Tell us more about what this work has started.
At first it started as a collection of clothes and other small objects to bring to Africa. Half of the material was sold to raise funds, and the other half was for me to distribute to those in need. I let myself be guided by God at this stage, and I have always felt him close to me. Everything started in the city where I was born and where my relatives still live, Benin City. I set out and I looked for those in need, regardless of culture or religion. In the city of Lagos, I visited the poorest villages, which were mainly Muslim, and I gave clothes to many families. In my city, I went to the hospital where the children are born and brought a gift to the new mothers that could help them get by. I asked for nothing, only that they would pray by saying: “God, thank you.”
Over time, I came to see a serious problem that afflicts Nigeria: the orphans.
Last year, I found myself helping two children, ages 8 and 9, who had been raped. The story of the 9-year-old girl is emblematic: she was an orphan and was sent to live in Abuja with an uncle’s family. One day they sent her to buy some things and during the journey she was raped. After this, the girl was rejected by her uncle’s family, because in Nigeria the victim is considered guilty of rape. It is believed that the female has within herself a demon that forces a man to rape her. This is the Nigerian reality; people are enslaved to these damaging superstitions.
We are far from Nigeria. We have sad images of people from Nigeria, terrible news of the Boko Haram massacres. Can you give us a brief overview of your country?
Nigeria covers a vast territory full of different religions, cultures, traditions. There are more than 200 languages spoken and every city has its own dialect. The only way to communicate is in pidgin English (a simplified version). One thing I can say with certainty is that it is a very corrupt country, and this is a tremendous plague that depends on the people’s ignorance. I’ll give you an egregious example.
Young people who want to enter university must take a paid entrance exam. The total money paid last year for this examination amounted to 36 billion euros, and it all disappeared. That is, instead of ending up in the university’s bank account, it was divvied up illegitimately. What justification was given for such a shortfall? Official sources said that a giant snake ate all the money; and the people believed it without batting an eye. Voodoo and other evil superstitions are very deeply rooted among the people, even today.
There are other things that baffle me: there is a great lack of faith in young people compared to when I was born, and a lot of school absenteeism. It has triggered a wrong way of thinking, so people get the idea of running away to Libya and then coming to Italy. Once it was considered bad to have a daughter, but now it’s the opposite, because it is the female who can make more money by coming to Europe.
Yet now, in this great, wounded, and complicated nation, there is the little seed of light you have planted. You built a house, right?
There is an office in Nigeria that is supposed to take care of the orphans, but it doesn’t really do its duty. Along with the employees of this office, I’ve been to see the streets where children live and sleep, abandoned. It’s heartbreaking. As soon as they see a woman they say, “Take me, mother!” And you would like to take them all. It is not possible; to start with, I managed to take five.
So yes, I built a house that is not an orphanage; I wanted to call it a “Home for God” because he helped me to set it up. I started doing the paperwork and the foundations of the building from scratch. I found myself with a strength that I did not think I had; and of course, some friends and relatives also gave me a hand. I would like this place to be a focal point of help for the children’s future, not just a roof where they can eat, drink, and sleep. I also bought some land that could be planted to allow us to have a self-sufficient economy and support ourselves on our own. Thank you for allowing me to tell my story and thank you for any help you want to give to my foundation, which is called Unchangeable God of Mercy and Grace Foundation.