Cesved, the Centre for Social Value and Early Childhood, is a non-profit organisation based in Suleja, Nigeria, run by Gift and Abu Augustine. It has been created with the vision of a just and peaceful society where all lives are respected regardless of cultural and traditional believes.
The story of Cesved
by Gift Augustine
“I am from Cross River State in Nigeria, and I am a trained nurse and midwife. My husband Abu used to work for the National Youth Service in the north of our country. When speaking to the students, he experienced many cases of inhumanity and injustice. One day he shared his work experiences with me and his ambitious plans to open a special school for the less privileged. This was the moment when I really started to become interested in humanitarian work. I was still in school at that time participating in a General Nursing program and, after graduation, in some further training as a midwife.
When I started working in one of the hospitals in Nigeria, I came across many cases of breast-related conditions, vesicovaginal fistulas, and I saw mothers dying during childbirth. I realised that these complications were mostly a result of Female Genital Mutilation, Breast Ironing and other harmful practices, which are based on the cultural and traditional belief systems in my country. This was a turning point in my life: I was no longer interested in being a nurse, I wanted to become an activist, but I didn't know how. When I told my husband about my plans, he asked me how I would feel if our children and grandchildren married into such a cultural and traditional system. “I would feel sad”, I answered, “and I would fight back.” Abu responded: “Then fight back now, and end this.” So I did.
"Then fight back now, and end this."
I gathered all my courage and quit my job. I did a lot of research on Breast Ironing, early childhood marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, rape, the sudden death of widows, and the increased number of female orphans hawking in the streets. It was a dark and terribly upsetting time for me. I knew I needed financial support to be able to start an NGO and to sensitise the public about these harmful practices. But unfortunately I didn’t have the resources. Abu advised me to start “just anywhere”, so I gave public lectures on the risks of harmful traditional practises. What I didn’t know was that I was offending a lot of women and, after some time, I was accused of criticising their traditional belief systems and culture, and of trying to deceive the young girls. I was threatened and almost beaten. But, over time, I became stronger and stronger.
"Project Our Heroes gives activist like me a full-time salary, so I can focus on my community work."
This was when I met Katrin Macmillan and Roland Wells from Projects For All who were building a Hello Hub in Suleja. I told them about my work, and they asked if I wanted to focus on it full-time. Of course I wanted to but that was impossible because I needed to earn a living in my day job. So they set up Our Heroes, a project to give activists like me a full-time salary, guaranteed for ten years. This meant that I could finally focus on my community work and do so much more for vulnerable people.
One day, a friend of mine died after a long battle from breast cancer. During her funeral, I spoke to some of the secondary school girls about this condition and the impact of Breast Ironing in this context. The girls told me that so many women die of breast cancer but people still believe that the Gods killed them because these women were evil. Later that day, I met with the old women of the community and with the local medical officer, and they shared their experiences with me. Together, we started working on a strategy on how to end Breast Ironing and how to educate women and girls about the risk involved.
"We started working on a strategy on how to end Breast Ironing."
I felt fortunate that the United States Embassy in Nigeria ran a program at my husband’s school called Relay that was related to breast cancer, and that I could become involved. I was also very grateful that the community permitted me to talk to both women and men, in order to alert them to the harmful practices and the physical and mental consequences for girls and women.
Today, I work across 36 states in Nigeria and many people have offered their time to help me fight Female Genital Mutilation and Breast Ironing. Many people are not aware of the critical extent of the situation across Nigeria because they are often carried out in secret during traditional ceremonies.
"Many people are not aware of the critical extent of the situation."
My journey so far has not been easy. It has been a demanding process to provide medical and psychological care to women and girls with trauma, bleeding and the inevitable health consequences of these inhumane practices.
I know I have come far, so one side of my face is smiling but the other half is still crying. I ask you: when will I be smiling on both sides of my face?
Please support me in achieving my mission, and I can promise you this: History will write your name in the heart of every single child in Nigeria.”
Gift grew up in Cross River State, Nigeria. She is a trained nurse and midwife. While working in a hospital, she came across many cases of women suffering physically and mentally due to practises based on cultural and traditional belief systems. These practises were Breast Ironing, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or rape. Gift decided to leave nursing and become an activist so that she could train, educate and mobilise women to fight for their rights and against these inhumane practices.
Chief Abu Augustine
Abu’s philosophy is to give respect to all forms of life. He studied Labour and Industrial Psychology and English Language at the University of Calabar and has undertaken further training in de-escalation dialogue, youth services and early childhood education. He was a Director at the Africa School of Excellence in Suleja, Nigeria, and a Delegate of the African Food Security. Abu has worked as a lecturer and teacher. He is the chairman of the Cesved Board of Trustees and also works as a coordinator for Project Hello World, run by Projects For All.