At the beginning of January, Jesus Abandoned Charity's first shipping container from Toowoomba arrived at Port Apapa, Nigeria's largest port facility across the harbour from the city of Lagos. (Readers are referred to my earlier report in the March 2012 issue).
As luck would have it, the country was struck by a nationwide strike just as the container was in the queue for clearance by Customs. The two-week strike over fuel prices delayed the clearance process, increased the clearance fees, as well as the transport fees for trucking the full container the eight hours to Nnewi Diocese and back again.
Understandably, it also increased Father Anthony Ananwa's anxiety levels as he tried to resolve the fallout from the strike.
The container was unloaded and stored in buildings at Father Anthony's new parish of St Anthony of Padua in Umuohi, one of thirty villages comprising the town of Okija. The task of organising the distribution to the disabled in the different centres was complex and difficult although some of the items, such as the two church organs for St Gabriel's Spiritual Year Seminary, Ozubulu, and St Paul's Seminary, Ukpor, were simple deliveries.
Fr Anthony announced at his Sunday masses a distribution of a certain amount of mobility equipment and clothes in the parish compound on a given date. The expectation was that local persons requiring disability aids would present themselves. Word spread like wildfire and a huge crowd awaited Fr Anthony the morning of the distribution.
People travelled long distances from villages well beyond Umuohi. Families brought their elderly needing wheelie walkers, cars brought the paralysed seeking a wheelchair, and the disabled came with wooden sticks hoping to replace them with a pair of crutches. Some people brought photos of their elderly or disabled relatives at home to show Fr Anthony.
When collecting the equipment in Toowoomba in 2011, a donor phoned offering a wheelchair that had been stored under the house for many years. On inspection it was obvious that beneath the dirt and rat chewed upholstery it was a sturdy, stainless steel chair. It was taken apart, cleaned up, had new upholstery fitted and with the makeover looked like new.
A middle-aged man travelled all the way from Father Anthony's former parish of St Michael's, Ihite, in the hope of getting a wheelchair. He has never had any use of his legs, always scuttling along in the dirt, developing a very strong torso and incredible agility of movement. It seemed fitting for him to be lifted out of the dirt into this wheelchair and have his life transformed by a wheelchair once stored in the dirt underneath a house in Toowoomba.
The major distribution was to RECDOT: Rehabilitation Centre for the Disabled at Ozubulu. The wheelchairs, walking frames, mattresses, crutches and small items were loaded into RECDOT's passenger van while the hospital beds and recliners were transported on a small truck. The loading was supervised by Father Anthony and Rosemary Odunukwe, manager of RECDOT's residential section.
Father Anthony first visited all the severely disabled children in the centre, blessing and giving them Rosary purses and Divine Mercy prayer cards. The disabled children who attend the school crowded into the compound on crutches, on frames, in wheelchairs, some being carried, some managing their own mobility without any aid. Hundreds of silicon watches, Rosary purses and school stationery items from Officeworks had been donated in Toowoomba to give as gifts to the school.
Oji River Settlement is the location for a once government supported leprosy compound, veterans hospital, and residential school for the blind, deaf and dumb. Fr Anthony fuelled a minibus and visited the settlement with a group of parishioners (members of Jesus Abandoned Charity) to assist with distribution of food, clothing, soap and detergent, crutches, Rosary purses, prayer cards and money to the lepers, veterans and students.
At the leprosy compound they encountered a very frail, severely malnourished elderly man who had been abandoned by his relatives, even though he did not have leprosy. The man's only clothing was an old piece of cloth wrapped around his waist. He was given money, clothes, bed linen and bread from the supplies in the van. He told Fr Anthony he prayed to his favourite saint, Saint Teresa, to help him.
Fr Anthony located his relatives in a distant village and after lengthy negotiation a relative finally agreed to collect the elderly man so that he could die in a family home and be buried on their plot of ground.
At the School for Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Father met with the students in the school chapel, beginning the session with singing and dancing in praise of the Lord. The students are all residential and taught by six teachers who themselves are blind, deaf or mute. The school desperately needs Braille equipment, books, and audio. Food, clothing and money were distributed to the students.
Fr Anthony is currently planning with volunteers and donors to build a Jesus Abandoned medical centre on a plot of land in the town of Orifaite. The land is being surveyed and the plan is for the centre to provide free medical treatment to any destitute person. Three Cameroon doctors and two nurses from his parish volunteered two weeks of their time from 7 May to provide free treatment, medicines, injections and vitamins to the parishioners of St Anthony of Padua, with plans for future treatment at RECDOT and Oji River Settlement.
Work has begun on sending the se cond container. To view video and photos of the distribution in Nnewi Diocese visit the website: jesus-abandoned.wordpress.com