Fellow Since 1991
This profile was prepared when Pearl Nwashili was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Pearl wants to help stop the AIDS epidemic in Nigeria before it wrecks the country. She knows all too clearly the human and developmental disaster that is striking much of Central Africa, where, as everywhere else, awareness is lagging far behind the danger.She has focused on the motor parks first, both because they are already AIDS pockets and because they are major centers of transmission. Working initially in several big motor parks in Lagos, she has worked out a successful approach that she is now ready to spread along the motor routes up and down Nigeria and eventually across West Africa. She is just now opening her work in the north at a motor park in Kano.Pearl's organization, STOPAIDS, organizes the people of the motor parks to teach themselves about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and organizes immediate, on-site basic health care and referral services. She is now beginning to learn how to reach out to school dropouts and other vulnerable groups.The key to Pearl's approach is that she gets those at risk and their organizations to do the job themselves. In the motor parks where STOPAIDS is located, the organization works through the powerful transportation union network to spread AIDS education. In turn, union leaders and members provide feedback about health issues and needs among their people, thus enabling STOPAIDS to target its effort expertly.Pearl's approach goes way beyond the union leaders. She has recruited as "health workers" many of those at the bottom of motor park society, the out-of-school youths hanging out the rear door of a bus, hustling for additional riders by day and leading the fast, drug-filled life at night. As they go through her training, they often clean up and begin to dress better as befits their new role. Although Pearl's first target is stopping AIDS, her vision is much broader. She wants to help all of society, especially the marginalized poor, develop a culture of health. She is developing strategies to take on lack of sanitation in public places, unhygienic hospitals, the broad abuse of both curative and hallucinogenic drugs, and a number of other health hazards.