'Jesus Abandoned' in Nigeria: Chiemera's new freedom

'Jesus Abandoned' in Nigeria: Chiemera's new freedom

Madonna Brosnan

Onyinye Anaehe (baptised Evangeline) is 18 years of age and the eldest of eight children. Her family is of the Igbo tribe and lives in Ozubulu village in Anambra State, Nigeria. Onyinye's mother Eucharia earns a living buying and selling hens in the local market while her father works in the neighbouring country of Togo.

Onyinye ("Gift from God") is employed at the retreat centre of Our Lady Queen of Peace Benedictine Monastery, Ozubulu. Onyinye lives on site and, along with four other helpers, her duties include cooking, cleaning, serving meals, gardening and food shopping at the local market. She earns Naira 5000 (A$35) per month which she uses to pay fees to study science, in the hope of gaining entry into a nursing course.

The workers are supervised by Sister Maria Regina who is responsible for managing the retreat centre and is the main cook. Onyinye has no set hours, her duties being dictated to by the circumstances and the number of retreatants in residence. Her day begins at 4am and can finish at 11pm. The outdoor kitchen has no modern conveniences and food preparation is manual, the main implements being hands, knives and a large wooden mortar and pestle. Cooking is over a camp fire and the heat and smoke in the three-sided block construction are intense. It is hard work.

The new retreat house is used mainly by religious and the old retreat house by groups of lay Catholics. Employment at the monastery is considered an honour and has earned Onyinye the respect of her immediate and wider family. Financial assistance to the family no doubt plays a part.

With excellent English and an ability to understand the Australian accent, Onyinye was unofficially assigned to the Onyecha (white woman). After some weeks at the retreat centre, Onyinye told me of her disabled nine-year-old brother, Chiemera, unable to walk without assistance. The Igbo meaning of Chiemera is "God is a winner".

By age two Chiemera showed no signs of being able to walk, and at five years surgeons operated on both legs with an expectation that after surgery he would walk. The operation did additional damage to both legs and feet, further decreasing his mobility and flexibility.

Chiemera attends Our Lady of Perpetual Help primary school, and is transported by his mother on a motor bike to and from the school. At home, Chiemera would sit on the floor crying in despair, asking family members to carry him. In his spartan home there are no toys, no electronic games, no CD player, no board games - very little to engage a child with restricted mobility.

At St Anthony of Padua Parish, Okija, a 10 minute drive from Ozubulu, Fr Anthony Ananwa has a government registered medical clinic allowing five Cameroon doctors to work there, with the proviso that treatment is free for the disabled, on behalf of the Jesus Abandoned Charity.

Chiemera and Onyinye were collected and driven to the clinic in the Jesus Abandoned car donated to Fr Anthony by one of his parishioners.

Three of the Cameroon doctors examined Chiemera's back and legs testing his flexibility and movement capacity. A disabled student at Fr Anthony's school had been greatly assisted by the doctors applying massage and acupuncture. Hoping for a similar verdict, the doctors suggested 15 consecutive days of acupuncture, massage and injections.

Among the few mobility items remaining from the first Jesus Abandoned shipping container a lightweight wheelie walker with seat and carry bag was found to give Chiemera independence in moving about his home and school. However, due to the poor condition of the roads and tracks in the village the walker would be of little use outside.

In Father Anthony's front parlour, Chiemera's face lit up at the appearance of the red wheelie walker - for him it spelt freedom. Within a few minutes of grabbing onto the walker's handles, Chiemera was moving deftly around the room. The joy he felt was expressed especially in the light of his eyes.

It was a momentous day for Chiemera, his first ride in a car, promise of help from doctors, a wheelie walker of his own, and a youth dance group performing traditional dance and music in Fr Anthony's front garden! Chiemera took front row seat in his walker moving to the beat of the music.

In the car ride back to his house he eagerly sat forward watching the scenery outside speed by. The car ride was a rare experience of freedom, combined with the new freedom afforded by the wheelie walker. On arrival at his family compound of three houses, everyone came out, including the Elder to see Chiemera's new walker. He quickly demonstrated his new agility and comically started steering it into the children standing around. All faces in the crowd were smiling.

On the fifth day of treatment at the clinic, the difference in Chiemera's demeanour was marked. He had more strength in his legs and there was hope in his face. On completion of treatment, Eucharia, his mother, reported that Chiemera was not falling down and was much stronger in the legs. He was constantly singing hymns praising God. The younger members of his family were happy too, as they no longer needed to carry Chiemera around on their backs.

Madonna Brosnan is the co-founder of Jesus Abandoned, tel: (07) 4564-9382; email: jesus abandoned@live.com.au

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