Am I a lifeline or a flicker of false hope?
Editor’s note: The photographs in the story have been provided by the author.
In my vast travels as a social researcher to remote settings in Nigeria, I have travelled for long hours on dusty bumpy roads, crossed rivers, walked miles under the scorching sun in search of evidence that would help improve the wellbeing of vulnerable people. I have often wondered what goes through the minds of the community members when our research team arrives. Are we merely viewed as ‘august visitors’ or as ‘saviors from heaven?’ They are familiar with empty promises from politicians who send their campaign officers to these communities to hustle for votes, only to return before the next election cycle.
We researchers often take the time to explain the risk and benefits of the research we are conducting. Yes, we explain that they may not directly benefit, but then how can we expect a vulnerable woman who has waited long years for a flicker of hope to consider our visit as an activity that will generate evidence to improve the wellbeing of future generations? She eagerly tells her story, shows us her malnourished children and explains the intersection of poverty and inequalities that have contributed to her situation. Her pauses and sighs during the narrative exercise speaks louder than her words conveying the depth of pain, helplessness and eager anticipation for a better future.
We know that if tomorrow comes, she may not live to directly benefit from our research or her community may be skipped even if some policy is implemented based on our work. She, however, goes to sleep on her clay bed remembering the ‘august visitor’ who is now a custodian of her precious story. I fear that as the ‘august visitor,’ I have contributed to a body of scientific knowledge and possibly ignited a flicker of false hope.
Above: Me on a hot sunny afternoon after conducting interviews with women in a remote village in Nigeria
Above: Me as my group and I prepare to cross a river on foot to gain access to a village to speak to women in rural Nigeria
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