Education Resource

Lesson Plan: The Edge of Joy: Combating Maternal Mortality in Nigeria

Image by Dawn Shapiro, Nigeria 2010

In her film, The Edge of Joy, Pulitzer Center journalist, Dawn Shapiro explores the maternal mortality crisis occurring throughout Nigeria. The movie examines the social, cultural, religious, and human resource factors contributing to maternal deaths and the work being done to reverse the current trend. A trailer of the film is available on her Pulitzer Center reporting project page, Nigeria - The Edge of Joy.

You can print a PDF of this lesson.

Background Information

Nigeria: Country Information

Have students open PBS Newshour’s “In-Depth Coverage of Nigeria” and begin learning about the country by reading through the sections in Religious Demography and Diversity.

As students review the articles, ask them to consider the following questions:

  • What are the two predominant religions in Nigeria?
  • How have these two religions developed geographically?
  • What prompted the growth of Islam in Nigeria? Describe the extent to which Islam defines social and government systems in northern Nigeria.
  • How did Christianity spread in the south of the country?
  • Describe the impact of British rule on the religious segregation in Nigeria.
  • Describe the indigenous religious practices still in place in Nigeria.
  • What is Sharia Law? How does the Nigerian Constitution regulate the adoption of Sharia Law? What are the primary causes of ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria?

Additional Resources/Related Reporting:
Divided Under God: Nigeria’s Sectarian Crisis
by Pulitzer Center journalists Joe Bavier and Benedicte Kurzen explores the country’s sectarian strife and the religious tensions surrounding Nigeria’s 2011 General Elections.
•    “Wahala in Nigeria”
•    “Nigeria Do-or-Die Politics”

Natural Resources: Oil and Politics
Ask students to return to the PBS Newshour in-depth reporting and open the section about “Oil and Politics.”

As students explore the impact of oil on Nigeria’s political and economic situation, encourage them to consider the following questions:
•    How important is oil to the Nigerian economy?
•    Describe the role of Nigerian oil in U.S. imports.
•    What is the impact of oil extraction on the Nigerian population and environment? Who/which groups have benefitted the most from oil drilling? Who/which groups have suffered the most? What has been the environmental impact of oil drilling in Nigeria?

Maternal Health: Understanding the Issue
There are 36,000 maternal deaths annually in Nigeria. To help your students understand the specifics of this international crisis, encourage them to visit Every Mother Counts, a website created to accompany the documentary, “No Woman, No Cry” which explores issues related to maternal health in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and the United States.

Ask students to begin with the “Issue” tab. As they read through the information provided, ask them to record answers to the following questions:

  • What are the five barriers to maternal care?
  • How do these barriers contribute to maternal mortality?
  • Using the interactive map at the top of the page, how do rates of maternal mortality in North American and Europe compare to those in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa? What factors do you think contribute to the massive differences?

Next, have students open the “Toolkits” tab. Ask them to begin by watching the Human Resources video and answering the following questions:

  • Which areas of the country are most undeserved? Why?
  • What factors contribute to the lack of qualified health care professionals in this area of the world?
  • Even when women are able to receive a doctor’s care, what other challenges do patients, doctors, and hospitals face?
  • Do some research, do similar conditions exist in the United States (are rural hospitals harder to staff/more frequently understaffed than hospitals in urban areas)?

Have students view the “Transportation and Access to Care” video and consider the following questions:

  • What role does transportation play in ensuring effective maternal care for women?
  • What factors contribute to the lack of transportation for pregnant women?
  • What cultural or religious traditions affect women’s abilities to travel freely?
  • Can you think of sustainable ways in which this barrier could be overcome?

Video Discussion Questions


Discussion Questions:

  • Which of the five barriers identified by are present in the film?

Which barrier is the most prevalent in the Northern region? Which is more prevalent in the Southern region? Why? If you identified two different barriers, why do you think this is true?
Which barrier do you think is the hardest to overcome in Nigeria? Why?

  • Do you think there are other factors that contribute to maternal mortality in Nigeria that did not identify?
    • [Possible answers: cultural, social, religious factors]
  • When combating maternal mortality there are reactive solutions and preventive solutions.
    • Can you identify a reactive solution from the film?
    • Can you identify a preventive solution?
    • What are the pros and cons of each type of solution?
    • Which solution should receive the most funding?
    • Which solution is more sustainable? Why?


  • Have students (possibly pre-video) fill in a chart with relevant statistics on maternal mortality (from CIA World Factbook) for the United States, Nigeria and other countries. Based on the information in the chart, have the students match countries with mother mortality rates (from [See page 4 of attachment for a sample chart]
  • Identify some of the life saving solutions that were presented in the film.
    • [Possible answers: the shock suit, blood bank in hospital, rural education campaigns, etc.]
  • Brainstorm possible awareness activities concerning maternal mortality for your school or community.
PDF icon The Edge of Joy Lesson Plan.pdf85.06 KB