Bailing the ocean with a teacup

Each Thursday a nun in street clothes stands on the same busy street corner in the main marketplace of Lima, Peru, handing out small, pink, cheaply-printed leaflets to passing women. On one side the leaflet carries the International Women's Year logo, a stylized bird in flight with the symbols of equality and womanhood. On the other are the words: 'I am a woman and if I live I have to struggle and if I struggle I am helping other women not to live in the shadows.' Inside are printed a few more lines '... El Pozo wants to offer you friendship and support. When you want to talk with us, telephone ...' Prostitution is legalized in Peru as in many Latin American countries. In Lima and its port neighbour Callao there are perhaps 60,000 prostitutes. Three-quarters of them are not registered and therefore vulnerable to regular arrest, extortion and imprisonment. Most have young children to support. Husbands are long gone. There are practically no welfare services in Lima for these women or their children, and the unemployment rate is dangerously high. The six women of 'el Movimiento el Pozo' are attempting to guide some of Lima's prostitutes off the street and into job training. They also offer legal, medical and financial help. And most important of all a new sense of self-worth. El Pozo, 'the Well' is rightly named. The women are supported by MATCH, an Ottawa-based women's centre that sprouted in the flurry of activity after the 1975 International Women's Conference in Mexico City. The original premise was simple enough - women in the West helping but also learning from women in the Third World, According to MATCH's founder Norma Walmsley the idea is to 'match women's resources with women's needs - to expose common problems and strengthen both sisterhood and justice.' The problems are immense. Ms Walmsley says she sometimes thinks MATCH is trying to bail out the ocean with a teacup. Still, women's projects pour in and the support grows. One example is a childbirth education scheme in Costa Rica. For less than $1,000 two groups, the La Leche League (which has been quietly promoting breast-feeding for more than a decade) and the Ottawa-Hull Childbirth Education Association are helping women in San Jose develop information that offers women 'new-old' insights into childbirth and infant feeding. The goal is to better prepare women for childbirth and to reintroduce simpler techniques. It also aims to reintroduce breast-feeding in an area where the North American high-technology approach to birth has been imported wholesale. But is this, like MATCH's projected support of a daycare centre for nurses in Lusaka, or the Sri Lankan 'creative play' project which makes toys modelled on a Western line, simply exporting the latest fads of middle-class women to underdeveloped countries? Critics point to the extended family system and to the natural creativity of East African children who make their own elaborate toys from bits of wire and sticks. They wonder about re-exporting 'natural' childbirth techniques to the people whose experience of birth we've already messed up. And are these projects getting to the really needy? MATCH replies that the basic needs of women are universal. Women must regain choice and control over the way they give birth and nurture their babies. They also need some freedom from their children which means setting up and participating in communal childcare facilities. Only then will they be likely to acquire the confidence and independence to take control of other areas of their life. Without these basic first steps the long journey may never begin.


Map of Nigeria
Nigerian Child

THE cover of an English language textbook widely used in Nigeria sports the picture of a man in a mortar board sitting proudly at the wheel of a Mercedez Benz automobile. Is this success embodied in its two most popular African forms? Or is it a blatantly materialist lure to learn English? But perhaps the school book cover is saying something different, something especially Nigerian. The dream that a degree and an expensive car are just around the corner of everyone's life is what seems to propel this country into being the most vibrant, chaotic, individualistic and aggressive country in Africa right now. Oil money provides the mechanism but the spirit, the drive and the confidence belong to the people. For world-weary Westerners, especially those afflicted with the stereotype of depressed developing countries, being in Lagos is a tonic - if they can take it. A driver for a large transportation company explains how, as soon as he can get his hands on 200,000, he'sgoing to start to import cement and make a fortune. A young undergraduate with little more than an unfinished arts degree wheels and deals with foreign textile manufacturers hoping to start a local lace factory. No one it is said lives from subsistence farming in Nigeria. Everyone is a trader.

At a glance - Nigeria

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and ethnically one of the most diverse. Right now it is a boom town. Federal revenues for 1980 are estimated at $32 billion. Of this more that $2 billion will be spent on education. The appalling numbers of Nigerians who can't read or write in any language are the spur for these new budget priorities. Boom-town living does not reach more than a tiny fraction of the people and the vast majority of Nigerians have never heard of oil. In Lagos there are packed and stinking slums where a but made out of plastic bags and packing cases represents an ideal. The poor don't know - yet - about the apartments a few kilometres away that rent for $25,000 a year. In the countryside, where more than 80% of Nigerians live, the problems of small farmers who grow crops like peanuts or sorghum have scarcely been touched and certainly not improved by oil. Divided by tribe and culture, as well as money and status, Nigerians face a difficult future. What, for instance, will all the newly-educated young do for jobs? The move toward industrialization will have to go into overdrive if it is to keep up; crime and corruption are already endemic. Giant steps like Operation Feed the Nation and massive support for primary education confront giant problems. They will ameliorate some of them, spawn others, and may help build nationhood. But only the energy and heart of all the varied peoples of Nigeria are enough to decide on and make equitable use of its new wealth.

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