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“Everybody as one”


The ICRC and the Nigerian Red Cross Society bring the best first-aid practices, based on the latest research, to communities where basic emergency care and medical supplies are few and far between.

FOUR YEARS AGO, 26-year-old Brian Azi Nyam was caught in the crossfire when fighting broke out between communities in the volatile city of Jos, Nigeria. He and his best friend were shot.

Nyam called out for help, but no one came. His friend died on the street.

“I was lying down there, shouting, crying for help,” he says. “Nobody. [I was] just looking. There was nothing else to do. It was very painful.”

On his lunch break from Nigerian Red Cross Society first-aid training, Nyam says if he had been trained then as a part of an emergency rescue team, he might have been able to save his friend’s life.

Since 2009, the ICRC and the Nigerian Red Cross have trained 2,755 community members like Nyam, in 105 locations across Nigeria. Students learn basic life-saving skills so they can respond when a bomb goes off or fighting breaks out between communities.

Trainees from rural areas say they are also learning how to respond to accidents where the hospitals are too far away to save the lives of the victims.

The training also reflects a social dynamic that remains elusive in much of northern Nigeria.

In the past decade, thousands have been killed in inter-communal violence in this region. Jos residents say Christians are still afraid to go into Muslim neighbourhoods, while Muslims still fear Christian neighbourhoods. At the training sessions, Christians, Muslims and competing ethnicities study in the same classes and students are instructed to give their rivals the same care as their friends.

“Both the Christians and the Muslims are one here,” student Victoria John says on her third day of training. “We are not even sure that this is a Christian or this is a Muslim,” she adds, referring to a victim she may one day help. “I will not treat this one? No. We take everybody along as one.”

The violence in Nigeria appears religious because it is often Christians and Muslims who are fighting, but the root of the  problem is a complex combination of political, socio-economic and ideological disputes. In Jos, which is located in a northern, central region known as the “Middle Belt”, more than 1,000 people have died in sectarian clashes over the past two years, according to Human Rights Watch.

Community leaders select first-aid students to represent a cross section of the area they come from. Training students from rival groups together also helps the Nigerian Red Cross and the ICRC maintain their neutrality, by not favouring one group over another.

Nigerian Red Cross trainer Ghali Bashir Adam says simple techniques, like teaching students to ensure their own safety and open the airways of unconscious victims, are the most important elements of this training. With limited resources available, students are taught the many ways a piece of cloth can be used for emergency treatment, like for tying a spinal cord victim to a board to immobilize them to prevent further injury. A person who is bleeding excessively can be helped by applying compression to the wound and then giving them a drink of water, Adam explains.

Trainers also regularly take new courses to hone their skills and learn the latest first-aid techniques. Updating these techniques often involves simplifying them so they can be performed skilfully under intense pressure, says Adam. New scientific research also adds to the first aiders’ repertoire, like the recent discovery that adult victims found not breathing often still have oxygen in their hearts and can be helped with immediate compressions.

Beyond first-aid training, Adam says making various religious and ethnic groups work as a team gives participants an outlook that cannot be taught in a lecture.

“This particular training contributes a lot in uniting the communities that experienced violence,” he says outside a quiet clinic located near a military checkpoint that is set up to separate Muslims from Christians if fighting erupts. “It helps in the reconciliation.”

Emergency responders in the field say students aspire to be impartial while giving care, but it’s not always easy. Impartiality is an ongoing process, because although they may not have favourites, the world around them does.

Friday Apuwa Danlad has been a Nigerian Red Cross volunteer for more than 12 years and was among the first on the scene for at least 18 bomb blasts, accidents and sectarian clashes. Like other volunteers, Danlad says he responds to injuries and stays out of the conflict. But at the scene of a bombing, or in a neighbourhood that has been marred by sectarian violence, he is often recognized by his Christian appearance, not the emblem on his red vest.

If Danlad has to transport a Muslim victim to a hospital close to home, he asks Muslim colleagues to carry the victim. He will also take over from Muslim colleagues who could put themselves in harm’s way by transporting a victim into a Christian neighbourhood.

During a conflict, rescue workers say they are often accused of helping one side over the other. According to Danlad, community-based training alone helps raise the profile of the Nigerian Red Cross, making missions safer and potentially more effective.

“We need awareness — both [in] Christian and Muslims societies — about the purpose of the Red Cross,” he says. “So that when there is an emergency situation, we the Red Cross should not be at risk.” At the training centres, students emphasize that not all emergency needs in Nigeria are associated with conflict. Like many countries in Africa, Nigeria is short of doctors and hospitals, and injured people often have to travel long distances to receive any kind of help.

A 23-year-old accounting student, Sani Garba Maren is a first-aid trainee in a village outside of Jos. When his neighbour’s house caught fire, the children — a boy and a girl — were badly burnt and were rushed to the hospital in a car. The little girl died before could get treatment.

Like Nyam, who mourns the loss of his best friend, Maren wonders if he could have saved her life. “Now that they have showed us how to take care of burning skin,” he says, “if anything happens like a house burning, I can go with my small, small materials to help.”

By Heather Murdock
Heather Murdock is a freelance journalist based in Abuja, Nigeria.

Students learn how to transport a spinal cord injury victim during training given by the Nigerian Red Cross Society and the ICRC in Plateau State, Nigeria in May.
Photo: ©Heather Murdock






At a clinic in an area known as a hotspot of violence between Christian and Muslim communities, students of all faiths learn how to open an unconscious victim’s airway — and about the principle of impartiality.
Photo: ©Heather Murdock










“Both the Christians and the Muslims are one here... We are not even sure that this is a Christian or this is a Muslim.”
Victoria John
, a first-aid student during her third day of an ICRC and Nigerian Red Cross Society training session.








Web extra!

Keeping it simple
The Nigerian Red Cross Society’s Ghali Bashir Adam explains how simplifying first-aid techniques allows ordinary people to save loved ones during chaotic emergencies. Also, the Red Cross Society of China brings best first-aid practices to a vast and diverse country.




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