I wake up as early as 7a.m on the third Saturday of the month, usually excited about the trip to the charitable homes that my friends and I have chosen to visit. Working with vulnerable kids and the less privileged has affected me in ways I never imagined. But my journey towards realizing the importance of service and giving back hasn’t always been straightforward. I gradually adjusted to the idea of service as part of everyday life, as part of my life story irrespective of my financial status.
The journey of compassionate service started for me during my days at the University. In February 2015, the priest at the college chapel relayed the message of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, that “this is a year of mercy,” and “that we need to show mercy to those in need…” Those words hung in my mind and even when I would try to brush it aside as just another speech about perfect Christian conduct, it kept bubbling up to the surface. Later that night, I’d give in to the nagging thoughts and ask, just how do we show mercy and to whom?
I struggled with these thoughts until a few days later, when, suddenly, it came! Although, I was certain of what I had to do, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Of course, it would have been easier to personally visit an orphanage with gifts; but there would be a greater sense of satisfaction and achievement if more people became involved. That was it – the idea of building a community around the mission to show mercy to those in need.
Once my mind was made up, I called my friend, Chisom. Intuitively, I knew the network of people to call upon; they were those who already had a predisposition toward charity. What I had to find out was whether they would commit to a longer-term project. So, I told them my plan. Chisom and eight other friends immediately agreed to it. All nine of my friends agreed to get together and reach out to homes and centres serving the less privileged and work with them in-house once a month.
Our first point of call was the Little Sisters of the Poor, a home for the elderly in Enugu, in the eastern part of Nigeria. Being the first place we were visiting, we were excited about the task and the possibilities. Of course, we fretted about our offer being turned down. But once we got there and spoke candidly about our plans to the staff, we were well received. We were excited to spend time with the elderly. The experience was new. The possibilities were endless.
Soon after we got there, we set about helping out with the chores they had for the day. We took over the cleaning of the windows, doors, the kitchen area, bathrooms, and others. While a group of us focused on cleaning, others assisted with cooking. That day, we would work for three hours. Perspiring a bit, looking a bit frazzled, hair out of place or overly tucked in like a nun’s, we assembled outside the Little Sisters and then we did it: We took a picture! In the car, we did it again: we took a group selfie! All the while, laughing, cracking up about each other’s unusually less than perfect looks, laughing because we knew we would do it all over again with much pleasure.
The next month, we visited the FSP Medical Centre, a home for abandoned children living with disabilities. What struck us was the littlest of them all, a six-month old baby who was abandoned by her mother but had been brought into the home some days earlier. I held her and looked at her little face. Her eyes were warm and striking. I thought of the circumstances that must have led her mother to abandon her, the thought that the child would be better served by being given up. I thought of her future, the days ahead, the struggles ahead.
We were troubled by the loads of laundry lying around, and pondered about how much extra effort that must require of the staff, or of the kids living with one disability or another. We set about doing the laundry for the kids. Hours later, after the visit, the girls and I got together and talked about our experience at FSP. We exchanged stories of how much easier it was to go as a group, and how much our mutual passion for service motivated us. We discussed the fact that the staff piled up the children’s dirty wears for a while before finally being able to wash them. That wasn’t cool. So we decided that we’d come up with a long-term project to help change this, something we could accomplish before graduation. We then agreed that our visits would be on the third Saturday of every month.
On this second visit, we took another group selfie. It was an exciting part of the experience. We took two group selfies before leaving the centre that day and said a prayer too. As we drove away, knowing we would return again to this or another centre, I knew in my heart that showing compassion is one of the best gifts that one could ever give.
Stephanie Uzoh, LL.B.
PEIF Fund Mentee, Class of 2016.