Radical Advent: Samuel & Elijah's Story from Ilaje, Nigeria

As a part of our Radical Advent Campaign, we want to share a story of two precious boys from Ilaje.  Samuel is 7 years old, and his brother Elijah is 4 years old. When Elijah was still a baby, their mother was chased away from their home after being accused of adultery, leaving Samuel and Elijah in the care of their father. However, the boys’ father died in a motor accident three years later.  Since then, the boys live with a relative who tries to provide for them with the little money he earns from fishing. Unable to pay for their school fees, the brothers had been out of school for two years before being discovered by the local, volunteer Care Workers of Ilaje Community Based Organization.  

Today, they are enrolled at Masory School; Samuel is in first grade and Elijah is in nursery school. Both boys receive a nutritious meal each day and are able to play with other children in the program. The regular home visits they receive from the Ilaje Care Workers shows Samuel and Elijah that they are loved, and that they still have parental figures in their lives that care deeply about them.  Make this a Radical Advent by supporting Hands at Work in improving access to secure sources of food and education for poor children in Africa!  Please consider making a donation to our Christmas campaign here.

Radical Advent: The Story of Eight Siblings from Ago-Okota, Nigeria

As a part of our Radical Advent Campaign, we want to share a story from Ago Okota, another community located within Lagos, Nigeria.  Ally, Precious and Caleb are the youngest of eight children in their family.  They lost both parents to a tragic car accident a few years ago.  Since the accident, the children have not been able to afford their rent.  One by one, they dropped out of school, unable to pay for their school fees, uniforms or books.  A few of the older siblings had to move to stay with a relative while other siblings tried their best to find menial work to earn enough to feed their younger siblings.  They were eventually forced out of their home for not paying their rent and ended up living in a slum in Ago-Okota community.  Ally, Precious and Caleb would stay home while the older siblings would go out looking for ways to make enough money to afford even one meal a day. 

Things started looking up when a couple of the older siblings, Martha and Florence, were told by one of their neighbors in the community about the 'We Care' community school, which supports and cares for orphaned and vulnerable children.  The sisters visited the school to see if their three younger siblings could be enrolled. Several assessments were made by the Care Workers who realized these children were indeed incredibly vulnerable, and they were enrolled at the community school.  Both Ally and Precious are now in primary school while Caleb is in nursery. The children receive one hot meal per day--their only meal--at the community school. They are so happy to be back in school, learning again and making new friends.  Make this a Radical Advent by supporting Hands at Work in improving access to education for poor children like Ally, Precious, and Caleb!  Please consider making a donation to our Christmas campaign here.    

Radical Advent Campaign: Ilaje, Nigeria

As a part of our Radical Advent campaign, we want to highlight Ilaje, located within Lagos, Africa’s largest city, on Nigeria’s southern coast.  A city of 16.5 million people, it is home to some of the worst slums in the world. In a 2006 report, the World Bank identified nine slum communities requiring urgent response. Hands at Work is active in three Lagos slums, including Ilaje, which is notorious for its location on the edge of an ocean bay and even extending out over the water with homes built on stilts.

The scale of overcrowding in Ilaje is mind boggling: Up to 30 people live in some single room shacks where people are required to sleep in shifts. Aside from a few private schools just outside Ilaje, no school is accessible to the poorest children. Half-dressed children roam the streets during the day, working as peddlers to create at least a small income. The ocean bay floods the community at high tide, leaving residual water lying around homes and feeding a malaria epidemic. HIV is prevalent in the area. There is no access to clean water.

In early 2007, a pastor named Rex was transferred to take over a tiny church building in the slum. Rex and his wife, Patricia, were shocked at what they saw in the community. They challenged their congregation members, as well as others in Ilaje, that something had to be done about the situation, and so began walking the streets as a team to seek out the most vulnerable among the children, widowed and sick in the community. Eventually they formed a formal community-based organization (CBO) reaching out to many vulnerable children in this community. Hands has been supporting this CBO by mentoring and training volunteers, and through monthly donations from a group of advocates in southern California and a non-profit group from the U.S. called Poverty Stops Here, Hands has enabled local volunteers to to care for 150 children in Ilaje!  Make this a Radical Advent by supporting Hands at Work in reaching more vulnerable children in Africa!  Please consider making a donation to our Christmas campaign here.    

