Afusat Eke is the maritime social worker employed by the Nigerian National Seafarers' Welfare Board to assist seafarers and their families affected by piracy and armed robbery. Her post is supported by a grant from Seafarers UK. She started work on 1 September 2016, and will be engaged in counselling, providing practical assistance, training and scoping the extent of the effect of piracy and armed robbery on Nigerian seafarers and their families.
Oceans Beyond Piracy estimated that 23 seafarers were killed in the Gulf of Guinea in attacks in 2015; most of these were Nigerian. Fishers have been particularly badly affected.
1/ What first got you interested in social work?
My mother often quoted a proverb in Yoruba which translated
means: "When I meet someone with a problem, I will go all the way with them to solve that problem". She brought me up to look for other people, and when a friend suggested I should try social work I took it up and found my place there.
2/ What was your first case as a social worker?
Working with a young man who was addicted to heroin, and with his mother. He had sold almost all their possessions to fund his habit, and had resorted to begging but not to stealing. My first assignment was to get his details, and then to work with him and his mother in family therapy sessions. He came off drugs at that stage. Nigeria has a lot of drug users now, whereas it used to be a transit country for drugs, it is now a consuming country.
3/ What attracted you to work with seafarers?
I saw the advertisement and visited the websites of ISWAN and MPHRP which interested me a lot. I had seen the film 'Captain Phillips' and so had some idea about the existence of piracy and seafarers. Dealing with cases of trauma has provided some of the most interesting and worthwhile work in my career, and so the idea of being able to make a difference to seafarers in the follow-up of attacks made sense to me. Finally, my husband encouraged me to apply.
4/ How do you manage to fit in family commitments around your work?
I am a wife and mother of three children, and thankfully can count on a very supportive family network - my husband, my sister who lives nearby and my mother. Social work involves working when people are available, and this is often in the evenings, so we are all used to helping each other to allow us time to work while still bringing up a family.
5/ What are you expecting to find in Nigerian seafarers affected by piracy?
For both the seafarers and their families, I will be looking for signs of PTSD, depression, being withdrawn, suffering panic attacks. For families of hostages, there will be the fear of the unknown, and for the released hostages both the time that they have been held captive, and the treatment which they will have received.