Nearly 20 years ago, Italian nun Enza Guccione moved to Igbedor – a small river island in Anambra state, southern Nigeria – with the aim of assisting the local community and helping young female Nigerians who wanted to join the Figlie di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph's daughters) Catholic congregation.
Igbedor lies within one of Nigeria's states mostly rich in oil and gas. Although resources in the nearby territory provide a big input to the country's economy, the island's population is one of the poorest in Nigeria, which is currently facing an economic crisis following the collapse of oil prices, the depreciation of the naira and the deadly insurgence of terror group Boko Haram.
"After all these years, I do feel part of Nigerians, particularly part of those people with whom I have been spending most of my time since I moved here," she told IBTimes UK. "They also consider me as one of them. I cannot say I have understood everything about them, bust I most certainly learned a lot from their rich culture that still holds those values that most people in the West have lost: solidarity, friendship, hospitality."
In 2009, Guccione contributed to the creation of the Emmanuel Childrenland Nursery/Primary School in Igbedor, where about 400 children attend lessons. In the same year, she and the bishop of Onitsha in southern Nigeria, founded NGO Emmanuel Family, aimed at providing humanitarian assistance to Igbedor's people.
"People in Igbedor are affected by poverty, illiteracy and diseases – factors that threaten to halve the population. The only source of water in Igbedor comes from the Niger river, which often contains germs and debris, and people who drink this water contract cholera," Guccione said and warned that a lack of possibilities also leads youths to migrate to other parts of Nigeria and abroad.
"We are working in order to create a well and a purification plant that can provide the community with drinkable water. With the creation of the school, we also aim to offer Igbedor's youths the chance to have an education, a better future and feel at home here."
Difficulties to overcome
But Emmanuel Family's work still encounters many difficulties, including the lack of interest of organisations and institutions contacted by Guccione. "A development project for a village like Igbedor – forgotten by everybody – cannot be implemented without external help, even though the Emmanuel community and I put so much effort and hope into it. Honestly, I expected much more from those big international NGOs which only focus on those areas where their work can benefit from publicity, risking to lose everybody's trust," she said.
Guccione also warned that the majority of people in southern Nigeria are not happy with the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, who defeated former leader Goodluck Jonathan in March's presidential election.
Referring to a pro-Biafra movement, which calls for the independence of the states that used to be part of former Eastern Region, she said: "Many people in the south are not happy with the election result and they speak about dividing Nigeria. Unfortunately, governments' interest only aim to control the oil business and southern Nigeria is rich in oil, which is absent in the north."
When asked about pro-Biafran movements, government spokesperson Mike Omeri said the authority does not consider the separatist movements as a threat to the current leadership and defined pro-Biafrans as an "insignificant number of frustrated people who are not a threat to the existence of Nigeria". He also slammed allegations of violence against pro-Biafrans as "entirely incorrect, misinformation and calculated to create bad blood and tension".
If you wish to know more about Emmanuel Family, you can contact sister Enza at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the organisation's Facebook page.