A Discussion with Marcus Williams, County Lead, Living Word Mission: Nigeria
November 21, 2017
Background: As head of the organization Living Word Mission (La Vie Mot Global Mission), Reverend Marcus Williams oversees programs, including a youth shelter, to improve the well-being of vulnerable children and orphans across southwest Nigeria. Osuolale Joseph Ayodokun, a WFDD consultant, spoke with him on November 21, 2017 to learn more about Living World Mission’s goals and activities, since its founding in 1996. The conversation sheds light on Reverend William’s personal motivations for founding a child rights organization its evolution, and its integral non-discrimination policy. He offers his opinion on promoting a secure future for every child through holistic community outreach, prevention and response to youth abuse, nutritional support, and services to children affected by HIV/AIDS, drawing heavily on faith and religious perspectives. He also discusses the importance of strong partnerships and evidence-based results across all development work, explaining how both have strengthened and expanded the scope of work at Living World Mission. His story and intervention in the lives of many vulnerable Nigerian children highlights the challenges and potential for improvement across Nigeria today.
Can you tell us about yourself and your organization?
Marcus Williams is my name. I started as a missionary and I ended up doing development work. I am a Nigerian from Edo State. I am married. I went to theological school and then I did a lot of training, for example in psychosocial support, life coaching, project management, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, resource mobilization, and human resource management.
When we started our organization, we registered with the state government as Living Word Mission. When we tried to register with the Cooperate Affairs Commission, they said that that name was not available, so we adopted a French word: La Vie Mot Global Mission. So, we are registered with federal government as La Vie Mot and also known in Oyo State as Living Word Mission. Within the organization, I am the country lead.
Who founded this mission and for what purpose?
I founded this mission in 1996. We started out as missionaries, to carry out rural evangelism and provide support for churches in rural communities. But along the way, we saw the need to respond to the plight of orphans and vulnerable children who were either given away in early marriage or who were abused, We now try to respond by bringing them to urban communities for care and support. That has evolved into the shelter we are running now.
Our initial vision was securing the future for every Nigerian child. Over the time it has morphed into “A Secured Future for Every Child in Nigeria.”
How big is La Vie Mot, in terms staff capacity and area of operation?
Presently we have two offices in Lagos and Oyo States. In Oyo State, staff numbers are close to twenty and in Lagos over sixty.
What are your goals?
Our mission is to carry out a holistic outreach to rural communities, with a special focus on households and with the view that through preaching the gospel and provision of social services to vulnerable groups, we are able to secure the future of every child we come into contact with that is in Nigeria.
What activities you engage in?
We started out with a national priority agenda for orphans and vulnerable children. We run many services, including, health, education, nutrition, psychosocial support, protection, household economy and shelter support. Over time, we realized that orphans, particularly those orphaned by HIV/AIDS, were not being responded to, so began a HIV/AIDS response program. We work in HIV prevention, which has given rise to this organization that supports HIV positive children within the shelter facilities that we operate.
We offer services emanating from our National Priority Agenda, which is called 6 plus 1. So, we are providing health services, shelter services, and strengthening household economy activities. We support indigent caregivers and mothers, in particular to start up small businesses (empowerment activities). We also provide educational support by providing educational materials like aids and scholastic fees, to ensure that they stay in school. In terms of protection, we have been able to help almost 4,000 children obtain birth certificates. We provide health services, including referrals and HIV counseling and testing: the testing allows them to know whether they are positive or not, and we link those that are positive to the right place to obtain care. We address nutrition by collaborating with another organization to provide vitamin A supplement to communities. In Oyo State, we have supplements for pregnant mothers and lactating mothers, which we currently do to ensure that the child is adequately protected even in the mother’s womb.
Where do you work? And what population do you serve?
We are in Oyo and Lagos States. In Lagos we are based in Alimosho local government. In Oyo State we are in about six local government: we are in Ibadan South West, Iddo, Egbeda, and Afijio, and we have worked in Ibarapa Cenral and Ibarapa East local government and Itesiwaju local government.
