Out of Africa: Dr. Adrian Morrison Provides Hope through Education
By Nancy West
When Dr. Adrian Morrison, professor emeritus in animal biology and director of the Laboratory for Study of the Brain in Sleep, first went to Nigeria in 2002 as a volunteer with World Health Mission, he expected to spend two weeks teaching at Jos University and Hospital. He ended up doing much more.
Since that first trip, he has returned to Nigeria twice. In addition to teaching anatomy to students interested in attending medical school, he has learned about the people of that region and the daily challenges they face. Most people are farmers who raise sheep and goats. They have very little, and they live shorter lives because they can't afford medication for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure. The local hospital is a very old, dingy building with primitive facilities and procedures.
|Dr. Morrison (back row, second from right) with a group of tribal elders in Nigeria.
"Imagine that you're a pregnant woman coming to the hospital in labor in the middle of the night," he relates. "You learn that you need a cesarean section but you must wait until the next day because, in Jos, people have to buy their own medications for hospital use, and no drug store is open."
What bothered Dr. Morrison most were the children and their struggle to get an education. "Most children are lucky if they get through sixth grade," he relates. "Many don't go to school because their families can't afford to buy the textbooks and uniforms they must wear."
Those who do attend school do so in dilapidated surroundings. Dr. Morrison befriended a Nigerian professor and ob/gyn specialist who took him for a tour of the local schools. "The school buildings were in atrocious condition when I first visited," says Dr. Morrison. "One roof was full of so many holes that it looked like a sieve."
Knowing his commitment to education and sensing his concern for the local children, Dr. Morrison's friend bestowed a special honor on him.
"My friend is the tribal chief of a subdivision of Butura, a 50-square-mile area with 30,000 inhabitants in Nigeria," Dr. Morrison explains. "He appointed me his war chief—or 'Sarkin Yaki'—to combat illiteracy in Africa. On my second trip to Nigeria, his cousin, who is chief over all of Butura, appointed me his Sarkin Yaki as well. I serve as chief advisor on education and illiteracy to both of them."
Dressed in robes and a hat and carrying a cane that is the mark of a chief, Dr. Morrison was honored with a ceremony of dancing and drum music.
"With honor comes responsibility," he says. "I wanted to do something right away to help improve the children's education." Dr. Morrison began his role as Sarkin Yaki by offering to fund the renovation of one of the school buildings. He also has established the Butura Educational Fund to pay for additional school renovations as well as to help educate as many children as possible.
"So many of the children are very bright and eager to learn," he comments. "They really want to go to school. I also met one young man who wants to become a veterinarian but lacks the funds. It is my hope that the educational fund will be able to help them."
Dr. Morrison is also working to establish a relationship between Penn and the National Veterinary Research Institute in Nigeria. He plans to return to Nigeria in November.