By JOSFYN UBA and BIANCA IBOMA
Nigerians wants change but in reality,what is the future of a country when a large portion of its children are abandoned, many are destitute, uneducated and do not know where their next meal will come from?
Mrs Felicia Martins of ‘So-Said’ Charity Home is willing to solve this puzzle. She has been in the business of taking vulnerable kids off the streets as well caring for their needs in the last 17 years.
She told Daily Sun recently about the difficulties of her work.
Can you give an insight into your small beginning at ‘So-Said’?
We began in a very poor environment. I didn’t have all the facilities to care for the people but I improvised. I worked with what I could lay my hands on. I provided food from what I gathered from people.
In some instances, I would pick bits and pieces of fish from fish sellers in the market to prepare meals for them. I picked crumbs from people’ tables to feed them because I had no physical cash to finance the work at that time but I had the zeal to do charity work.
I went about the neighbourhood picking torn and used mattresses. I would clean them up so they could sleep with them. It wasn’t easy but I pushed on.
People called me all sort of names while I was picking used foams but today the story is different.
Now, the organisation distributes foams to the needy. This was exactly what we had once begged for and picked from the trash bins.We appreciate people’ gestures because they made us beneficiaries and have been with us until now, that we are other people’ benefactors.
How did you encounter your first victim and what was your experience?
I found my first victim on the street of Lagos some where around Apapa, at Beach Land Estate. She had lived in Germany for some years before she became mentally derailed.
On the streets, I saw many other people with mental disorder. At one point, they could appear nice and calm, the next moment, they would go so aggressive.
She was one of them. She embarrassed me on many instances while people jeered at us. As I walked away from her, my eyes were filled with tears. I cried on my way. But I heard a voice telling me to “ Go back” from my inner mind. strength came from within and I summoned courage to walk back to the aggressive lady. Amazingly, when I returned, she was calm. Then she apologised to me
Later on, I ministered unto her. I took her in and that was how I started the home. On another occasion, the same lady, Gloria, hit my head with a bucket when I and other care-givers went to fetch water. One of the care-givers took take care of the issue, took away the bucket and calmed the situation.
She was very violent because of her condition but I thank God for His divine intervention in her case. She has been reconciled back to her people.
This is a very sensitive mission. Can you share more of the experiences you have had over the years?
Some people had approached me and asked me to help them by taking in some physically challenged persons in a particular environment they had noticed.
When I got to the place, amazingly this physically challenged person refused the offer. They bluntly refused to take the assistance offered to them.
They asked if I could pay them the sum of N6,000.00 daily and insisted that unless I paid them so, they wouldn’t follow me. They also said that they were not in dire need of such assistance without any cash donation since they can make more money sitting by the roadside, begging for alms.
They confirmed that for them, begging for alms was a more lucrative business than moving into a home permanently.
I went back to the people and informed them of the disabled peoples’ decision. I told them that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find genuine physically challenged persons on the streets of Lagos as many people disguise and claim to be disabled.
Even at that, some of the real ones are not willing to leave the streets. Begging has become a lifestyle for them.
If you were therefore, offering an olive branch to either the physically challenged, less privileged and the needy, they needed to confirm from them whether or not, they actually wanted to be rehabilitated.
Apart from persons with mental disorder, many others actually enjoy what they do. They have taken it as a vocation and a lucrative one, at that.
Our series of investigation have shown that many of the beggars on the road are mere make-ups. Some of the ways they disguise is to cover particular parts of their body with blood from fresh red meat. That is a good cover up for belief injury. They would carefully bandage it.
So, what do you do when you find out its fake injury?
They would visit us asking for help. In the long run when we discover that the injury does not exist, I would take them in, counsel them and ensure they go and acquire skill after counselling them.
It is a whole lot of experience in the course of this job. It is not funny at all
How challenging has it been especially now that recession has affected charitable work?
Yes it has affected the way good spirit people give.
This is a period of severe hardship and it is so difficult for individuals and corporate bodies to part with anything now.
Today, the first priority is to take care of their own needs. Clearly, peoples’ priorities have changed.
