An exclusive interview with Lancaster woman Naomi Chapple of the local charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria, by Sally Perkins
In a land where 700,000 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, where all the primary schools have been shut for the last six months, and where belief in child witches endangers the lives of many, registered charity Stepping Stones Nigeria is working – and succeeding – against the odds.
Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) is the brainchild of Lancastrians Naomi Chapple and Gary Foxcroft, and was established to provide education and welfare to disadvantaged children in the Niger Delta. Gary and Naomi, who are the UK SSN co-ordinators, work without pay, and pay for their own flights, board and lodging. Every donated penny goes directly into improving the lives of the children.
Current projects include the building and supporting of a primary and nursery school for street children and orphans in the village of Uquo, Esit Eket, which is in Akwa Ibom State. Naomi and Gary are working in partnership with a small Nigerian NGO: the Childrens’ Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), to raise its capacity, to assist with urgent medical cases, and to build family-style accommodation for children. When SSN came across this NGO, CRARN had been caring for 40 street children in a basic camp behind a market stall. Rita is one of them:
Rita was five years old when her parents died of ‘incurable diarrhoea’. The villagers accused Rita and her younger brother Prince of being witches and causing the death of their parents. A benevolent neighbour took the children in, but was himself accused of sorcery and murdered, in front of the children. A family member managed to smuggle Rita and Prince out of the village to the CRARN camp, where the two have lived in safety for the last two years. Rita is an intelligent, responsible girl, who ‘mothers’ many of the other children at the camp. Unfortunately, it has recently been discovered that she has a rare cancer, Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Often in great pain, she still puts on a brave face and cares for the other children. SSN has provided CRARN with money for basic medicine, but this is not enough to help Rita.
Udoh was discovered by Gary and Naomi at the children’s camp. He had been so badly beaten on the streets that both his humerus bones were broken, and the flesh and bone of his left arm had rotted where the bone had pierced his skin. The two Lancastrians put out a personal appeal to friends and family, as CRARN had no funds to treat him. After a difficult operation and a long stay in hospital, Udoh’s arm is healing, and he is a much happier boy.
Virtual-Lancaster was lucky enough to catch up with Naomi, who is back for a short time to gather support for SSN:
Virtual-Lancaster: How does it feel to be back?
NC: It's strange to have some free time! And the wealth here in the
west was overwhelming at first – we flew into Heathrow. We’re
both missing the children, and since arriving in Nigeria last November
we’ve been active every day with SSN business; building the
school, working with CRARN, interacting with local and national government,
and working hard to solve everyday crises. SSN has been praised for
its work by the wife of the State Governor – see www.akwaibomstategov.com.
Virtual-Lancaster: There’s also a benefit
for SSN this Friday, 5 May, at Korners at the Farmers Arms pub, which
is opposite Revolution. Two rooms of DJs and a live band from 8pm
Virtual-Lancaster: Any message for our readers?
All donations can be sent to our UK address: Stepping Stones Nigeria, Main Rd, Thurnham, Lancaster, LA1 0DS, United kingdom
“Change comes from small initiatives that work…we cannot wait for great reasons from great people…it is up to us to light our own fires in the darkness” (Rudolph Steiner)