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Stepping Stones, Nigeria
FIRES IN THE DARKNESS

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:

RitaRita 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.

UdohUdoh 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.
On a personal level, it's good to see family and friends, and it’s the people back here who have made Stepping Stones Nigeria possible. Our first instinct was to go back to Nigeria early, but there is also much that we can achieve here – we are only in the UK for four weeks and we’ve already raised some much-needed money.

Moulding bliocks to help build the school
Virtual-Lancaster: How can people back here help?

NC: In all sorts of ways! Fund raising – either organise a fund raiser or go along to one and have fun for a great cause! On 9 June 2006, there’s going to be a SSN sponsored walk from Ulverston to Carlisle – phone Gemma for details 07974 515488.

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 til 1am.

NC: Tell people about us – look on our website for more information (see top of page). We need CRB-checked volunteers with specific skills; agricultural, medical and in working with children.  We also have a standing order link in the Sustain It page of our website – even £2 a month can make a difference to the children.

Virtual-Lancaster: Any message for our readers?

NC: Thanks for all your support! Please spread the word about Stepping Stones Nigeria, and keep your help coming in.

Web Link:
www.steppingstonesnigeria.com

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)

 

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