Focus on Community: Raising Brain Awareness in Owerri, Nigeria

Cultural attitudes toward brain science are not the same in every country. For that reason, why and how you conduct outreach might differ depending on where you live.

In Nigeria, brain research is in its infancy. Most people believe neuroscience research is too difficult and that the concepts are hard to understand. Though it’s not true, this perception prevents many people from becoming interested in brain research.

This gives our chapter an opportunity to make a significant impact through our outreach, not only by sharing the promise of brain research, but also by helping people in the community to improve their health overall.

A lot of our work centers on addressing the misconception that the brain is too difficult to understand, which we do through educating the community about brain anatomy and function. We conduct outreach in schools and locations throughout the community, including women’s and community centers, churches, marketplaces, and other public venues.

Interactions with an Igbo group in Nigeria.

Interactions with an Igbo group in Nigeria.

We explain to the audience that the brain is unique in its structure and function, and that understanding its structure and function will help people cope with difficulties of life and reduce their risk of developing a brain disease or disorder.

The next step in educational outreach involves showing the community how to care for the brain.

Our activities depend on our audience, but the goal of all our efforts is to bring brain research awareness to a level everyone can understand.

One of the primary ways we conduct community outreach is through organizing events, the most impactful of which are those that combine demonstrations with conversation.

We demonstrate parts of the brain and their relative positions on the skull, with an emphasis on the types of injuries that can damage these different areas, and give reasons certain habits are injurious to the brain.

We encourage the community at-large not to ride motorcycles without crash helmets or drive cars without wearing seatbelts. We also arrange meetings with union leaders to emphasize precautionary measures people should adopt to avoid work-related injuries.

Students of Imo State University, Owerri and Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife at a neuroscience conference in Owerri, Nigeria.

Students of Imo State University, Owerri and Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife at a neuroscience conference in Owerri, Nigeria.

Since outreach can be time-intensive and expensive, it’s important to tailor it to the needs of the people.

Primary school students (and their teachers) enjoy interactions/demonstrations that involve model brains as well as real human brains and using them as tools to teach the students about the structure of the brain. We share why the brain is soft while the skull is hard, for example. We then relate what they’ve learned to their lives — making that connection is important — by encouraging them not to play rough or engage in acts that could otherwise harm the brain, such as fighting or hitting their heads.

In secondary schools, we generally go to school assemblies, bringing model and human brains and microscopes, to show the microanatomy of the brain. We teach students about brain plasticity. We also teach them about the necessity of working hard to keep the brain busy, and of engaging in exercise and eating healthfully.

With university students, we form clubs where we discuss topics about the brain and get them involved in outreach programs. Sometimes they take this information and organize poster sessions on their own to educate the university community on the pathology of brain diseases, which is encouraging.

Championship contest of the International Brain Bee for secondary schools in Nigeria, held at the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo, in 2017.

Championship contest of the International Brain Bee for secondary schools in Nigeria, held at the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo, in 2017.

Our outreach in the community focuses more on prevention of brain injury and disease, which has allowed us to have great impact.

Many threats to brain structure and function can be avoided, and by improving brain health and function, a lot is added to the well-being of individuals and the community.

Poor communities benefit especially from education around prevention, as they often don’t have the money to pursue corrective treatments, which are usually expensive.

As we continue increasing brain awareness in the community, we’d like to extend our educational outreach to many more schools and communities.

In addition, we hope those who have benefited from our teachings will share what they’ve learned with others by conducting outreach of their own.

When you do outreach, you’ll be contented with the fact that you are helping to make the world a better place by educating your community about how to keep a healthy brain.

*Photos provided by author.

Polycarp Umunna Nwoha, PhD
Polycarp Umunna Nwoha is the president of SfN’s Owerri, Nigeria Chapter, and a lecturer in the department of anatomy and cell biology at Obafemi Awolowo University. His research has focused on the effects of drugs such as nicotine and aspartame on the limbic system and how these structures contribute to neurologic and neurodegenerative diseases.
Polycarp Umunna Nwoha
Polycarp Umunna Nwoha is the president of SfN’s Owerri, Nigeria Chapter.

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