The Story Behind OneHopeChildren, Inc.


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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.

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