I will never forget the look of surprise and utter disappointment on the face of my closest friend when I informed her of my intention to join the Daughters of Charity. She couldn’t understand how and why a young girl with a bright future before her would decide to throw it away and choose to live with persons with disabilities. We lived in small community where there is a House where the Daughters of Charity attend to persons with disabilities in the environs. I was fascinated by the heroic works and simple life of these Sisters and the urge to render such services in love and charity was too strong to be resisted.
My vocation as a Daughter of Charity is: to bring relief, dignity, self esteem, joy, and love to persons who are poor, especially the poorest of the poor. My service with persons with disabilities started in 1997 when I was sent on mission to Madonna Community Okpanam, Delta state, in the South of Nigeria, to work with the Community Based Rehabilitation Team.
Community Based Rehabilitation Team (CBR) supports the full participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the life of their communities. It involves working closely with individuals and their families to overcome barriers through a holistic approach to a person and their environment. I plunged myself into the service with great dedication and love.
CBR covers a vast geographical area from the State capital territory to the remote villages and the settlements around it. We have more than thirty communities with a very difficult road network, whether in rainy season or dry. Worse still is the difficult security.
The first step is securing the support of the local chief. That goes a long way to help us in our services. Most often we move from house to house, seeking out those with disabilities. Many families do not like bringing them out because of the social stigma. They normally hide and deny that they have such persons at home, but after explanations and assurance they come. Most parents give their full support for we can do nothing without the consent of the families.
Our intervention and involvement is woven in four areas: (1) Education (2) Skill Acquisition and Vocational Training (3) Empowerment and (4) Health.
MY CHALLENGES: Sometimes one can be so discouraged by the negative attitudes of persons with disabilities or their parents, wanting to give up and then move ahead with those who are appreciative of the help rendered. But then I remember the words of St Vincent: “if you go out ten times to serve the poor, ten times you must found God in them”. For me this is a call to serve Christ in them. So I am consoled and keep moving with the help of Him who strengthens me.
I also experienced a lot of helplessness when I discovered there is nothing that can be done to help in some situations. In such case, I have recourse to God who is the source of all healing to perform his miracle once again in their lives, especially those who have chronic epilepsy.
The fact that most of the persons we call disabled have a lot of ability in them also keeps me on my feet. They are very strong willed not be pitied and dependent, so, they struggle to make it like any normal person. It is a thing of great joy and happiness when I look back at wonders the Lord had performed in the lives of His children.
CONCLUSION: Despite the challenges that I have encountered in this apostolate, the joy of serving the Lord in the poor and the people with disabilities outweighs the challenges. I have discovered that Christ is encountered in two ways in our apostolate. On the one hand, we encounter Christ in the people with disabilities and on the other hand, the people with disabilities experience the love of Christ in a more profound way. In the two dimensions of encountering Jesus Christ, a new Community comes to life and we all experience the fullness of life in Christ Jesus our redeemer.
SR TOYIN AMOKO FDLC