‘We rely on corporate organisations and individuals to run Bethesda home’
With inadequate facilities for visually impaired persons in the country, the Bethesda Home for the Blind was established to fill the gap in service delivery to the blind. Its founder, Mrs. Chioma Ohakwe, who established the home in 2005, said she started the home after her experience in taking care of her blind brothers and sister-in-law. She told DANIEL ANAZIA in this interview that while catering for their needs, she felt their pains and how difficult it was for the environment to help alleviate their plight. She also speaks on why she is passionate about caring for physically challenged persons, particularly the blind.
Why did you choose this path?
I chose this path because I know the pains blind people go through in our society. Two of my elder brothers are blind and my husband’s elder sister is also blind. All three of them lived with me. So, I know a lot about blind people and what they go through.
How and when did they lose their sight?
During the Biafran war, they all had measles when we were in Enugu. They were treated. However, because the treatment was not swift, it affected their eyes and they lost their sight. During the war, a lot of people got infected with measles and suffered kwashiorkor and their case was not different.
What challenges did you face when you were setting up the Bethesda Home for the Blind?
We faced a lot of challenges but we thank God for his faithfulness. When you are destined to achieve something great, no matter the challenges, you will always excel. To feed one person is not easy, needless to say feeding 126 students.
How did you raise funds to begin?
I began in my flat at No. 8 Popo Street by Tejuosho Market, Surulere, with six people after which they increased to 12 and then 40. The place became very congested and too small for us, and when the then Chairman of Surulere Local Council, Tajudeen Ajide, visited us in 2011, he saw our condition and relocated us to our present location. So, the local government built this place for us. We currently have 126 students living and schooling here.
Can you share with us some of your success stories?
We have a lot of successes and happy stories. We had five marriages, four successful surgeries that have restored the sights of the children and this year, about 23 of our students got admission into various universities. One of them will be getting married towards the end of the year, precisely in December. We are yet to pick a date.
How can you describe the role of the society towards people with visual impairment?
The society has not been fair enough to the blind. Most of them have been abandoned by their families for upward of 10 years and more. No one has come to enquire about them, not even a phone call! The families have not shown any care, needless to say the society. The families believe all hope is lost with them and so, they do not bother to even look back when they bring them here. There is an ex-student who currently works with the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company and is being paid over N100000. They have different talents – they produce good music, sing and play instruments. Last year, seven of them went to Florida, United States of America for a programme where they excelled and even their families are not aware. But when they become successful, they will go back to their families.
What are the criteria for admitting students?
There is no particular requirement. When a blind student is brought to us, we call our doctors to check them first because sometimes, what some of them need is just surgery. But before they are left with us, we need to know where they are coming from, the background and the history of the person’s sickness. The parents also have to sign that they are leaving them with us. If the person is an orphan, the traditional ruler from the person’s village will have to sign a release form and to be the contact person in case anything happens to the student. Some churches also bring some students; the pastor of that church will sign the papers.
Does this mean you don’t pick any random person off the streets?
No. We do not just pick up any body off the streets because if there is a problem, we may not know the person’s next of kin or who to contact. We take people based on referral or when their family, community or Church brings them to us.
MTN Foundation recently visited the home and made a presentation. How would you describe the experience?
The presentation, I must say, was very good and we are excited about it because at least for another month, we will not have any feeding challenge. There are beverages, cereals, rice and others. These will really come in handy for an upward of one month and beyond. I say a big kudos to MTN and I pray God Almighty will bless them. They will grow from strength to strength.
How often do get support from corporate organisations like MTN and well meaning Nigerians?
This is the first time a big organisation like MTN is paying us a visit and that is why we are so excited. But other individuals and smaller organisations and schools have been donating to us in cash and kind. In addition, the children do some art and craft and we sell them in churches after writing to them to allow us make some sales.
How do you generate funds to sustain staff since the children’s education is absolutely free?
As I said, we sell our craft work in churches and other places and with the visit from MTN, we will not have to buy food for some time and that will again, save us some money and some presentations are also made in cash.
What more plans do you have for the students when they graduate from here?
We don’t send them away, they remain here until they get something meaningful doing or get admission into school. Like I told you, one of them now works with the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company and is earning good salary. Usually, they stay for a year by then they already have something they are doing.
How do you integrate them into the school system when they arrive?
When they come in new, we begin the integration system with arts and craft. That is the first thing they do when they come in and the way they count the beads and other stuff tell us when they are ready for more educational work.
How long do they stay in the school?
Some students may have been in SS1 or SS2 before losing their sight. This will determine how long they stay because they will have to begin afresh learning so many things. Sometimes, they learn very fast.
Do you operate a primary school also?
No. We only operate a secondary school after which they prepare for JAMB.
Does the school have a boarding facility?
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