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CODISA: Reaching out to needy, disabled

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Engr. Olugbenga Olabenjo is the Chairman of The Committee for the Disabled (CODISA), an organised group within the Chapel of the Healing Cross, Idi-Araba, the Chapel of the College of Medicine University of Lagos and Lagos University Teaching Hospital. The group, which was formed 33 years ago when some members of the worshiping community felt the need to meet and pray for relations who had physical challenges, now caters for over 30 Homes and Institutions for the disabled. In this interview with Margaret Mwantok, he spoke on the journey, challenges and the upcoming anniversary of the group.

What are some of the successes CODISA has recorded in the past 33 years?
CODISA has evolved considering where and how it started. Over the years, it has become a platform for reaching out to the needy and the disabled in the society. One of the landmark achievements of the group is the formation of Spinal Cord Injury Association of Nigeria (SCIAN). CODISA was instrumental with other people in forming that group. Even SCIAN’s movement to its permanent site was through the grace of God with the instrumentality of CODISA and like-minded people. Now, over those years, it has grown into a much bigger body, relating to 31 Homes and Institutions and other organisations that care for the disabled.

What is the relationship between CODISA and the Chapel?
CODISA started as a private group of people meeting together, but it is now one of the groups recognised in the Constitution of the Chapel of the Healing Cross. Apart from that, members of the Committee are not elected or appointed, unlike other Committees of the Chapel. Members of CODISA join voluntarily and as at now, we have over 120 voluntary members. It is the platform, which the Chapel uses to reach out to the disabled and needy in the society.

Tell us about the big step CODISA took recently, in taking students of Bethesda School of the Blind to the United States, how was the group able to fund that?
Incidentally, Bethesda is one of the homes we reach out to. Every year we have our yearly programme, they join us there, and they also use this Chapel for their yearly thanksgiving. This year, after their thanksgiving, they made an appeal on the platform of CODISA, to the Chapel congregation, that they have been invited to a programme in the US, and they only needed to pay their fares, other expenses would be borne by the organisers of the programme. They wanted to take as many as 15 students. Offerings were taken at the Chapel for that purpose. Each student required N560, 000.00 for a return ticket. Under the auspices of CODISA, we were able to raise funds for about three students. The Chapel Council decided to augment what was raised through offerings and donations. At the end of the day, we were able to send four students.

What other projects have you commissioned or are planning to commission?
There are quite a number; we do two sets of projects every year. We do what we call CODISA direct and indirect intervention projects. The direct projects are funded by CODISA, while the indirect ones are funded by friends of CODISA, people who have supported us through the years and have been inducted as honourary members of CODISA; people like Mr. and Mrs. Adedayo of Tasty Fried Chicken and Chief Dele Fajemirokun. What we do every year is that we go to all the homes and schools and identify their needs. From the list of their needs, we prioritise, based on whatever fund we have; we also send some of these lists to friends of CODISA who directly fund these projects. The money does not come to CODISA, but to the homes directly; sometimes, they get the contractors themselves to execute the projects. We have commissioned three CODISA direct projects this year: we supported Down Syndrome Foundation in Surulere, Cerebral Palsy Centre also in Surulere and the Family Vocational Institute For the Disabled, located at Arepo, Ijoko, after Sango Otta. We provided them with basic needs like generators, matresses, food items and so on. We have commissioned till date ten indirect projects and we still have another four to do. Some of these projects are located at Bola Memorial Primary School, Ikeja, (inclusive unit), Modupe Cole, Akoka, Blind Centre, Oshodi, and Muslim Primary School (Inclusive Unit), Badagry. Lagos State decided that education of handicap people would not be done in isolation. So, in the existing schools for normal school children, they created inclusive sections for the disabled, and we relate directly to those units.

Do you have organisations or bodies that support you financially?
CODISA is not an NGO, in the sense that we are not registered by CAC. We are under the Chapel of the Healing Cross; a platform under the Chapel for reaching out to the disabled and the needy in the society. Most corporate organisations deal with well-structured NGOs. But even at that, we get support for our programmes from some corporate organisations. Every year, we have three major programmes to mark the anniversary of CODISA in the month of October. We usually start with CODISA Workshop, which we use for sensitizing the public about issues relating to disability. Then we have the Ability Day at the National Stadium. We bring all the disabled children from the various homes and institutions we relate with, to display ability in disability through participation in different games. We round the anniversary with a thanksgiving service and a reception in the Chapel. Most of the gifts we give them on that day are sponsored by corporate organisations. We are not affiliated to any international organisation.

As I said earlier, we are not an independent NGO, our contact is the Chief Resident Minister of the Chapel, Very Rev. Albert Olorunmade. For those who may want to support us through the CODISA fund, the chapel has directed us to use one of its accounts for that purpose, but donors should indicate that the fund is in support of CODISA. The Guaranty Trust Bank account number is 0014348580, with the name, Chapel of the Healing Cross, Idi-Araba.

How would you describe the impact of CODISA on these schools and homes?
Some of these homes and schools are not getting subventions from government, and they depend on organisations like CODISA and other charitable individuals to support them. I think God has used CODISA to touch these Homes and Institutions.

What are some of the objectives of CODISA?
CODISA itself is work in progress. Some objectives we have achieved and some we are still pursuing. Our primary objective is to assist homes, organisations and inclusive units in schools with their needs. We also want to act as a platform through which products and outputs from the Homes for the disabled are marketed, and income generated for individuals and homes. We are seeking to network and collaborate with international groups as well as local collaborations with homes for the disabled and individuals.

What are some of the challenges of managing this group?
The major challenge is funding. Without funds, one can be as compassionate as anything, but cannot reach out. Over the years, we have invited some well-meaning Nigerians to our functions and some are collaborating with us. For the past five years, individuals who are not part of our worshiping community sponsor 90 per cent of CODISA projects. We depend on such people for funding.

Being a group within a chapel, do religious activities interfere with what you do?
No, in fact, the Gospel of Saint Matthew shows us that our Lord Jesus Christ did not discriminate. There is no religion in compassion and charity; we are all children of God.

What other programmes do you have lined up for the anniversary?
The anniversary is not a one-day event, but a whole month affair. We are starting on Saturday, October 7, with CODISA Workshop at the Chapel. The theme this year is ‘Ageing Gracefully; Part Two – Our Responsibilities As Caregivers’, a continuation of our last years’ theme. This has to do with our responsibility as caregivers. This workshop also intends to prepare those who are about ageing for that phase of their life. We have various resource persons. Elders Forum from various churches have been invited.

We are also encouraging the older people to bring the younger ones along. The second activity is the Ability Day, which would be on Saturday, October 14, at the National Institute for Sports, National Stadium, Surulere. All the 31homes and schools that we relate to would be on ground competing in an open-air healthy environment.

On Sunday, October 22, we will round the anniversary up with a thanksgiving service and reception at the Chapel of the Healing Cross, Idi-Araba. The Guest Preacher for that day is Venerable Tunde Oduwole. After the service, there will be a reception at the same venue. It is during the reception that we do a fund raising for activities for the coming year.

As the leader of the group, what is your vision for it in another 10 years?
CODISA has grown. When we started, we were only praying, then we started reaching out to homes, and today, we are doing even more. The vision is that we will keep expanding the scope of CODISA in terms of the homes that we adopt. We are also looking at how we can directly take care of these homes. Last year, we realised that there are no special homes for the elderly in the country. We are looking at creating a Recreational Centre for the elderly. We are thinking beyond that, where we will acquire property to build a proper home away from home for the elderly, with trained nurses and doctors to attend to them.


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CODISAOlugbenga Olabenjo

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