Caring for the needy and vulnerable

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the yearning need to identify and reach out to the vulnerable amongst us. When the federal government released the much-publicised palliatives to the vulnerable, it was a toggle trying to identify those to be classified as the vulnerable group in the country.

In Nigeria today with impoverished economy and induced poverty coupled with inequality and skewed distribution of life essentials, the number of vulnerable people is increasing at alarming rate. In the absence of social security and the increasing rate of crime and insecurity, the army of the vulnerable is indeed swelling by the day raising concerns among well-meaning individuals. It is no news that Nigeria is now the poverty headquarters of the world with over 60% of the population living below the poverty line.

But realistically, the term the vulnerable group seems to sound amorphous and nebulous in the ears of some people. You may not blame anyone who has this notion for sometimes, it is difficult to list and classify those considered as vulnerable for most times too, vulnerability depends on situation and circumstances.

Technically, the vulnerable group may refer to those incapable of protecting themselves.  And these include: unborn children, neonates, the sick, the physically-challenged, the poor and needy, and the displaced in IDP camps, the refugees, the girl-child, and the materially poor, poor widows, those having serious health challenge whose problems intersect with poverty and stigmatization and poor education.

Thus, the list of the vulnerable groups is long and inexhaustible depending on the place and circumstance. Children generally, especially orphans, minors and individuals under the legal age of consent are considered vulnerable. And so are individuals in incarceration like the prisoners and those in confinement such as those in mental homes, nursing homes or isolation centres. Victims of cultural abuse especially the poor widows, those forced into early marriages and neglected children from polygamous homes and broken marriages are all vulnerable. Victims involved of traumatic events such as abuse, natural disasters and man-made disasters such as war and terrorism belong to the vulnerable group. The economically disadvantaged and those with no means of livelihood are also vulnerable. The elderly, those with life-threatening and terminally ill conditions and those with cognitive impairment are clearly vulnerable. Lack of family values, and declining sense of ethical values, the absence of social safety nets as well as the neglect of the age-old traditional extended family-support system has worsened the cases of vulnerability situation in the country at present.

Thus, as rightly observed by practitioners, the vulnerable groups are, “people who require special attention with regard to well-being and safety, including persons who cannot advocate for their own needs, such as children, prisoners and the cognitively impaired”.

From the above elucidation, it is clear that people in this category require special attention to survive as part of human community. First, they need recognition. They need to be identified with—recognized and treated with respect as human beings. Secondly, they need security and protection. They need care, emotional, material and physiological. They need information and enlightenment. They need to be heard and counseled. They need support and empowerment. Those especially in the youth category, who need training, coaching and nurture and mentoring, should be supported accordingly to develop their potentials and contribute meaningfully to the progress of human civilization.

Ironically, these groups of special individuals that require care most times scarcely get them. Instead they are treated with scorn and all sort of indignity. In the hands of the society they face things like: rejection, stigmatization, segregation, discrimination, deprivation, humiliation, de-humanization, neglect, abuse, hatred, and disappointment, and oppression, social and material lack.

And the consequences of these are instead of improving, developing or recovering they suffer untold hardship in the form of depression, low-self esteem, worsening health condition and even death. Some even commit suicide.

Indeed the consequences of neglecting the vulnerable population reverberate in many dimensions like increase in crime, social vices, child-abuse, child-molestation, human trafficking, misery, human rights abuse, poor national productivity.

Many factors actually justify the call for identifying and caring for the vulnerable among us. It is a patriotic as well as ethical and moral duty. There is strong ethical and moral basis for protecting the vulnerable groups. There is also compelling socio-political reasons to seek out and care for the vulnerable group among us.  It is a necessity; the major religions of the world emphasize respect for human dignity, charity, philanthropy and humanitarian works. They need a sense of belonging as members of the human community. Caring for the vulnerable is a way of upholding the dignity of the individual and their right to life and happiness. Caring for them will save life and engender peace in human society. By nurturing and supporting those who are young and skillful, national productivity would be enhanced.

In view of their peculiar circumstances and needs, caring for the vulnerable groups entails first, identifying with them—recognize them, show them respect and love—counseling them, listening to them with empathy, caring for their needs. It also involves advocacy, calling and drawing attention to them from concerned individuals and relevant authorities. This will also necessitate activities that engage them emotionally, socially and economically. Among these groups are talents and potentials that could be honed and channeled to productive ventures.

As a practitioner in the field social services, I am fully aware that caring for the needy and less-privileged is a vocation for those who have the calling and the aptitude. It requires interest and passion, attentiveness, commitment and dedication, empathy, devotion of time, skill and material resources.

The world needs care-givers, volunteers and donors to work to uplift those living in anguish, emotionally, physically and materially. The growing population of the emotionally impaired, economically impoverished, environmentally displaced and violently imperiled calls for a concerted effort to tackle the problem. We need a ministry, an agency, a commission for the vulnerable. The NGOs, the religious organizations must double their effort to tackle the problem. Corporate bodies can do their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) by donating for the cause of the vulnerable groups for the peace of the human society.

Let us join hands and collectively lift the vulnerable individuals among us and make the world a better place for us all.

Hajia Mohammed, an actress, social activist, politician, writes from London, UK via [email protected]

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