GENESIS OF ONE HOPE
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Fr Felix was born towards the end of the Nigerian Civil War which, for more than half a century, deeply impacted the political and economic paths of the Nigerian nation state. 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 to 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 coal mines in 1972, when the mines reopened after the civil war. Each day, he commuted about 24km (14 miles) via public transportation from our village to the coal mines 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 the 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, late 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 my siblings did. Although he was inactive most of my childhood, he made sure we often had our morning and night prayers together, particularly the Rosary. He also made certain that I attended morning masses every day at the monastery, and that I paid the needed attention to 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 mines. As my father received only a very meager pension salary, things were tough for our family. At the age of 10 ten, while in my fourth grade (Primary Four), my father died of complications from the black lung disease, and my family’s situation became more precarious, with six children to feed, to clothe and provide tuition and other expenses to keep the family together.
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 schools fees. Often, despite great sacrifice, my mother didn’t have the means to pay my tuition after paying that of my three siblings. As a consequence, I had to stay at home at the beginning of every school year so that my mother could recoup and work for a few weeks to pay my own tuition fees.
While these experiences were not pleasant, I recounted them repeatedly during my formative years in the seminary, and drew solace through an unfaltering reflection on 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 schools –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