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Bringing hope to Nigeria's abandoned children
Fr Anthony Ananwa, who is at present working in the Toowoomba Diocese, Queensland, hails from the Diocese of Nnewi, Anambra State, Nigeria. In 2010 he commenced doctoral research at the Australian Catholic University (Brisbane) on the topic of the theology of suffering. In order to carry out surveys and questionnaires he returned to his diocese in late 2010.
One place he visited was the Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled and Other Tramps (RECDOT) in the town of Ozubulu. This Centre houses 460 abandoned, disabled children, along with some adults who are mentally ill or elderly. The children were abandoned by families struggling with poverty and unable to care for their disabled offspring.
The Centre was founded by Brother Benedict (Order of St Stephen) after having a vision of a crippled Jesus, and Rosemary Nkiruka Odunukwe who felt called three times by Jesus who instructed her: "Nkiruka gather my children, feed my children and take care of my children." So the Centre, she says, is "obedience to God."
Brother Benedict is overall manager of the Centre and also operates the school attached to the residential part. On a daily basis abandoned children and elderly are brought to Rosemary but due to the present overcrowding, with seven or more children to a room, she has had no choice but to turn many away.
At present there are a number of buildings partially built awaiting funding from generous donors while the Centre is in urgent need of basics such as running water, food, mobility and disability equipment, beds, clothing and additional accommodation.
The Centre struggles to provide one meal per day, relegating health care provision or specialist care such as physiotherapy to the "pipe dream" category. On the day of Fr Anthony's visit the one meal provided was steamed yam.
Infection and disease are major problems due to the unhygienic conditions and lack of carers. Rosemary takes in abandoned mentally ill and elderly as these adults can assist with the care of the disabled children in return for their accommodation and food.
Fr Anthony also visited a compound initially set up by the government but long since neglected. The compound consists of four distinct centres for lepers, disabled war veterans, blind, deaf and dumb children, and a prison. He first encountered these centres as part of mission training in the seminary and has continued to visit them since ordination.
He says there are no words to adequately describe the inhumane conditions of the prison or the suffering and struggle experienced daily by the veterans and lepers. The residents of the centres are all in need of basic disability equipment, clothing and food.
Prompted by what was witnessed in Nigeria, Fr Anthony on his return to Australia in January 2011 (along with this writer) proceeded to register a new charity called "Jesus Abandoned". The charity is non-profit with the aim of delivering donated, used disability/mobility aids and hospital/medical equipment to physically disabled children, teens and adults.
It is estimated that more than 100 million people throughout the world are in need of a wheelchair but cannot afford one. In Nigeria, for example, the population of disabled children is on the increase.
The delivery of disability and mobility equipment to physically disabled people allows attendance at school, social gatherings, worship services, work and recreational activities. People who have crawled along in the dirt or who have been confined to one position for long periods of time can perhaps for the first time feel dignity and experience the love Jesus has for them in their suffering.
In Toowoomba, where Fr Anthony is based at St Patrick's Cathedral Presbytery, it took three months to collect enough donated disability/mobility and hospital/medical equipment to fill a large shipping container. The equipment was donated by individuals, nursing homes, hospitals and therapy centres.
Australian government standards often require hospitals and nursing homes to remove equipment from use even though it may still be functional. Australia-wide there would be storage areas full of obsolete equipment that would be welcomed in centres such as RECDOT.
The Church of Christ Basement Charity shop at Withcott (Toowoomba) donated numerous bags of clothing to fill up all the spaces in between the equipment to obtain value for money in shipping costs. The shipping company reduced the shipping fee by $1,000 and Woods Transport delivered the container to the loading site and then to Brisbane port for free.
Fundraising the $11,000 required for shipping, transport within Nigeria, and clearance fees at Lagos, was a major task conducted by door-knocking local Toowoomba businesses. The fundraising was greatly assisted by publicity from the local media.
By the grace of God and with a lot of hard labour, the shipping container was loaded over two days by volunteers and sailed for Nigeria on 18 November. Nigerian friends living in Sydney donated Fr Anthony's airfare allowing him to meet the container at Lagos in January 2012 and to supervise the distribution of all the equipment in his diocese of Nnewi.
As Our Lord told us: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" (Luke 14:13-13).
Information about the charity "Jesus Abandoned" can be found at www.jesusabandoned.wordpress.com
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 25 No 2 (March 2012), p. 14
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