One Teacher to 150 Students! (NIG)

Can you imagine a teacher, jumping from one room full of students to another, teaching lesson after lesson to 150 kids captivated and eager to learn?  Peter is the coordinator of the Hands at Work Service Center in Lagos, Nigeria, and he has transformed many children’s lives because of his dedication and passion for education and a desire to bring children renewed hope.  

Peter’s journey to Lagos came with a great cost.  Peter turned down an offer to teach at a university and a scholarship to study at a university in the UK, because it was not what God desired for him.  God had a different but greater purpose for Peter.  He says it was a tough decision, a decision he wept over.  However, God soon led Peter to Elekuru , one of the poorest areas outside of Ibadan, Nigeria.  The village was wrought with devastating poverty, and Peter saw the lives of the children there wasting away without anyone to help them.  This is where Peter unleashed his talent and passion, and he started a school in February of 2002.  

Peter would start each class with a short prayer asking God, “Where do I start today?” and the Lord would lead. The school began with thirty students, but pretty soon it grew to 150 students in seven classes with Peter as the only teacher.  Peter would jump from class to class and he did this for eight years!  He says it was the grace of God that allowed him to sustain this work.  In 2010 Hands came in to help with two additional teachers to reduce Peter’s work load.  Peter’s wife is also doing a similar work in another community with sixty children.  Peter says, “It was God all the way and I give him thanks for all he has done and would yet do.”

A Trip That Changed My Life.

I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to South Africa with a team from Wellspring Church in 2007. I had seen my share of human pain, suffering, and disease during my career as a head and neck surgeon. So I thought I would be prepared for anything I might come across while in Africa. I was mistaken.

The trip began with a visit to an HIV clinic. Before I begin to describe what I saw there, I’d like to explain the concept of an AIDS defining illness. There is a short list of diseases, which include mostly rare tumors and infections that only patients in the late stages of AIDS develop. If a patient manifests any one of the diseases on this list, they are defined as having “full blown AIDS”. I saw three patients with an AIDS defining illness on the first morning of my visit to the HIV clinic. To put this in perspective, I have seen only two patients with an AIDS defining illness during my thirteen years in medicine (9 years prior to the trip and 4 years after); I saw three cases in just one morning in South Africa. The AIDS epidemic in Africa was astonishing to witness even for a health care worker.

The next part of our trip was spent visiting the different townships where we saw first hand the devastation this disease had caused on entire communities. A common theme was to see grandmothers taking care of their grandchildren after one or both parents had died of AIDS or other diseases. In the worst cases, the oldest children would head up their household if no other family members were available. Poverty, hunger, and a lack of educational opportunities compounded the problems created by a broken family support structure.

As I paint this portrait of life in an AIDS afflicted Africa, the situation may have seemed hopeless, but it was not. It was actually hope FULL. Hope abounded because God’s love for the orphans and widows was clear and evident. You could see God’s love in the way the children were able to smile and laugh in spite of their circumstances. You could see His love in the resilience and strength of the oldest children when they stepped up to take care of their younger siblings. You could see God’s love in the Hands care workers who devoted their lives to looking after these orphans. The evidence of God’s love for them was palpable and I took great comfort in knowing He had this same love for me.

