Lagos, Nigeria is a city of hustling, angry bargaining, religious tension and constant competition among 17 million people struggling to get ahead. In such circumstances, the poorest of the poor, the ones closest to God’s heart, are lost in the fight. In Ilaje, the poorest slum in Lagos, this losing battle is a way of life.
Scanning the scenery of Ilaje, you are accosted by the jumbled array of colors; piece-made shacks amid run-down buildings set upon garbage-littered mud roads. The scene is almost too much for the senses. There is nowhere to avert your eyes, nowhere to escape the putrid truth of the poverty. Here amongst the assailment of filth and clutter you almost miss the presence of human life. Unless purposely seeking it, you can overlook a child’s precious glance from amongst the rubbish, as if the former is not of infinite worth and the latter completely valueless.
When you venture to meet that glance, however, you find a much more confronting reality. On one street, for instance, from inside a structure of broken, weathered concrete blocks, a hoard of tiny voices echoes into the streets. A peek inside this curious sanctuary reveals a sea of children, a mass of eyes, each pair containing an individual identity, individual hopes and individual needs. Here, in this community school, these 182 children are engaged in learning. The rows and rows of faces, all alert and aware, possess endless potential, each life awaiting its chance to rise as a prince from the ash heap (I Samuel 2:8). One of these pairs of eyes belongs to Emily.
Out visiting patients one day, Ilaje Home-Based Care volunteers were led by the cries and groans of a child to discover a little girl with boils covering her face and head. Emily had been abandoned by her father and mother and left in the care of her grandmother, who couldn’t afford to take her to the clinic. She was the first child to be “adopted” by the HBC, which helped her receive the medical treatment she needed, and has since continued to provide her with nutritional food, access to education, and, perhaps most importantly, support, encouragement and love.
The HBC workers, a group of dedicated volunteers from local churches in Ilaje, have a personal attachment to Emily, so much so that when project leader and Pastor Rex Ajenifuja visits her, her grandmother and neighbors call him Baba Emily, or “Emily’s father”.
“I’m proud of that; it gives me joy,” Rex’s face lights up at being called Emily’s father. “Emily has become a part of us.”
With 17 million people jammed into a single city, the poorest children, those in Ilaje, are not only vulnerable and helpless, but hidden. If not for someone to listen, would Emily’s cry have been heard? Rex and the volunteers of Ilaje HBC are passionately committed to listening for the cries of the children of Ilaje and doing everything in their power to help them. Because of these volunteers, the sea of eyes—and the minds, hearts and dreams that accompany them—will not be overlooked. But hundreds of other children living in the slum do not attend school because transportation is too costly and the government schools too far. Who will seek their glances? Who will hear their cries?
“Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him” (Job 29:11-12).