‘We abandon our matrimonial beds for Church vigils because we don’t want more babies’

Victor Okon
Okon with his family

The situation in Ikpa town, Esit Eket local government was dire and Victor Okon and other adult residents of the town can attest to it.

“We have suffered a lot of child trafficking in this community because of the frequency of births and prevalence of unwanted pregnancies,” Okon began, with a straight face.

The parents in Ikpa who were ignorant about the modern family planning methods soon found the consequences of unrestrained childbirth grave as crime became rampant leading to insecurity and poverty.

“Crime became rampant here and stealing, especially of foodstuffs and we have many street children, this situation has been going on for more than 20 years, money is scarce, and the children cannot go to school,” Okon said.

Another elder, Samuel Tommy said the population of the town was growing faster than the economy, leading to poverty and child abandonment: “Incessant and underage pregnancies were common, where you see a girl of about 15 years old having children they cannot cater for and dropping out of school,” he said.

According to Pastor Emmanuel Obioh, the economic situation in Ikpa town was dire, “We were very ignorant, people were giving birth every year and they are palm wine tappers and fishermen who could not take care of the children they have. Okada riding is the major business, how can a 38-year-old without a job take care of six children,” he questioned rhetorically.

Ignorant about family planning

The people of Ikpa town agreed they neglected the modern family planning methods despite having one Primary Health Center which offered the services. “The people usually go to quacks especially unmarried young girls and we have occasions where some died through unsafe abortions,” Pastor Obioh related.

Our churches were usually full especially for vigils because we are running away from our matrimonial beds. For me, when my husband comes, I will say no, because I have calculated my cycle. It was a big problem

In 2017, community volunteers from HC3 and CCSI went to Ikpa town to begin a massive awareness creation about the modern family planning methods. A town crier went around and several community dialogues were held; slowly, the people began to accept the modern methods and take up the rate at the local health centre was unprecedented.

Pastor Emmanuel Obioh (3)
Pastor Obioh

An army of new converts

Tessy Imeh Awe is 29 years and a housewife with five children. She has never believed in the modern methods until recently. Already her family’s economic situation was portentous and the possibility of having more closely spaced children was high. “I was usually afraid because we could not afford to have more children. It was a source of friction between me and my husband, that is why I went for the implant. Now, a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders and I have become an advocate,” she said.

Proud of her new-found knowledge, Clara David Isaiah, 32 years, also a mother of five children recounted how she already signed up to a three-year modern plan which will allow her to focus on her family and the business. Blessing Daniel Emmanuel (25) with three children has also taken up a method which will allow her to pursue her dreams of becoming a journalist while Awe had already secured admission into a nursing school after taking up a plan.

“It was not easy before we took up this method, there were always problems in many families. Our churches were usually full especially for vigils because we are running away from our matrimonial beds. For me, when my husband comes, I will say no, because I have calculated my cycle. It was a big problem,” Blessing said.

Breaking the myth of family planning in Ikpa was no mean task. “People usually believe that they should exhaust the womb before they stopped giving birth,” Blessing Daniel said. The people also believed family planning caused internal heat.

The Ikpa people are trying to rebuild their society broken by years of crime and ignorance, the church is at the centre of this. The pastors preached about family planning from the pulpits and served as a sanctuary. Pastor Obioh has become the super mobilizer, encouraging the people to take a method of family planning.

“The awareness and subsequent engagement have brought life back to this town. It has stopped the abortions, the untimely deaths occasioned by unsafe abortions and the family quarrels,” the Pastor said.  Most of the people agreed with him with a chorus of “very interesting.” The women are smiling again, it was the sort of smile closely associated with peace of mind.