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Swapping tramadol for shea butter

Written by Tearfund | 06 Aug 2020

Akpan was a mess. Dependent on drugs, he could swallow more than 12 tramadol tablets (a powerful painkiller) in one go. His wife, Lyama, had to buy his clothes because Akpan was unable to look after himself.

‘We used to live like dogs,’ says Akpan, who lives in Ungwan Bako village in Kebbi State, Nigeria. ‘I had no plans. My wife and I wouldn't speak to each other for weeks at a time.’ Lyama was left to look after their six children without his help.

A happy childhood ends
Akpan grew up in the same community, which is situated in a remote savannah forest in the north west. His family were fairly well off as they owned at least 80 cattle, 40 sheep and goats and lots of chickens. Akpan remembers being well fed as a child. ‘Life was easy,’ he says.

But all that changed when an unidentified illness killed 20 of their cattle. Soon after, robbers took seven sheep. It was the start of a downward spiral for the family culminating in the death of Akpan’s father. As a result, Akpan explains, ‘...we were impoverished. That’s when life became hard.’

The consequences of this childhood trauma continued into his marriage and family life. ‘I used to spend everything I had on drugs,’ he says.

A change of heart
But his destructive and painful lifestyle dramatically changed when Reuben Achison, a facilitator appointed by Tearfund’s partner Calvary Ministries (CAPRO), came into his life. Through Reuban, Akpan met Jesus. That’s when the real change happened...

CAPRO identified Ungwan Bako as a poor community that needed support to develop. They chose potential leaders from the local church, including Reuben, to become facilitators. Their role was to form villagers – particularly struggling couples like Akpan and Lyama – into groups that support each other to come up with and develop income-generating ideas. So far, CAPRO has supported more than 50 communities in this way.

These self-help groups, through workshop sessions led by the facilitators, encouraged group members to plan and work together in unity.

Bread and butter
Through the self-help group sessions and workshops, Lyama had an idea to start a business processing locally-found shea nuts to make shea butter to sell. It was a success. And from the proceeds Lyama was able to pay her children’s school fees. She also bought three goats and a calf to rear and sell for more income.

As a result of being part of the church-based group, and through the friendship of Reuben, Lyama and Akpan became Christians. They started to be active members of their local church. But even then, Lyama was not keen for her husband to be involved with her shea butter business. It was a longstanding cultural practice, learnt at an early age, that men should not work with their wives or support them.

Even after she had accepted Christ, Lyama says, 'I hated working together with my husband. I also hated the idea of enrolling our children in school. But that changed when I understood the self-help group teaching on unity and helping one another.'

Like little children
Now Akpan and Lyama work together. And it has had a dramatic effect on family life. 'We used to live like dogs,’ Akpan says, ‘But now my family laughs and plays together like children. There is joy and light in our lives.'

Five of their six children now attend school. 'We want all our children to be educated.’ says Akpan. ‘I never had plans for my life but now I do. We hope to buy a machine to process shea nuts into butter oil.'

Lyama is also excited about the changes taking place in their family. CAPRO have seen how industrious and very supportive of her husband she is now.

Bringing others to Christ
While they have gained confidence from the support, training and extra income from their self-help group, it is their faith in Jesus that has given them real assurance for the future.

'We are hopeful that things will get better,’ says Akpan. ‘There is no difficulty that has no end. We want to know God better. I am praying that people will come to know the Lord because of what God has done for us. We hope the joy that people see in us now will bring others to Christ.'


  • Akpan asks for prayer that many people will come to accept Jesus because of the testimony of their lives turned around.
  • Lyama asks for prayer so that they will be able to buy a shea nut processing machine to earn more income so that all their children will be educated.
  • Lift up the work of our partner Calvary Ministries (CAPRO), who – like many around the world – are continuing to carry out their life-changing work in a safe way during the pandemic.

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Written by  Tearfund

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