I learned many things on this trip but there are two lessons that will stay with me forever. First, I saw myself in these orphans. I thought this is how God must have seen me before I came to faith. I was an orphan living in spiritual poverty without hope for a better future. Then God came along and chose to love me, plucking me out of a hopeless situation, laying hold of my life, and claiming me as His own. We’ve all come from such a place. When you see such a graphic, visual illustration of the depths from which God has saved you, you can’t help but be changed by that. The second lesson was realizing how immeasurably God had blessed me. I had Christian parents who faithfully raised me from childhood rooted in His Word. I had a loving wife and healthy kids. I had a satisfying career that happened to provide a comfortable living for our family. I was blessed by any measure. But I was compelled to carefully examine my heart to see if I had been living my life as if I had been entitled to His blessings or entrusted with them. I felt deeply convicted that I needed to be a better steward of the things God had given me. On our last night, I spoke with George Snyman (founder of Hands at Work) and promised him, and most importantly our Lord, that I would never forget the lessons I had learned and that I would be vocal about the things I had seen in Africa.

After the trip, we moved down to Los Angeles to start a new job. Fast forward three years to 2010. By this time we had been at our new church in LA for 2 years. It was always my hope that George could eventually come speak at our new church but unfortunately, due to logistical reasons, this did not come to pass. However, I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of George speaking in my hometown, so I arranged for George to speak at my house during a dinner gathering for friends. I knew that it would be a blessed experience for them to hear what God was doing through Hands but I also hoped that a number of them would feel led to help financially support the orphans. I figured if 7 or 8 of the families contributed together, that we could support a village of 50 children. The message God gave through George that night spoke deeply to everyone in attendance. One of my friends, Sam Kim, was so moved that he recruited some of his own friends to donate with us. Before I knew it, the hope of supporting one village became the reality of supporting two. For the last nine months, we have been supporting just over 100 orphans in Ilage, Nigeria. This whole experience has taught me a lesson I have learned repeatedly over my life and that is, if you show a little faithfulness in responding to God's call over your life, He will exceed your expectations.

I would like to leave you with one final thought. If you have never been to Africa, I would encourage you to go and see what the Lord is doing there. I promise that your experiences there will change the way you think about what it means for God to love someone. And quite frankly, I’m certain that in the process, it will change your life too.

Stephen Jo

If you would like more information about how you can go on a team or as an individual click here.

Azeez Aina & Bilikisu

In 2008, Azeez Aina (age 7) and Bilikisu (age 5) lost their father in a motor vehicle accident in Lagos, Nigeria.  Prior to his death, the father’s income provided the girls with housing, schooling, and health care.  Since his death, their mother has had difficulty caring for both girls and her 2 year old son. Without her husband or support from relatives or in-laws, she could no longer afford to provide the same level of care for the children. Aina stopped attending school because her mother could no longer pay for the tuition. 

After her husband’s funeral, Aina and Bilikisu’s mother relocated to Ilaje community to find more affordable housing.  There, she found a one-room house for herself and three children as well as a menial job cooking and cleaning for a street food vendor.  She has worked long 12-hour days between 6 AM and 6 PM.  Although she was able to bring her 2 year old son to work, her young daughters were left alone at home until she returned from work to care for and feed them.

Thanks to the support of a group of Christians in the Los Angeles, California area, Hands at Work has been partnering with the Eagle Foundation CBO to provide basic health care services, education, and a daily hot meal to orphans and vulnerable children in Ilaje. Aina and Bilikisu’s mother learned about Eagle Foundation CBO from another woman who cares for the most vulnerable children in Ilaje community. She brought the two girls to the school to see if they could receive basic education there.

The two girls were taken in by the community school in February 2011 and are happy and thriving in their new school environment. Aina is in Basic 1 and Bilikisu is in Kindergarten 2. Since joining the school, the children have received uniforms and writing materials as part of their education. They also receive basic health care including a de-worming program in May 2011 given to all the children in the community school. They no longer have to wait for their mother to come home from work each day to be fed as each child is given one meal per day at the community school. In addition to providing education and meeting basic physical needs, a care worker from Eagle Foundation CBO also provides support and stability to the family.  The care worker is establishing a nurturing and trusting relationship with the children by helping with homework assignments and making home visits while their mother is away at work.

Would you like to get involved and help support a community?  Find out more here.