Starting with a brief profile, Rev. Fr Nathan Anukam, in an exclusive interview tells of how giving hope to the hopeless can be so challenging that it brings tears to the eyes. Adedoyin Adekoya met the graduate of psychology to hear how deep the society has sunk in taking care of persons with disabilities. Read on...

Rev. Fr Nathan Anukam, SC

Rev. Fr Nathan Anukam is a priest of the Congregation of the Servants of Charity - a congregation founded by St Louis   Guanella. St Louis, an Italian priest, saw the need of dedicating his life and his time to the less privilege; those who are really in need especially the special children who he called the good children. It is true there are different categories of disabilities but all of them are included since he wanted to give that dignity to the human person, especially those who are abandoned. That was how he developed interest in these children, the poorest of the poor as some people called them.  That was his dream, and we have the congregation in Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania and Ghana. I am the one directing the activities of the congregation in Ibadan. We have many activities going on here. We have a seminary where the students studying theology are living. Although they are studying in Ss Peter and Paul Major Seminary, but we the priests are also here to help out with formation and various activities of Apostolate in various parishes around.

In what capacity?

As a director, I see to the growth of this place, but the main thing is to accord to these our children that human dignity they deserve as members of the society. They were abandoned, but some people have to speak for them. Since they don't have that  voice, we have offered to be the voice of the voiceless. These children are to be discovered, having been abandoned because we do not understand them. We lack the patience to handle them. We need to dedicate our time to in order to get something out of these children. Most parents do not see anything good in these persons with disabilities. They are not like the other children. The next thing such parents do is to lock the children, out of sight of visitors. This should not be the case because they are human beings like us, created by God as we are created, so we have to include them in the society. We have to give them that respect and dignity they deserve. Now in order to achieve this, there are different challenges: one, the society does not recognise us. Two, it is not ready to offer economic assistance and that is where most of the challenges are. Since there are the people who have done special schools and they want to dedicate to us their time and if there is no support from the government it would be very difficult.

Some people are helping us here, though we are running the major part of the work with our own resources. The more reason we need the assistance of the public. We have some volunteers who come here to help feed them and play with them. That is what we expect more from the public. The good news is that parents are also contributing gradually the much they can, but we desire more public participation in making life comfortable for these special children.

In what area can the government assist?

The government can give a quota of its resource to caring for these children who never asked to be born. As citizens, the government should have a higher hand in their welfare. Of course we know the situation of the country, but our leaders should know that the disabled are also citizens. Some of them, we hope, will become capable of caring for themselves and contribute the little they can to the good of the society. Some of them know how to sweep and do other house activities. If they are employed, they will appreciate their worth and feel a part of the larger society.

Has the state government offered any help at all?

The government has gradually started with the involvement of the Ministry of Women Affairs. The construction of the refectory or the hall is a little contribution came from UBEC, but nothing from the governor for now. There is no record that the governor has given anything. No such record, it may be through other people or other means but we have not acknowledged his presence.

What about the rich in the society, have they been helping?

Yes, some people are contributing the little they can but we are not feeling their presence. Some good citizens give the little they can and we appreciate them.

What about the intellectual capability and capacity of these children, is there any professional touch to this?

Yes, we have the teachers who studied special education who are working on that, and we have the physiotherapist giving his own contribution to the development of the physical aspect. The teachers that studied special education are contributing to the intellectual aspect. Help also comes in form of volunteers from Italy; some doctors are also available because we have a clinic, all this make it possible for us to give them a better life, physically, intellectually and psychologically.

Compared to what we have abroad, can you place Nigeria on a scale of 10, where does Nigeria belong?

Nigeria gets a generous 2 over 10. If we combine it with international aids, it hits six.

Our government has failed to take care of the physically challenged ones because the citizens who are working are lamenting over unpaid salaries, talk of these ones who are not contributing and they are not even remembered. I was outside the country, I came back from Italy three months ago, I stayed there long enough to know that each child is being taken care of by the Italian government. There is a quota from the government and the parents before the volunteers contribute, and they are available for voluntary works. The operatives are taken care of more than those who are able to stay on their own. But here the government concentrates on the strong at the expense of the weak.

Are these inmates going to spend their whole life here?

The idea is that at the end they go back to their families because they have different challenges. The Down Syndromes are able to go back easily to the society because their learning ability is higher. Then there are those who find it difficult or may not be independent so those ones may in the future be in the old people's home. We can keep them but for now the idea is helping these people to be, if not completely independent, at least a little bit independent so that they can stay on their own, cook, take care of themselves, with a little aid from others; so if we are able to reach that stay, then the person can go back confidently to the family.

What have you been doing to draw the attention of government to the plight of these physically challenged ones?

Gradually we are going towards the realisation of the whole awareness now with the involvement of the Ministry of Women Affairs. The representatives will always take it to their table that these people are requesting for your help. There is a programme, "Ring the Bell," that we celebrate yearly; it is also a form of creating awareness, but gradually we will start tabling our case. At times, the problem is who takes you to the Government House; if you don't have contact you may not gain access.

What are your plans for them to let them know it's Christmas?

December 15 is our celebration of Christmas and the closing of the school. So it is a special celebration where we put them at the centre - they dance, do the feast, and come in contact with the birth of Christ.

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