by STACEY HEANEY
The children in class with their teacher.
LISBURN man David Savage has described his recent visit to the remote Kaduna State in Nigeria like taking a step back to "Biblical times" as he helped to bring education to the children of the region.
David, who is a former teacher at Lisnagarvey High School, first visited the African nation with a team, including his wife Brenda, from Low Memorial Presbyterian Church in August 2008. Having recently returned from another six week visit, which he undertook himself, David intends to return to Nigeria later this year in either May or November when he is able to obtain a visa.
David stayed at the Gidan Bege Orphanage, which translated means 'House of Hope, at Kagoro in Kaduna State as part of his work with Mission Africa.
While there he worked with the Fulani people, a nomadic people who are just beginning to settle, met with Royal Chiefs and visited the school which had been built during his first visit to the country.
David said: "The Fulani people are very gracious and gentle. There are 15 million Fulani in Nigeria, the Fulani actually brought Islam to Africa. 95 percent of the Fulani are totally illiterate. One of the major things is that their language, Fulbe, is only starting to be written down. The President of Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua is a Fulani, so they can rise up.
"During this trip I was visiting Chiefs I had met before, enhancing the contacts I had made and encouraging them to send their children to school.
"The Chiefs want education, they have requested that we build schools and we will hopefully have a second school opening in March.
With the help of an interpreter, Musa Audi, and his driver Luka Tuffa, David was able to communicate with the Fulani whilst he was in the region.
As well as visiting the local School, which has 45 pupils to one teacher and offers education to the children aged from four years old upwards, while David was in the area he helped to build bricks for the new school alongside some of the older boys at the orphanage, where the children stay until they are 18 before moving to a halfway house and employment.
"The school being presently built is in a Fulani settlement and they are helping to build it," added David. "This is their school. Fulani teachers are being trained to teach their own people. They are building the bricks and the walls from mud and grass; it is like Biblical times. They start early in the morning and would work right through the day if you let them. The Fulani are a lovely people, they are a gentle natured people who are very private and don't like a lot of fuss. The Fulani way of life is cattle and the cattle are so unbelievably tame, although it is not good land for cattle. It literally is like taking a step back in time. Mission Africa is hoping to get other Churches to bring other workers out, there is a specific need for young doctors for the short term and full time and there is a need for vets to care for the cattle."
David met with several of the Chiefs during his visit to strike up relationships with them and he explained that they have shown their support for the project.
"The school's are being built at the request and with the permission of the local Chiefs," David added. "There is an Elected Chief, who has political powers and he is His Royal Highness Ufuwai Bonet, who is Christian, and he sits in the Nigerian Senate. I presented him with a plaque from the Mayor of Lisburn while I was there and he was delighted. He was educated in Edinburgh University and Dundee and he spent time in Enniskillen at Loughry College. When he found out I was from Northern Ireland, he sent for me.
"There are two other local Chiefs, who are Feudal Hereditary Chiefs, and they have thrown their weight behind everything. The Chief of Chiefs, Ardo Rebo, has about 40,000 people under him; he is very powerful. I met him six times and he has fully supported us and he himself has now requested that a Christian School be built near his settlement further to the north; he is a lovely man.
"The whole idea is about sharing Christianity with them and bringing education to the children there, and that is what we will continue to do," concluded David.
Rev. Dr. Paul Bailie, Chief Executive of Mission Africa praised David and the members of Low Memorial Presbyterian Church's work in Nigeria.
Rev. Bailie commented: "It is important educational work in quite a remote area. The school's are being put up to benefit the local community who haven't had the opportunity to access education before. Sometimes the Government school's can suffer staff shortages or from strikes and we hope this will give good quality education to local children. With the school's we currently are working on, Low Memorial Presbyterian Church has played a pivotal role on getting the school off the ground and we would hope to see more Churches joining in. Of course we require funding for our work but we are hoping people will be generous in supporting us. I am very impressed with the work carried out by David Savage and those from Low Memorial Presbyterian Church."