are no phones in Monguno. Communication between the medical team is through the radio. Despite these restrictions, Dr. May radiates a hopeful energy, always smiling and laughing, her positivity lifting the spirits of everyone around her. 

One day she told me that for her, as a midwife, ‘There’s that feeling that during the pregnancy you’ve been with the mother, you’ve been able to help prevent unforeseen complications, and once you see the baby and the mother’s smile, it makes your heart glow. It just feels good, it’s wonderful.’

She left a big mark on my heart.

WhatsApp Image 2019-04-29 at 12.48.01.jpeg

“it makes your heart glow! it just feels good, it’s wonderful!”

Dr May

While we were there we had the opportunity to experience the birth of a baby. 18-year old Husseina arrived at the clinic while we were there. She was very anxious about the birth and did not cooperate with Dr. May during the delivery, refusing to be touched at times. After a difficult birth, Husseina held her beautiful baby girl in her arms. She was proud that she had pulled through; it had taken her six years to become a mother.

During this trip, I got to experience life and death; babies being born, and others suffering from malnutrition. The emotions were both high and low. At one point I got to see babies sunbathe in the laps of their grandmothers, which was a spectacular sight, both funny and cute. Even though it was a stressful situation, it was all about adaptation because most things happened at the last minute. Life is about adapting to situations that come your way and this trip was certainly a reflection of that.

I’m so thankful for this project, the people I met and the whole experience. So, until the next journey, I wish you all the best!

Yours truly, Ghinwa.

Nessim Stevenson