Nigeria, also called the Heart of Africa, is located just above the equator with a coastline extending over 800 miles. Following a 16-year military rule, Nigeria adopted a more peaceful constitution in 1999 where the country is still undergoing social and economic reforms.
Despite having a petroleum-based economy and rapid government reform, over 100 million of the 140 million people residing there are living below the poverty line.
The country is riddled with hunger, homelessness, and diseases such as protozoal and bacterial diarrhea, malaria, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. AIDS has a stronghold on the country, and the infant mortality and death rates are considerably high.
The land, once lush, has suffered rapid deforestation, soil degradation, general water and air pollution in the more urban areas, and desertification. It is said the most pollution in Nigeria can be directly caused by oil. Spills have tainted the waters, constant burning of oil wells have affected the air, and the soil that once gave birth to rich foods in abundance is now barely uberous.
Many groups and organisations have come through Nigeria offering help, but none have made such a personal and useful impact as much as Food Not Bombs. While most offer a somewhat impersonal approach, Food Not Bombs stands with the people.
Headed by co-founder, Keith Mchenry, Food Not Bombs has grown from a simple concept to a worldwide effort. Over the last 26 years, the organisation has brought in countless volunteers and chapters which currently can be found in the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia.
McHenry made his way to Nigeria's southern city of Calabar in November to meet face-to-face with people in need. Not only did he serve vegan and vegetarian food, the trademark of Food Not Bombs, but he also brought them consociation.
"Driving towards Port Hartcourt it is still possible to see how beautiful the Niger Delta must have been before the oil companies came and destroyed it." McHenry said. "Now the people live in conditions as close to hell on earth as is possible. The water bubbles fluorescent green and smoke fills the air from refinery flares and garbage heaps. The ground is soaked black with oil. It is not possible for the people to grow food or fish the streams because the oil companies have ruined everything."
While the poor in America struggle daily to overcome their situation, in other countries the definition of poverty is dramatically different. Those living in poorer nations deal with next to nothing to survive.
"I am drawn to the positive friendly energy of the Nigerian people. They are so optimistic even though their lives are so difficult," McHenry expressed.
Food Not Bombs also distributes a handbook, How to Feed the Hungry and Build Community which offers recipes on how to prepare meals for 100 or more people at a time.
McHenry's venture to the African Nation of Nigeria was documented and shown on SBS Dateline.
For those who would like to donate to Food Not Bombs or start a Chapter in your neighbourhood, please visit their official web site at www.foodnotbombs.net.
©2006 Anai Rhoads Ford.