Director’s Column

Let Us Get Involved

Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can’t help them,
at least don’t hurt them”.
– Dalai Lama.

As a little boy growing up, I felt the urge to embrace a ministry of helping those in need. The inspiration to embark on this cause is borne out of my theology of Ministry, which is the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, the hope and voice of the oppressed; thus my response to the priestly ministry as informed by the entire ministry of Christ summarized in the prophesy of Isaiah, thus: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, set prisoners free, To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God; To comfort all who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit”. (Isaiah 61: 1-4)

God’s purpose for these physically challenged persons, like for everyone, is to live fully and enjoy their humanity, of which it appears sometimes that the unfair treatment of the society has stripped them. MAWUI is established to address and respond to the plight of the physically challenged people in our communities who are often neglected, and only attract temporary or passing pity from their neighbors who are equally unable to do much to alleviate their suffering and frustration. It is therefore, an invitation to all and sundry to be part of the group that promotes better life for these brothers and sisters of ours.

Move Around With Us Inc. (MAWUI) is a response to divine invitation to love one another as God loves us (cf. John 13: 34). Virtually every person likes to be loved and appreciated. The greatest source of pain and ill feeling is in not being loved. We all like to be respected, appreciated and treated with dignity. People detest being neglected. Whenever we are loved, appreciated and respected, we have the strong feelings that we have a natural dignity that stems from our being made in the image and likeness of God. God has given us the privilege to participate in His essence through partaking in a communion of life and love with Him (cf. Gen. 1: 26-28); and extending this communion/relationship to our fellow human beings (cf. Gen 2: 23). These gifts and callings are for everyone. However, some group is being neglected on a daily basis. It is part of our vocation of participating in the creative work of God, to offer such group a chance to live their lives more fully.

I was driven by the plight of a great priest with whom I have a very close relationship. He has great influence on my vocation as a priest because of his practice of radical Christianity and deep commitment to his priestly vocation. For a couple of years now, he has been physically challenged. The last time I went home, I went to visit him. He was in a pitiable condition, with his bedroom upstairs; he sits there all day, confined to his armchair. This is a man who used to be a very active pastor, now condemned to total immobility that he hardly enjoys the simple pleasure of sunshine on his skin. With the staircase, it is a herculean task for the young men around his parish to lift and carry him downstairs to enjoy fresh air and the sunshine. I thought to myself: “a serviceable room downstairs would be more appropriate, to enable him move around in his wheelchair and enjoy some form of independence no matter how little.

There are a lot of other people in similar situations in our various communities. Peoples’ attitude towards them tends to be that of pity, for those who are kindhearted; and infringement on their human rights, at times, even bullying, from others. It is not uncommon to see discrimination amounting to abuse towards physically challenged persons. Such inhumane treatment can move one to tears. It is often not easy for them to gain formal employment, enjoy inclusive education and career opportunities to develop themselves. Even gaining independent access to certain areas in their immediate physical environment can be an impossible feat. It is also true that even the ones with entrepreneurial skills find it difficult to access credit for their business. No one is condemned to merely exist. We all have been called to live. Government efforts to serve them sometimes come in the form of charity and patronizing benevolence, instead of an acknowledgment of their ability to make meaningful contribution to the society.

For the more privileged physically challenged persons who have the means to travels to more developed countries, theirs is a different story. They enjoy the great opportunities to live their humanity more fully in spite of their physical challenge. A typical example is the story of the erudite scholar and prolific Nigerian Novelist, who is also the author of the bestseller, Things Fall Apart , Professor Chinua Achebe. Achebe was involved in an auto crash in 1990, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. His journey of seeking medical attention brought him back to the United States of America where he was a professor at Bard College, New York, Brown University, Rhode Island and the David and Marianna Fisher University. As a result of his paralysis, Achebe was confined to a wheelchair but he could manage his environment and do most things for himself. The society gave him the opportunity to live a good life, as independently and comfortably as possible in his condition.

The story of “a man crippled from birth” who was carried and placed at the entrance of the temple called “the beautiful gate” in Acts of the Apostles 3: 1-10 comes to mind. He begged for alms from people who came into the temple to pray. Nobody knew this man could ever walk or do much for himself until the day he encountered Peter and John. As usual, he expected Peter and John to offer him whatever change they might have in their pockets. These two followers of Jesus Christ had no money to give him, instead, they gave what they had, which was the healing power of Jesus Christ, the kind of gift he never imagined – the ability to walk, run, jump, clap and praise God. Peter and John offered him the opportunity to MOVE AROUND WITH OTHER PEOPLE. With this gift, I believe that man never had to go back to begging and completely depending on the charity of people at the “Beautiful Gate” to survive. He regained his independence and the beauty of working to support himself. It is therefore our desire to offer the physically challenged persons in our communities, opportunity to live “purpose-driven” and fruitful lives.

(The Inspiring Story of Ifeanyi and Ikenna)

Ifeanyi and Ikenna are twins, born to a hardworking and respectable peasant couple. The twins were born very healthy and developing fast. But at the age of three, Ikenna was struck by the terrible virus that causes poliomyelitis; and this left him with a paralysis of the legs. Their poor parents were unable to provide him with adequate medical care. Ikenna’s flaccid quadriceps femoris could neither support nor carry his little growing body. His parents saw his situation as an illness and simply resigned to fate.

In little Ifeanyi’s mind he wondered why his brother could no longer crawl, stand, walk, run or move around and play with him. With time, Ifeanyi began to realize that Ikenna’s problem was not laziness, as his young mind had earlier wondered. His brother instead needed help; he needed to be brought along, not left behind. So he decided to share in his brother’s challenge by being patient with him and supporting him in every way that he could. Ifeanyi’s education was delayed as a result of Ikenna’s condition. He refused to commence schooling without his brother. He wanted them to be together to enable him provide the support that Ikenna will definitely need. When both of them finally got registered at the local school, they were both in the same class. They attended the local church together for religious education classes. They spent their recreation times together. As kids, Ifeanyi was always seen dragging his brother Ikenna to be wherever he went. Sometimes he would bring him into the play field so that he would feel part of the group even though he knew that he could not do much in terms of mobility. Ifeanyi considered Ikenna as “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh”.

One might wonder how little Ifeanyi who could hardly carry his heavy school bag was able to move his brother around to different places. The secret was that he considered it his responsibility to ensure that his brother, who was already suffering did not have to suffer more. In his little mind, he had the ingenuity to provide mobility for his brother by constructing a piece of wood, with a piece of foam on it to produce a soft surface for his brother’s comfort. He attached four rounded objects under the wood to serve as wheels.

As grown ups in the high school, they remained as inseparable as ever. The piece of wood became inadequate in enabling them to get around together. They had grown in size and weight! Ifeanyi resorted instead to carrying his brother and lifting him through the steps of the school building into their classroom. Sometimes he carried him along on his back. Ikenna of course was heavy, but that was no trouble to his brother. He would lift him joyfully with perspiration dripping down his forehead. People would get worried for Ifeanyi because of Ikenna’s weight on his back. Sometimes they would ask Ifeanyi to put Ikenna down or let him stay home. For Ifeanyi, Ikenna’s weight was not a burden; he joyfully accepted it and shared his brother’s challenges because according to him, “he is a part of me”. Ifeanyi realized that although Ikenna was physically challenged, he needed to live his life as a human being. He needed to be given an opportunity and empowered to also Move Around With Us…