Fr. Felix Ugwuozor was
born towards the end of the Nigerian Civil
War which, for more than half a century, deeply
impacted the political, social and economic
paths of the Nigerian nation State.
Fr. Felix writes: "I
was too young to remember the last stages
of this war, but I do recall the aftermath.
These early childhood experiences were the
impetus for my present anti-poverty campaign.
When I was about three, I
repeatedly asked my father why he had to leave
early every morning and return very late each
evening to the village where we had moved
because of the Nigerian civil war. My father
went back to work at the coalmines in 1972,
when the mines reopened after the war. Each
day he commuted about 24km (14 miles) via
public transportation from our village to
the coalmines in the creek-valley city of
Enugu known as the Coal City, the capital
city of the state. He had worked in the mines
for more than 25 years prior to the civil
war, and spent the two years during the war
toiling in the farms at home to provide for
his family, his unmarried niece, and the family
of his sick nephew. A few years after he went
back to working in the mines, my father was
diagnosed with pneumoconiosis (black lung)
disease, most likely as a result of his exposure
to the harmful elements in the coal dust.
My father was the only Catholic
Christian in our entire village of Amachalla.
I guess he must have been influenced by his
contact with the early Christian missionaries
who were allies of the British mining engineers.
One thing I admired most about my father was
his genuine Christian spirit. A man of great
integrity, he was deeply committed to fairness,
justice and peace. My father exuded calm,
self-confidence and brought understated elegance
to everything he did with others. Even those
who did not welcome his religious persuasion
or his Christian lifestyle had to admit that
his motives and actions were sincere. He was
never fearful about speaking his mind and
telling the truth. His sincerity and frankness
endeared him to many, including a visiting
team of Cistercian monks who eventually located
their monastery in my hometown, Awhum in 1974.
The Cistercian monks not only became friendly
with my father, their community became close
to my entire family. Those relationships influenced
- in part - my entrance to the priesthood.
However, the bigger influence was my cousin,
Msgr. Anthony Aso, whose love for the church
and his priesthood remains unmatched by anyone
I have ever known.
I spent more time with my
father during his illness than the rest of
my siblings. Although he was inactive most
of my childhood, he made sure we often had
morning and night prayers together, particularly
the Rosary. He also made certain that I attended
morning mass every day at the monastery, and
that I focused on my schoolwork. With him
being sick and bedridden, the burden of raising
six children became the sole responsibility
of my mother, who had been a full-time, stay-at-home
mom when my father worked in the coalmines.
As my father received only a very meager pension
salary, things were tough for our family.
At the age of ten, while in my fourth grade
of school, my father died of complications
from the black lung disease, and my family's
situation became more precarious, with six
children to feed, clothe and provide tuition
and other expenses. Although my mother did
not finish primary school, she was as brilliant
as my father, and both of them deeply valued
education and wanted all of their six children
to get a good education. While their hope
was, at best, dimly sustained, it never died.
My mother was forced to undertake a multitude
of menial jobs and businesses to meet our
family's increasing financial obligations
of food, shelter, housekeeping and tuitions.
Often, despite great sacrifice, my mother
didn't have the means to pay my tuition after
paying for that of my three siblings. As a
consequence, I had to stay at home at the
beginning of every school year so my mother
could recoup and work for few more weeks to
afford my tuition fees.
While those experiences were
not pleasant, I recounted them repeatedly
during my formative years in the seminary,
and drew solace through an unfaltering reflection
of my mother's sustained and incredible hope.
I believe it was this hope that prodded her,
"despite all evidence to the contrary,"
that her painful struggle - the cost of working
more than two jobs at minimal wages to keep
her children in school - promised her and
all of us a brighter future.
Reflecting on my parents'
hope in the midst of overwhelming difficulties
- the abiding hope they kept in their hearts
that somehow, someday, their pain and their
sacrifices would pay off - set the stage for
the initial idea of what came to be known
as OneHopechildren, Inc.