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Chife Foundation Fellow Profile: Nkiru Cheryl Onyekwelu

19 Jul

Chife Foundation Fellow Nkiru at Ebenebe in Early June

Chife Foundation fellow, Nkiru Cheryl Onyekwelu attended Ebonyi State University in Nigeria, completing a degree in French Language. One of six siblings, she chose to study French because of her keen desire to see the world. “I have always wanted to be an international translator or air steward,” Nkiru says. Moreover, she hopes to travel outside Nigeria to obtain a master’s degree and then return to pursue a career within her home country.

Nkiru comes from a family of diverse backgrounds and interests. Both of Nkiru’s parents are traders. Nkiru’s older sister was the first in her family to achieve a university degree. Two of her siblings completed degrees in urban and rural development and accounting; two siblings are currently in the process of completing university degrees in mass communications and engineering.

Nkiru interviewing her community members for a health survey in Anam

This summer, Nkiru was a regular fixture at the Chife Foundation worksite in Anam, providing crucial feedback and assistance to the Rurban Design Workshop interns on their various projects. Most recently, Nkiru also helped conduct health surveys in Ebenebe, gathering information on urgent health issues facing Anam families and how a future health facility could best meet the needs of the community.

Nkiru envisions a prosperous future for the region: “Anam New City will change…the community [by bringing] development, boosting the economy,…creating an aesthetic environment for both locals and newcomers, and creating jobs.” She also looks forward to serving as an ambassador for the project, raising awareness about the New City and organizing programs to empower youths through a skills acquisition workshop. Much of the groundwork for this outreach began this summer and will continue in earnest as the initiative moves forward in coming months and year ahead.

The Anam Market Network: Eke Day in Otuocha

18 Jul

Potato vendor in Otuocha Market

The eight communities of Anam have a flourishing market system designed to meet the needs of each town in the region. Each town in Anam has its own “Eke” market day, which occurs every four days, and these four-day cycles are designed not to overlap with each other in order to avoid conflict between markets in various towns. These market days are clearly pivotal points for the community – a common response to questions about scheduling community meetings and outreach is “Any day but Eke.”

In Otuocha, a recent Eke day was Saturday, and the next Eke day will occur on Wednesday. Although there are always standing stalls and shops in Otuocha throughout the week, on Eke, farmers, vendors, and consumers alike flock to the river’s edge to engage in a lively series of trade negotiations. The goods for sale range from ground nuts to dried fish (used as a form of seasoning in many Nigerian dishes) to fresh garden egg (a local relative of eggplant) and okra. Perhaps the most important and plentiful crops sold at Eke market are yam and cassava. These two staples of the Anambra region are specialties of the area, represent a lucrative possibility for economic growth – given the right conditions.

Cell Phone Charging Kiosk Business Owner

Currently, traders from around Nigeria come to Anam to purchase yams and cassava only to resell them around the country at higher prices. Moreover, because Anamites do not have an effective storage system for their harvest, the majority of crops are sold during the annual harvest in August, the income from which usually lasts through approximately December, according to local sources. That income then must last for the remaining nine months of the year until the following harvest in August. Essentially the people of Anam operate within an annual cycle of famine and plenty, a pattern they are eager to escape if they can gain access to improved crop storage technologies.

Yam Trader in Otuocha

The local market also relies on a complicated network of middle men (or traders) who purchase crops directly from farmers and then resell them at a higher price. For instance, the yam trader (pictured below) rents a small stall located a bit offshore from the river. On Eke market day, he makes the short journey down to the river’s edge where local farmers arrive to sell their latest stock. Alternatively, he may sometimes travel directly to farms in the area to purchase yams, bringing them back to his stall and then selling them at a marked-up price. Anam’s economic network is rife with these types of trading relationships – a inventive means for creating efficiency in the face of failed and costly transportation networks connecting local markets (such as Otuocha) and larger regional markets (such as Onitsha and even Lagos).