We started with an emphasis on children ages 0-7, but over time, as they grew, they graduated out of our program into youth programs and so we started focusing on youth. And again, over time some of them needed to marry and that took us into mother and family programs. Right now, we are not only looking into mother and family programs, but we are looking at gender issues, particularly gender-based violence issues. So we are serving children, women, and the general population.
Why do you do this work?
I grew up in a family where the fortune of an early development spent in bliss and happiness was never experienced by us. We grew up rough and abused because of a separated marriage that my parents had and that orchestrated a whole lot of events during my life. So, when I found my bearings I said I am going to devote myself to supporting children. And that is what I am doing.
How does your faith/religious motivate this work and your approach?
My turning point came with the influence of faith. When I found God through Christ, I decided to follow him and that was what led to responding through the orphans and vulnerable children program.
Simply put, one reason people may not enter into eternity is because they have refused to accept Him. If in their prime, young people are able to find God, you will have a better society of young adults that will give rise to young fathers and young mothers that are godly influences and so will lead to very positive developmental growth for the nation. But when you have someone who grew up outside the faith and he or she is exposed to negative things in the society, that becomes a big problem to the entire citizenry. Because those negative influences will spiral into other atmospheres where more problems will be generated and then it fully becomes a development issue. Criminality will increase, crime rates will multiply, you will have a lot of gangs, and a lot of abuses of people and mankind. You will have a lot of gender-based violence going on. You will have a lot of economic issues because the young people that should be in the work force are instead consumed by HIV/AIDS because they would not have self-restraint, morality, and all of that. They will just give in to anything that comes their way sexually, exposing them to STIs (HIV/AIDS of course is one of them). And before you know it, the work force will begin to deplete very quickly because the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS is great; even with much awareness around it, it is still on the rise. And as a result of that, the economic value of a city or the country, rather than growing, will begin to go down. HIV/AIDS destroys the economy so quickly. Then you have a lot of parents who are not able to care for their children because they didn’t have faith. When their faith is not enrooted or inherent, probably in a Christian way or Islamic way, you will find that you have monsters living around and that will increase the already existing terrible problems.
How does your own faith and openness impact your work?
If you check around the facilities now, you will see the Balikis, the Sarafas; they are open to worship the way they want. Particularly in a community where we have over 5,000 children coming from 3,000 households and most of them are Muslim and most of our partners and stakeholders in the communities where we work are Muslim. We don’t discriminate because we have a non-discrimination policy in regards to faith.
How and where do you get your funding?
From the beginning we do what we call self-help projects, which started when we got a car and we were using it to transport the children to the shelter. Then over time we started some small businesses in the house that produce things like souvenirs and from there, which are sold so that money comes in. That is how we started. After about eight years in service, people began knowing what we are doing. Because of the way people have abused social work and philanthropic work, we decided not to advertise what we were doing, saying that we never raised funds. But when we had established a name for ourselves based on what we do, people started bringing funds on their own. Partners started coming from outside and became interested in what we were doing and started supporting the work. After some time, places like University College Hospital saw it necessary to collaborate with us, and they started working with us. Then development partners like USAID started working with us and then they gave us grants, which escalated the income of the organization and we were able to do more leveraging on all the collaborative work of partners in the society.
Do you have regular partners that are funding you?
Yes. For instance, the AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN), a public health initiative, has been partnering with us for close to eight years and supporting our work. Ibadan Central Hospital supports our work on a monthly basis. We have other smaller partners that have been with us for years and they have committed themselves. But the more you have partners, the more the work increases because it is like the more funding we receive, the more work we do.
What do you think will make your work more effective besides funding?
