Sunday, 25 August 2013

Passionate Nigerian Nurses, Giant Snails and Scottish Butterflies

I spent last week in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite the noise, mega traffic congestion, possible risk of kidnap, humid heat, the high price of a glass of wine, and malaria, it was an absolutely fantastic experience  I was part of a trip organised by the University in response to an invitation to attend the West Africa Student Nurse Association (WASNA) Conference.  And it was the students, who came from all over West Africa, that made my time there fantastic. I have never seen so much passion and enthusiasm for taking the profession of nursing forward. The delegates literally all ensured they had a voice as did the more politically minded and experienced members of the WANSA Executive Committee.

At the end of the first afternoon of the conference we met with the Executive – average age 25 years old. They were full of energy, angst, and determination to bring about change. They were frustrated about the lack of opportunity there is for developing the nursing profession in Nigeria, a lack of opportunity that came from poor investment in health care and universities. Indeed, academic staff had been on strike for some 2 months. They were seeking more money to be spent on salaries and infrastructure. On the very last day there seemed to be a breakthrough and more investment was promised to ‘rejuvenate’ the University system.

Nigeria has Africa’s 2nd largest economy, but has long relied upon oil revenues as a source of foreign reserves. The World Bank has estimated that as a result of corruption, 80% of the energy revenues benefit only 1% of the population.   Nigeria is the most populous country in the African continent. But despite thier oil wealth, 45% of Nigeria’s population live in poverty and 70% of the population lives on less than £0.65 a day, and 43% have no access to clean water. The extent of the poverty was plainly evident everywhere I went. 

So the students and their lecturers, the doctors and nurses I met really did have something to fight for. Amidst papers on politics and nursing power, global employability, I was privileged to be asked to present some work I had done on nurse leadership as a key note paper. It was a very different experience to those I have enjoyed before. The audience were very respectful, but also very interactive. I am now known as Professor Tony. There were some 300 students in the auditorium, all of whom wanted to know how they could change nursing practice, education and research for the better.

In the session I talked about the power of social media, to both capture the nursing voice and as very powerful tool to making sure this voice was heard internationally. As a School we can help. One of the great things about our School is the number of people who are far more adept and expert in using Twitter and Facebook than I am, they will ensure that West African nurses are fully part of or international community of practice. But there are other ways we can help.  Maybe we could persuade the organising committee of the NET/NEP international nursing conference to think about how to get some of these West African nurses to the conference in the Netherlands next year! As a School we might choose to sponsor places rather than conference bags. 

Nursing and Midwifery colleagues, I will be asking you to clear out some of those text books you have  on your shelves, books that you may not have opened in years. We can send them and fill the empty library shelves in the University of Lagos School of Nursing. Like our library, the University of Lagos is moving to buying e-books, but whilst many of the students have smart phones, very few had tablets or e-readers. And the electricity and internet supplies can and disappear on very regular basis. Among many other things our students perhaps take for granted within the School, they need books on their shelves!

I was also able to meet with the Dean of Medicine and Health and the University Provost both of whom want to take discussions forward to consider taught postgraduate programmes, doctoral studies and research collaborations. I think that the fact I was able to meet these people was due in part to the clear power of the student voice. So apart from the daily dices with death on the roads, giant snails and gizzards on the menu, being mobbed by crowds of young ladies wanting photos of themselves standing next to Professor Tony, and the constant touching of my hair by male and female admirers, it felt like a very successful trip. 

It also felt like a great start to what I hope will become a long term relationship. 3 hours after landing at Manchester Airport I was up in my home in Scotland. One of the first things I saw was this butterfly on my neighbours garden wall. It made me think of the wonderful people I had met in Nigeria, people full of vibrant colour, boundless energy and graceful movement, but who, like the butterfly, were vulnerable too.