Meet the Fellows: Michael, Community Health Educator

13 Jul

Chife Foundation Fellow Nwakonuche Michael Obiakor

An established member of the community who previously attended Anambra State College of Health, with support from The Chife Foundation, Nwakonuche Michael Obiakor recently returned to school to pursue a degree in Health Education. A father of four, he says his motivation came from a desire to “save lives by helping people protect themselves against diseases.” He now devotes his weekends to attending classes, anticipating that this higher education will pay off in the future by helping him “plan for a better tomorrow and make maximum use of scarce resources.” He sees poverty, lack of access (especially with regards to long, inconvenient distances between various communities and the nearest health facility—made worse by the region’s poor road and transportation networks), and ignorance about orthodox medicine as the primary challenges for improving health care in Anam.

When asked how he thinks that Anam New City will change the community, he answers that “it will improve the living conditions [by providing] basic amenities, such as health institutions, adequate safe water, and electricity.” Michael has high hopes for the new clinic and health care program: “if health institutions, such as a clinic or hospital, are built and equipped with all the necessary health equipments and well-trained doctors and health personnel, I think Anam people will attend the hospital…and their health condition will be improved.” Michael’s medical background is already proving invaluable to the project—this summer, he is working with Dr. Julia Strickler and other interns to provide critical information on the status of existing health facilities in the region, which will be vital for designing Anam’s new health center.

Villages of Anam: A Tour of Beautiful Iyora

24 Jun

Elders welcome Anam City Rurban Design Workshop to Iyora

As discussed in the Master Plan, the Anam people includes eight distinct communities: Iyora, Umueze, Umuikwu, Umudora, Oroma, Umuem, Nmiata, and Umuoba. Each of their villages has its own traditional leadership councils and cultural celebrations, creating a unique identity for each settlement. During a series of blog posts over the coming months, the Anam Rurban Design Workshop will visit and study many of these settlements, noting how these distinctive traditions, lifestyles, and land-use strategies can be incorporated into the vision for Anam New City.

The first tour of the Workshop took us to the Village of Iyora on the eastern side of the Ezichi River. Beautiful and idyllic, it  is also a town of contrasts. The community is energetic and welcoming, albeit much of the resident population is comprised of children and elders, with remarkably few teenagers and adults of working age. The housing structures and surrounding farms also reflect parallel evolutionary processes. The settlement consists of cinderblock and cement family homes organized around piazza-like outdoor spaces, often including smaller bamboo structures that serve as cooking spaces. Alongside this, however, are many unfinished structures appears temporarily on hold or permanently abandoned. Piles of bricks collecting moss and the beginnings of cement foundations with exposed rebar reinforcements populate the landscape as hopeful semi-permanent features.

A Family House in Iyora

Complementing these infrastructures, Anamites in Iyora employ a range of techniques to maximize the productive use of land. Each crop is clearly placed according to well-practiced patterns. The result is a verdant landscape of mixed-use and productive gardens. For example, in one central area of town, a palm tree is ringed by pineapple plants, which are further surrounded by sweet potatoes. Each plant also serves a variety of purposes: the nut of the palm tree is cracked and boiled down for oil; the husks are used for sweeping and cleaning. No part of the palm tree is left unused. In other areas, melons are intercropped with yam and corn. When not filled with water, ponds throughout town are planted with a variety of crops, illustrating individual farming initiatives woven into a larger community consensus on land use. Each parcel of farmland tells a backstory of long planned techniques; while the town’s layout as a whole reveals a narrative in communal land management.

Iyora is a unique mix of land uses.

The Anam New City project hopes to blend the strong cultural traditions seen in Iyora with the expanded economic opportunities of a more connected settlement.    By introducing seed projects, such as a brick factory and fish farm, Anam New City will allow Anamites to achieve a viable lifestyle without forgoing the community’s valuable heritage in agriculture.   As an innovative mix of rural and urban, individual and community, economic growth and sustainability, tradition and invention, the Rurban Design Workshop will continue build on existing land use practices in hybrid with the rurban model of Anam City’s urban design.

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