From Petrus Obi, Enugu
It was a special day at the Church of Transfiguration, Republic Estate, Independence Layout Phase 3, Enugu State on that remarkable Sunday.
It was, indeed, a special service where the entire church service was left in the hands of some physically challenged persons who had stormed the church in their numbers from the popular Non-Governmental Organisation, Bina Foundation Enugu.
As the church began, two blind priests conducted the service, said the sermon while both lessons of the service were read by enthusiastic blind persons.
It was a day the well dressed and beautiful lady sitting next to you was actually a blind person.
The physically challenged persons drawn from the Bina Foundation also brought their live band led by two blind singers which entertained the congregation throughout the worship.
And Rev. Ogbonnaya Ude of the Mercy Seat Bible Church Abakpa Nike Enugu was so fluent and coordinated in his sermons on that beautiful Sunday.
His message was filled with emotions as he tried to paint the picture of how the physically challenged are maltreated and discriminated against.
At the same time he educated the congregation on the need to accept and embrace the physically challenged persons as part and parcel of the larger society.
“Except you are close to somebody you won’t know what is going on. It is true that in the society today, when somebody is visually challenged, if they see that person coming, some people will not even want you to touch them. In the bus it happens like that. Do you know that some parents who have children with such problems hide them in the house? They say this child will bring shame, disgrace to the family and you begin to wonder; is it the child’s fault? What happened to me did I bargain for it? So, these are the kind of things you see happening; generally there is this kind of apathy; people resent the visually challenged.
“You see in the bank, they have a struggle; going to the offices they have a struggle, a very big one for that matter. One day somebody entered a bus and was begging the conductor to help him cross the road and a woman was challenging the driver saying she was late to work; ‘why did you pick the man?’ Such things are not good it’s not the kind of things visually/physically challenged people expect. When we see such people we should not have the ideas that they are suffering for what they or their forefathers committed. No it’s not so. People were born like that; innocently. So, I don’t see any reason the society should not treat such people with care. Of a truth it’s not their fault that they are in that condition.”
Dressed in a neatly ironed priestly black shirt and white clerical collar to match, Rev. Ude continued to flow in his sermon, quoting and reading portions of the Bible; and making it more difficult for his audience to understand that the priest before them was actually blind.
Speaking at the end of the service, Rev. Ude said: “I am visually challenged. It’s a long story; when the thing started they diagnosed and said it was myopia and they gave me corrective lenses. I was using the glasses and it was helping me somehow. But then, one day I was trying to cross the road along Chime Avenue when I felt something like a flash, something like lightening and from that moment the glasses became useless; I had problem crossing the road. So, it became very difficult. I went to hospital they said it was glaucoma; I went to all the good hospitals in Enugu; UNTH, Park lane, all of them. The last hospital I visited was Maranatha Eye Clinic; the professor there told me to continue to pray and should not go for any operation; and that was it. He advised me not to go for any operation; they are professionals and they must have examined and found out that it was not necessary.”
On what the government should do for the physically challenged, he said: “If you go to Oji River, the Special School for the Blind and you have a chat with one or two of them, they will tell you how they are starving; they are not feeding well. Inside the classroom to learn the Braille becomes a problem because you have one teacher taking care of up to 30 or 40 students. How do you teach them? It’s difficult. When it comes to the computer; how many computers do they have? Where are the teachers? So, it’s not easy, I think the government should pay more attention to the physically challenged persons in our society.
“They shouldn’t be treated as outcasts; people who are good for nothing; just give them hand-out. It’s not what they need; what they need is encouragement; what they need is motivation. In Bina Foundation there are people that I met; do you know that one of the girls singing with the band there is visually challenged. Do you know what she made in the last JAMB, she scored 285. There are many who are sighted and privileged to read even in their rooms that scored below 200. There is another one Chinelo, she is also in the band, that girl scored 275 in JAMB. I don’t know if the universities will subject them to further exams; I want to suggest that for such children who made very high grades in JAMB be given direct entry and not subject them to further exams; it’s not good. It’s not that we don’t know how to write, but I cannot write again so you have to use type-writer and so on; such children allow them to go.”
On how he came in contact with the foundation, he said: “One day I was listening to an Anglican Church programme on radio and Bina Foundation, Mrs Atuegwu came on and started speaking about Bina. So, at the end of the programme I found it difficult to get the number, it was very fast for me so I started asking around; I even went to Good Shepherd, asking of Sir Chris Atuegwu. People say he comes to the church, but nobody was willing to release his number or even direct you to see them. It’s a problem because they feel maybe you want to go and disturb them. But I took a chance and went with my son to locate it because we were told the banner was pasted along Emene road.”
For Rev. Ben Ugwu of the Anglican Church who conducted the Sunday service, his loss of sight came gradually.
Hear him: “I noticed that I could not see far objects, so I started going to the hospital. Maybe the doctors knew the truth, but refused to tell me until in 2010 when I met an entomologist who told me that I had retina pigmentation; that the pigment in my retina was wearing out and that there was no remedy. They can’t stop it and there is no medication for it. In Bina now, I am learning Braille, how to use my fingers to read; before I was making use of my eyes to read but now I have to use my fingers.”
Also the Parish Priest of the Church, Rev. David Eneasato, described the service as very wonderful, saying that “I really give thanks to God for the opportunity He has given to us to host Bina Foundation.
“What we are seeing here and what is happening at Bina Foundation is a challenge to the government because this is exactly what the government should do.”
In her speech, the Founder of Bina Foundation, Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu, described her outfit as a not-profit charitable organization dedicated to alleviating the pains and sufferings of people with special needs.
“We strive to achieve this through free medical and charitable outreaches in various institutionalized centres and communities, as well as vocational guidance and training in our skills acquisition centre.
“Our aspiration is to ease the widespread marginalization and neglect they encounter and in this manner integrate them into the society. From inception we have offered all round support and free skills acquisition training to hundreds of people with special need. They have amazing abilities despite their physical or visual challenges.”