Mrs Akhere Aghedo-Akran has no doubt become Nigeria`s Mother Teresa. Though married to the royal Akran family in Badagry area of Lagos, the destitute home at Oko-Oba, Ebutte Metta, Lagos, has become her second home as she uses the place to take care of over 3,000 displaced northerners who are predominantly lepers, cripples and blind persons.
With the Agatha Obiageli Memorial Foundation, which was founded in memory of her mother who passed on 10 years ago ,she has successfully integrated about 250 of the children in the home into the Lagos State primary and secondary school system with one of the inmates now in the Lagos State College of Health Technology, studying Environmental Health Technology.
In this interview ,she spoke on the challenges in the IDP camps ,the need for the society to practice inclusion instead of isolation of people with special needs ,as well as the role the government should be playing to help people with disabilities.
What inspired you to start taking care of the less privileged in the society?
Well, I have a mother that believed that you have not lived the day if you have not helped somebody .So, when she died ,my siblings and myself decided to have a foundation in her memory in order to continue with her legacies.We founded the Agatha Obiageli Aghedo Memorial Foundation (AOAMF) in 2011 with the primary mission of assisting the less privileged in local communities here in Nigeria. This inspiration came from observing the way my late mum, Mrs Agatha Obiageli Aghedo would go to any length to help people even strangers. She did not see the need to have so much while people were suffering. Every time she had to prepare a meal she would ensure she prepared it in excess so that she would have enough to distribute even to the security man at the gate of our close. She did not see the difference in status or physical appearance. She believed every human had the ability to function because we all were created by one God with the same features. She believed in giving everybody a chance and sharing from the little she had. During my teaching practice days I ended up doing more of counseling to students as opposed to teaching because I realized they needed more help and my mum would give her last money to me just to get textbooks for these students and buy them lunch.Since then all our activities and interventions have been aimed at alleviating the suffering and enhancing the integrity of the less privileged to promote inclusion and equity which was what she stood for.
Apart from taking care of the destitute at Ebutte Metta,are there other things that your foundation is doing?
Yes .We run the #No Child Should Be Left Behind campaign and under this we have various projects like Quarterly outreach. Here, we visit different local communities and distribute relief items to all age groups. We encourage people to recycle their used items in good conditions fit for reuse. There is also special needs advocacy: We run a charity special needs centre in Satellite Town Lagos where angels with various impairments come daily for respite and therapy sessions. We say “ Disability is Not Inability” and also advocate for their “Inclusion Not Isolation,” we also have awareness walks and events twice a year. The St.Agatha’s Special Needs Centre caters for all types of special needs persons.
What of the Prosperous Children Education Project?
This was started 19 months ago at the Destitute home Ebutte Meta. This is a home to over 3,000 displaced northerners who are predominantly lepers, cripples, blind persons. There are over 1,000 children in the home and more than 20 per cent of them go to school. The project we initiated is to educate this children in their space. Irrespective of the filthy environment or tag as destitute and stigma they get quality education. We have also successfully integrated about 250 of the children into the state primary and secondary schools and have one of them in the Lagos State College of Health studying Environmental Health Technology. There are a lot more who are now enthusiastic, but we have no funding at all. We also started an environment clean up in the home as it is filthy and unhealthy, especially for the children.
The filth can lead to an outbreak of epidemic if not properly and timely disposed. Under this scheme, we have sponsored two youths through the university, while six are currently undergraduates. We also assist less privileged families with medical bills for their children.
What is the vision of your foundation?
Our vision at AOAMF is to create a world where equality and equity will be the order of the day driven by empathy. We hope that gradually everyone will see the next person as human so that the menace of tags, isolation and discrimination will be entirely eliminated. The myopic mentality that special needs, epilepsy, destitutes are contagious should stop. The vulnerable people in the society need more attention and their vulnerability should not be used as an advantage by social sector managers to gain popularity. The impact should be measurable and consistent.
What are the challenges confronting this vision?
We have so much passion, but also face setbacks in doing more. Our major challenge is funding. I remain grateful to my dad, Mr Alex Aghedo, his younger brother, Mr Sunday Aghedo. My husband Prince Adesoji Akran and twin sister, Mrs Odion Aghedo-Chigbufue and others who have been very supportive as well as a few friends who believe in our vision. We have had to write numerous letters for sponsorships and support, but all to no avail. There is also the misconception that as Christians and southerners why would we be helping the destitutes who are Muslims and from the North. My reply to that is we were all created by one God and we are equal in his eyes. Empathy drives us. If we have more funding we will get a bus to pick and drop our special needs angels in Satellite Town daily, we will pay our therapist timely, we will train our special needs angels to acquire vocational skills, we will also empower more of our youths at the destitute home to engage them daily, we will set up a football academy for the youths at the destitute home as most of them already show great prospects above all we will get more of the child beggars off the street and into school as latest data from Universal Basic Education Commission says 13.2million children are out of school. We can’t end it, but we can definitely reduce it. We need to show love and empathy first before judging. We need to be aware that no disability is contagious, leprosy is not contagious. That they are impaired or beggars does not make them less human.It would be nice if people do the little in their space to help the poor instead of blaming it all on the government.
Role of government
The Government on its own should ensure there is proper monitoring and evaluation of their policies and get tangible feedbacks so that they can address real time challenges. They need to generate adequate data to fix the problems.