The way kind hearted Nigerians who used to donate generously have all withdrawn. No gift items, no cash and and even material values have also reduced drastically.
The price of food has increased so much. It is really affecting the giving and you know the need has not reduced.
I only want to remind us that amid the glamour and glitz, you have street children and destitute who roam the streets without food or shelter yet little help gets to them once in a blue moon.
Outside this circle of people in the streets and scene of luxury are children who are also homeless. They wander and move in groups making their way through the crowd tugging away at passersby as they beg for money.
How do you think this social havoc can be curbed?
Its a social problem.The Nigerian government should provide funds that can help such homes tackle the issue of street children, destitute and vulnerable people in our mist.
Homes should have independent facilities to anchor the problem. In situations where children are found in the streets and babies are found either dumped or abandoned in plastic bag on the roadside, Foundations, NGOs and homes who are in line with such challenge should have the independence and freedom to assist as well as get support from relevant authorities to either provide shelter or support the course.
Now more than ever, we have changed in the way people react to the failures of the government. People are speaking up and demanding change. People are taking their destinies into their hands.
You have an enormous task how do you juggle this charity organisation and family life?
Some women are fortunate to marry a man who supports them. I am happy for such women. My husband did not buy into my vision. Initially, when I started the home, he sent me out of the house
After a long time, people came to appeal on my behalf. Although, he accepted and allowed me back into our home but I know my boundaries. I do not compromise on my home. I have been able to balance things despite the challenges.
My children bought into my vision and have been so helpful.
In the beginning, I was going about the streets with camera crew and those who can help in carrying the insane for me. This made my husband uncomfortable. For this, I was sent out of his house because he felt I was embarrassing the family.
It got worse up to the extent where my own first son fought me. In all of these, I slept on the street for eight months when I started the project.”
There were times when I shed tears. When I see some schools discriminating against my kids, telling the kids not to come to school because they are from So- Said (charitable organisation) I would shed tears. Sometimes, when some kids are picked on the street and they need urgent treatment at the hospital, there was no transportation or money to convey them and I would resort to trekking. At those times, I would cry but today I give God all the glory for bringing us this far and changing our story’.
Some men find it difficult to cope with a woman who is successful especially with her career. How can such situation be managed to avoid friction in the home?
The change has been dramatic nevertheless. A generation ago, working women performed menial jobs and were routinely subjected. Men then were advertised as executive in various firms that demonstrated brilliantly.
Today, women make up the majority of professional workers in many countries. Across the globe, more women are working now than ever before. Coping with this change will be one of the great challenges of the coming decades.
Millions of women who once depended on men have taken control of their own economic fates.Progress has not been uniform, though, but women have globally run companies successfully.
In some countries, women earn substantially. In the labour force, women have generously increased their number. Government should pass equal rights for women in Nigeria. It is true when a woman is successful some men begins to talk down on such women.
Rich climes have seen growing demand for women’s labour. When brute strength mattered more than brains, men had an inherent advantage. Now, that brain power has triumphed, the two sets are evenly matched. Women are increasingly willing and able to work outside their homes.
Improved technology has also reduced the amount of time needed for traditional female work of cleaning and cooking.
Many Nigerian graduates are unemployed leading to increased crime rate. How can it be curbed?
Unemployment has always been a major issue for both the people and the government. There are millions of youth that neither have jobs nor are pursuing higher education, which leads to uncertain futures and negatively impacts on their dream of employment prospects.
Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and a vibrant country with huge potential. Yet, despite being the largest economy in Africa there is poverty amid the plenty. Nigerians needs to create at least 2.5 million jobs every year because the rate at which the population of our youths is increasing is not something that has to be dealt with.
Another solution is more education which would lead to a better equipped and competitive workforce that would be suitable for more job creation. Education which is the only solution to this challenge would take a lot of years for the effects of accessible education to show.
Government can reduce the price of higher education tuition fees, subsidise skill training and create incentives for public private partnerships to benefits young unemployed people. The type of education received should also undergo a change instead of valuing academics, rote memorisation and grades, schools should begin to develop creativity.