The Bathesda Home for the Blind was founded by Mrs. Chioma Ohakwe in 2005 after her experience with taking care of two of her blind brothers and sister-in-law who lost their sight. While catering for their needs, she felt the pains they went through and how difficult it was for the environment to help alleviate their plight.
With this in mind, she decided to set up a home for them and dedicated her entire life to caring for them emotionally, educationally and financially. In this chat with MUTIAT ALLI, She relied on the kind heartedness of well-meaning Nigerians and organizations like the MTN Foundation to sustain the home. Excerpts.
When was the Bathesda Home for the Blind founded?
It was founded in 2005
Why did you choose this path?
I chose this path because I know the pains blind people pass through in our society. Two of my elder brothers and my husband’s elder sister are blind and all three of them lived with me. I know a lot about blind people and what they go through, so I resolved to help alleviate their plight as much as I can.
How and when did they lose their sight?
During the Biafran war, they all had measles when we were in Enugu State. While they were being treated for it and because the treatment was not quick enough, 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 this home?
A lot of challenges were faced 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, talk less of 126 students current residing in the home.
How did you raise funds to begin this home?
At the initial stage when I started, I began in my flat at no. 8 Popo Street by Tejuosho market, Surulere. I began with 6 people after which they grew to 12, then 40. The place became very congested and small for us and when the then Chairman of Surulere LGA, Mr. Tajudeen Ajide, visited us in 2011, he saw our condition and relocated us to our present location. This place was built by the local government. We currently have a total of 126 students living and schooling here.
What can you say about today’s presentation by MTN?
The presentation I must say is 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 etc this will really come in handy for an upward of one month and beyond. I say a big kudos to them and I pray God almighty will bless each and every one of their staff and the organization. They will grow from strength to strength.
Can you kindly share with us some of your success stories?
Oh we have a lot of successes and happy stories, like five marriages, four successful surgeries that have restored the sights of the children and this year, about 23 of our students have gotten admission into various universities. One of them will be getting married towards the end of the year in December, although a date has not yet been set. We have recorded a lot of successes and it is what motivates us to continue giving.
How can you describe the role of the society towards people with visual impairment?
The society is even taking it very far. I will say let’s talk about the families. A lot of them have been abandoned by their families and for an upward of 10 years or more, no one has come to enquire about them, even if it’s an ordinary phone call, they have not shown any care, not to talk about the society. The families believe all hope is lost with them and so do not bother to even look back when they are brought. But they are wrong. There is an ex student who currently works with Ikeja Electrical Company and is being paid a salary of over N100, 000. They have different talents – they produce good music, they sing and play instruments and so on. Last year, seven of us went to Florida in the United States of America for a programme where they excelled. But when they become successful that is when their families will want to associate with them.
How often do you get gifts like this?
This is the first time from a big organization like MTN and that’s why we are super excited. But other individuals and smaller organizations, schools have been donating items in cash and in 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 pay your staff since the children’s education is absolutely free?
Just like I said we sell our craft work in churches and other places and with this visit now from MTN, we will not have to buy food for some time and that will again save us some money. Some people also make their presentations in cash as well as kind.
What are the criteria for admitting a student?
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 in case anything happens to the student. Some churches also bring some blind persons to us and the pastor of that church will sign the release 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 they are brought by their family, community or their church
What more plans do you have for them 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. Remember I told you of one of them who now works with Ikeja Electrical Company and earning good salary. Usually they stay for up to a year by then they already have something they are doing.
Do you operate a primary school also?
No we only operate at the secondary school level after which they prepare to write JAMB.
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.
Does the school have a boarding facility?
How long do they stay 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 are faster in learning and that pushes them quickly to join the main school.
Despite my losing my sight; I want to study Guidance and counseling –Anuchaogu Queen
In the cause of the interview; I met with Anuchaogu Queen who is also a student of Bathesda Home for the blind and equally doubles as the head girl, she shares with us the journey so far
Let us meet you
My name is Anuchaogu Queen, I am 20 years old and I am from Abia State. I am also the school’s Head Student
For how long have you been in the school?
For close to one year now
Do your parents live in Lagos?
No. My parent live in Abia state, Eastern part of the country, it is from there I came to join the school.
How did you hear about the school being that you do not live in Lagos state?
When I finished my secondary school, I lost all hope of continuing school because I could not register for my WAEC. I then began to research other schools that had the facilities to cater for blind students and I found out about this place from a friend of mine who is also blind and is currently in the university. She is a product of this school and she told me about this school and how they can help me achieve what I wanted to achieve and when I came here, I saw it was as she said. I also found out that it’s not just the Founder that is helping us we are also surviving by the help of well meaning individuals and organizations outside this place, including churches because this place is a non-profit organization and it has been set up to orientate us and give us a better life.
How did you lose your sight?
It was 2011 and I can’t say exactly what happened but I remember one moment I was seeing and the next moment, I lost sight in one eye and I couldn’t see with it again. They started treatment but nothing worked because I eventually lost both of them.
What is your plan in life?
I want to study Guidance and Counseling.
What is the mood of the students with these donations from MTN?
We are so very happy because we are always excited when people like this visit us. We are also very happy when our needs are mentioned and people try to provide them for us. When we don’ eat well we get upset and it slows us down because without our sight, we make more use of our brains and our brains need to be nourished for it to function properly. In addition, we will like MTN to further assist us with materials for our educational pursuits. We need laptops, Braille machines, audio recorders, android phones, and printers and so on, will help us to learn much more effectively and further our academic pursuits.