Our emphasis has been shifting away from funding. Over the years people have been telling me funding is a problem in Oyo State, but I tell them funding is not a problem for us. The reason is that if you are strategically placed and you follow project implementation strategies that are cost effective and that have value for money, you will be able to attract donors. But most times our people really don’t do strategic things; they don’t document properly, they don’t keep evidence of what they do. That is the reason why people talk about lack of money. But for us here in LIWON, money is not our problem. Our problem is the ability to strategically locate ourselves so that we can respond and partners will follow after us.
A basic thing that people should emphasize more, which has no connection to funding, is capacity building. If we have a lot of people who are adequately capable of doing the work, they will do it. But people don’t think capacity building is a key issue. If you are properly informed you will do something that is evidence-based. But when people are not properly informed, they will just go and do a thing and when you ask for evidence they will have nothing to show for it. That is not applicable to LIWON; all the information we have given you is evidence-based which can be produced at the snap of the fingers.
What other things do you think will make this work more effective?
We are looking now at child protection skills, psychosocial support skills, and opportunities to build academic skills to be able to educate children, particularly on ECD (early childhood education). When people don’t have such skills, they will think that some children cannot read or go to school, because they don’t understand that there are milestones in regards to child development. Without such capacity, they don’t know. That is the reason they stop some children from going to school.
How do you relate the vision of the organization to the staff to carry on while you are not there?
In strategic project management implementation, you will be looking at management skills and under that you will be looking at organizational structures. This organization has enjoyed a favorable structure over time. Partners have built our capacity to be able to implement programs by observing best practice. And one of our key areas of expertise is that we follow our organogram which emanates from all our policies. And one thing about our policies is that they are not only in documents; they are in our heads. We sleep it, we wake up with it every other day. And that has informed our weekly management meetings. Every Monday we have a project management meeting and every Friday we have project review meetings. And quarterly we review our guidelines for project implementation to ensure that we are on point. At each of these meetings we always ask, “What is the vision?” “What is the goal?” And “What are the objectives of this organization?” And any staff that is not able to say it will be seen to have a very strong fault.
What are the strategies you are using to manage people of different backgrounds in your shelter?
We follow a major policy that does not tolerate discrimination and so we allow for each of them to follow the faith of their fathers. That is why over time we advocate for reunion and reintegration back into parent communities so that they can go back to live with their parents, because with the family is the best place to raise children and not in institutions. Another strategy we put in place is regular Bible study and engaging them in prayer meetings, in seminars and workshops, in religious teachings. That can help them adhere to faith. Meanwhile we do a kind of annual review with them; we allow them to tell us where they are, what they are doing, and how they are doing it, and then we take stock and look for the best opportunities to provide them. We have what we call the “Child Status Index.” It is a tool that measures progress of each child and religion falls under the issue of psychosocial support. So, we use CSI to assess their well being and determine where they are in terms of psychosocial support. That informs programs that we carry out for them each year and that is why we say it is evidence-based.
How many states are you operating at presently?
The states which are registered with the government: Ekiti, Ondo, Lagos and Oyo States.
Are you doing any internal capacity building or it has been all external? What about grants?
We are doing in-house trainings and again the staff is exposed to external trainings. We have implemented and are still implementing grants, including very big ones.
One is the USAID grant for the Orphans and Vulnerable Children project. Presently we are implementing the CDC project for children as well as for those with HIV/AIDS; it has been going on for five years and we just started another five years this October.
We have applied to Vitamin Angels (they give Vitamin A supplements). They came to Nigeria and gave us Vitamin A supplements; government was not involved in that. This aid was not cash but rather materials. Other individuals from outside the country usually funds us. They ask us to write a concept note and we have then received support from them.
Is there anything you think I need to know or that you want to informed me about?
When research projects come about like this, what you should include as part of the deliverables is a possible opportunity where findings could be disseminated to those places where you conducted the research. That would be a resource opportunity for them. Those are things to think about, because a lot of people come here for research, particularly UCH. Their doctors are always around us, their professors are always around us, they come here, they do a lot of research but the feedback mechanism is not that strong. And then again, the kind of opportunities we are expecting are not forth coming. We just in name that we are working with UCH.