Breaking the Cycle
Abubakar’s efforts to end cholera outbreaks
"The pain of losing a loved one can sometimes be indescribable, and it may never fully heal. Now make that two!"
Abubakar Wakala, an 80-year-old farmer residing in the interiors of Sokoto, a state in northwest Nigeria, found himself grappling with immense grief after losing first his eldest son, and then soon after, his wife. Their sudden demise during the rainy season of July 2021, with his son passing away on an ill-fated Sunday and his wife, on the following Tuesday, left Abubakar shattered.
His son's unexpected illness began with vomiting and diarrhoea – symptoms of a cholera infection and progressed to a deadly shock before they could reach the Primary Health Care Center near their home. Sadly, his wife suffered from similar symptoms and succumbed to cholera as well. Abubakar suspected that the contaminated water or food they consumed had caused the cholera infection. In their village, open defecation was widely practiced, and despite having toilets in their own home, Abubakar believes the lack of proper sanitation in the community contributed to the tragedy.
The weight of his loss pressed heavily on Abubakar's heart, and he yearned to prevent such anguish from befalling other families.
“Sometimes, I sit like this from night to morning, thinking about my wife and first child. It makes me very sad and lonely. At my age, I cannot remarry and my oldest son who would have taken care of me is gone. I worry that my other three children may face the same fate if care is not taken”
A few months after the tragedy, Abubakar received training on good hygiene practices, and hygiene promotion, transforming him into a dedicated agent of change within his community. Driven by his grief and a desire to make a difference, Abubakar joined the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM) in his community, established in 2022. As the committee's Public Relations Officer, he took it upon himself to promote good hygiene practices, striving to protect his three children and other families.
The 80-year-old tirelessly embarked on a mission to raise awareness about the dangers and consequences of open defecation. Along with other members of the WASHCOM team, he became the "open defecation police," patrolling the community to ensure people did not engage in this unhygienic practice. He also conducted educational campaigns around the community, raising awareness on the critical importance of proper sanitation and advocated for the installation of toilets in every household.
Gradually, his efforts started to bear fruit. In 2022, no cholera outbreak occurred, instilling a sense of joy and relief in Abubakar's heart. Along with other members of the WASHCOM, Abubakar knew he had made a difference. He had saved lives.
Help came from various quarters, including from UNICEF which dug boreholes in the community. This ensured a safe and reliable water source for the villagers. With improved access to clean water, the risk of future cholera outbreaks diminished significantly.
Through his unwavering commitment and the collective efforts of the WASHCOM, Abubakar holds out hope that once the rains start in 2023, Kindiru community will have no cases of cholera infections.
While the pain he carries may never fully heal, Abubakar Wakala stands as a beacon of resilience, demonstrating that even in the face of tragedy, one person can make a profound difference.
*After a deadly cholera outbreak in Sokoto State, Northwest Nigeria in 2021, UNICEF together with the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, trained community members and volunteers to set up WASH committees and hygiene promotion groups to sensitize families on the dangers of open defecation as part of the cholera response.*
Watch him in action here.