Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

Gary Foxcroft, 29, is the co-founder of Stepping Stones Nigeria, a charity that works in the Niger Delta to protect the rights of disadvantaged children, particularly those who've been accused of witchcraft. Once denounced, the children are often abandoned by their families and/or subjected to physical abuse by religious leaders who are paid to 'exorcise' the children. He talks to Olivia Edward about the causes and solutions to the widespread belief in witchcraft in the region

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I've always been interested in social justice and environmental issues and in working abroad on projects that are beneficial to humanity. My ideal job would be what I'm doing now. I just didn't really know how to go about it before.

I got a D in A-level geography. But it was one of the few subjects I was interested in. I was at a very straight old-school grammar school and, to be honest, there was a complete lack of anything else I wanted to study. The school didn't offer sociology or psychology.

I always liked going on field trips. Living here in Lancashire, you have this amazing local environment, so I really enjoyed walking up canyons and limestone pavements. But, if I think about it now, I found the physical stuff comparatively dull. I was always more drawn to the social side.

Geography is so broad. I think that's its strength as a subject. I suppose my master's project was social geography really. It let me write a thesis about corporate citizenship under [Lancaster University's] geography department. What other department would you be able to do that sort of research under?

I went to Nigeria to study the oil industry. My thesis compared Exxon Mobil's corporate citizenship stance with community perceptions of its activity, analysing whether their corporate citizenship stance was based on community relations or public relations. What did I find? What do you think?

Poverty fuels the belief in child witches. If you look at the other countries with child witch problems--Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo--they are post-conflict countries. This creates a social vacuum. It gets filled by revivalist Pentecostal churches that give people hope in a hopeless situation and attribute the blame for their problems on demonic forces.

In Nigeria, a social vacuum has been created by widespread environmental degradation caused by the oil industry. They're still flaring the gas there, for goodness' sake. At night, just offshore, the whole sky is lit up. You can see huge black plumes of smoke going up. It's clearly causing health problems for the children we're working with. …

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