By SAM EYOBOKA
AFTER some years in the banking industry, Reverend Christina Bamidele George (nee Ogbemudia) resigned in 1985 and went into business with her husband. In 1990, she became born again and almost immediately felt a leading to a unique mission to dedicate her life to the cause of saving abused, abandoned and orphaned children in the society.
Rev. (Mrs.) George founded Strong Tower Mission which is the parent body of Little Saints Orphanage, which became the first licensed orphanage in Lagos State, and since its inception it has rehabilitated hundreds of children, including babies.
The orphanage, which was founded in June 1994, has also provided new families for some of the children via adoption and reconciled some of the children with their original families. The Little Saints Orphanage now has branches in Akowonjo area of Lagos which is for boys, Abule Egba for younger girls and children with special needs and the Ogudu branch which is for grown up girls, who are in higher institutions.
It is a special house for them so that they will be able to focus on their studies. The orphanage has a documentary, Cry for Mercy, which chronicles the heart rending stories of different abandoned children and how they were rescued sometimes in very delicate conditions.
After a visit by a delegation from Pastor Eskor Mfon Foundation to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Pastor Mfon to the orphanage a day after the April 29, 2012 Joy Night programme, our reporter had a chat with the founder/president of Strong Tower Mission, proprietors of Little Saints Orphanage. Excerpts
How do you ensure that items donated to the orphanage get to the children?
They definitely get to them. We have over 100 children in three branches with administrators and assistant administrators who ensure that everything donated is used by the children. As the founder I make sure that I monitor what goes on. We are all very accountable; we are missionaries who are called for this particular work.
We are care givers. When you look at our children, you can see that they lack nothing. They all look well and attend good schools. I can tell you that we are very accountable and all the items, even above what is donated, get to the children. I am a donor to the orphanage and from the documentary you could see that my husband donated one of the houses that they occupy.
What has been the greatest challenge so far?
The greatest challenge remains the fact that we never expected to have so many children. Our vision was to have just 25 kids that we can look after. It was a personal vow that my husband and I made with God that we are going to look after 25 children in our lifetime, but we found out that the issue of abandonment was a very serious problem in Nigeria especially in Lagos.
So, instead of 25 children, we had over 60 children within a year and that was what inspired us to collaborate with the Social Welfare of Lagos State to encourage Nigerians to adopt children. Adoption took off, and I can assure you that the first set of children that were brought to the home have all been adopted and they are doing well in their various families. Some of them are abroad. In short it has been a long journey, but it’s been fruitful.
How do you ensure that these children are properly brought up by those who adopt them?
The Ministry of Youths and Social Development are very strict and they carry out independent inquiry concerning the family wishing to adopt before approving adoption. They have very strict conditions and without meeting the conditions, you cannot adopt a baby.
One of such conditions is that such family must have a good accommodation that is conducive, and where the child would be shielded from child abuse, kidnapping and such social vices. They have good conditions aimed at protecting the child.
Adoption is still done in a very secretive manner in the country, obviously because of stigmatization. Is there anything the government is doing to make adoption an open affair?
The reason why adoption is a closed affair is because of stigmatization. But Lagos State government is trying to encourage adopters to do open adoption, because it has to start from somewhere. If it is made open and people see how adopters take care of such children, I think eventually adoption will be seen as an admirable thing rather than something that will lead to stigmatization. It is a process and I believe that we will get there.
You also talked about fostering a child. What do you mean by fostering?
Right now, Nigerians are only interested in adoption because adoption is a permanent thing; permanent in the sense that the child can not be taken away from them; he or she remains their child permanently as a blood child. On the other hand, fostering is more like being a guardian or a custodian over that child on behalf of government.
That means that a child that is fostered could have parents who are interested in his development but might not have the wherewithal to take care of the child. What we are saying now, is that Nigerians should come out to foster children even when their biological parents are still alive, so that such children can have access to good home, education and good things of life as long as the foster parents can afford it.
Like me, for instance, there are lots of children that are with me, who have grown up in the orphanage; they are not my biological children but I am their spiritual mother while my husband is their spiritual father. We are like guardians over them. We are there for them as parents.