Musa photographed in Kogi State, Nigeria - June 2013 © Felix De Vries / IFRC
Musa photographed in Kogi State, Nigeria – June 2013 © Felix De Vries / IFRC

Musa Salihu, a 31 year-old father of six, lives in the small village of Mozum Ose, Kogi state, which is located on the banks of the River Benue. In 2012, the Benue broke its banks, and flood waters swept through the village, washing away people’s homes and belongings.

“The floods came during the night and though we had heard (on the radio) that it was coming, we did not fully believe it, and were not prepared,” Musa recalls. “The floods were not something that happened in many of our lifetimes and we did not know what do to. We had not experienced anything like this before.”

Musa gathered his family and moved to higher ground, before taking a canoe to a village, five kilometres away from the river, where they remained for more than two months. “The canoe was small, it could not carry all my family, so I had to make several trips to make sure we were able to get to safety,” he says. “I made regular trips back to the community to see if it was safe to return, and to check on my home. I prayed that it would still be there.”

By profession Musa is a teacher at the village school, but following the flooding he joined the local Red Cross as a volunteer. “I could see that my people were suffering, and I did the best I could to help them with the little resources I had, but when these were exhausted I could do no more. But then I heard that the Red Cross could help, so I made my way to Lokoja (the capital of Kogi state), to find their office and offer my assistance as a volunteer.”

Red Cross volunteers such as Musa have played an invaluable role in supporting those affected by the country’s worst flooding in more than 40 years, assisting with the distribution of basic relief items, health and hygiene promotion, water and sanitation activities, and the construction of shelters.

“The Red Cross has helped the community in so many ways, and since I have become a volunteer I have learned so much,” Musa stresses. “Before the Red Cross came, I did not even know how to use a trowel. Now I can build a wall to a house myself. I have also been trained as a hygiene promoter, and visited other communities further along the river to provide people with health and hygiene sensitization.”

Life as a volunteer has not always been easy. “Sometimes people have been suspicious of my intentions, and my family has also found it difficult to understand why I am helping others”, says Musa.

“However, when I became a volunteer, I learned about the Red Cross, so I am able to explain to them what I am doing and why. Community members are now very appreciative of my efforts, and many of them have even joined the Nigerian Red Cross as volunteers. My hope is that my children will also follow my path and also become volunteers.”

By David Fogden (IFRC) MozumOse, Kogi state, Nigeria 12 June 2013