By Chioma Gabriel
Her first daughter was hopelessly ill and she made a vow to God that she would help cater for hopeless children if God would heal her daughter.
In 2007,Lady(Mrs.)Bethel Obieri, a graduate of Mass Communication, gave up every other engagement to fulfill this vow by setting up the Living Fountain Foundation, a charity home that has continued to shine as a haven for abandoned and orphaned children in Lagos. She is married to Dr.Raymond Obieri and has six children and six grandchildren but the Isoko-born lady never fails to preach adoption wherever and whenever possible as she did in an encounter with GIFT GABRIEL recently.
Would you say you’re fulfilling the purpose for which you embarked on this assignment in 2007?
To a large extent, yes. I say this because it is about restoring hopeless children and giving them a second chance to life. A lot of children have passed through this home. Some came in with very terrible health challenges and God helped us to restore them. He has helped us to find homes for those who are adoptable while those who are not adoptable are adjusting to the new life; you could see the smiles on their faces.
I saw many pictures of adopted children who have become great and famous in various spheres of life pasted at your reception. Do you know Nigerians are skeptical about adoption?
It will not be totally wrong to say that Nigerians are dragging their feet on adoption, but the fact is that right now, the situation is changing. In fact, we have people queuing up to adopt.
Nigerians are becoming more aware of the fact that your inability to have a biological child doesn’t stop you from mentoring another child. If you have love in your heart, you will show it and the truth is that adoption is the greatest love you can ever show any human being.
Since 2007,what year did the highest number of people come for adoption?
Since I started in 2007, it’s been going up and never going down. The problem we have now is having enough adoptable children. Now, we are faced with the challenge of not being able to satisfy the number of people who have been approved by the Ministry of Youth.
You know, in Lagos State, adoption is so well organized that you don’t just go to an orphanage to adopt a child without passing through the rudiments of facing a panel. It is a long process and could take six months or more. Many don’t even succeed.
But isn’t that system too tedious for people who may want to feign pregnancy and keep their adoption secret?
Whoever needs to adopt, has a passion, and passion is a driving force for everything you do. The Lagos state system is very good in the sense that whoever is taking in a child must be someone who will love, provide for and see that child as his or her own.
Very soon, Nigerians will be so proud to call their relatives to say “I have adopted a baby”. You do not have to discriminate or be ashamed of any child simply because the child did not come from your womb. Who says the one from your womb is going to be perfect? Adopt, and be proud that you adopted a child. You show you are a modern person when you do not deny that you adopted a child.
If you cannot be ashamed of the improvised hair(weavons, attachments, wool, etc.)you have on your hair, why be ashamed of adopting a child? From what I have seen these few years, adopted children are great, lovely and awesome. I’m so perplexed by them!
How do you get these children?
They are brought from the Lagos state Ministry of Youth. That’s the ministry in charge of children who are abandoned or in need of care and protection. They work with an arm of the police known as the Juvenile Welfare Centre. So, if you find a child in the street, you will first go to a police station with the child, and they will in turn report the child to the Juvenile Welfare Centre.
In Lagos, we have one at Adeniji and another at Alakara. Because there are registered orphanages by the Ministry of Youths, these children are now divided into the different approved homes. So, it is the duty of the Ministry of Youths to call us here at Living Fountain to go to Alakara or Adeniji to go and pick up a particular child. Then the police will do an extract, covering the child.
We don’t just receive children abandoned in front of our gate. When we have such cases, we quickly take the child to the Juvenile Welfare Centre, reporting where we found the child just like the public would do.
In November 2011, a passer-by came into our home to report that he found a child of about a year old in front of our gate. We called the Juvenile Welfare Centre and they told us to keep the child till the following day because it was about 9pm already.
We pleaded with the passer-by to come the next morning, he did, and we went to the centre with the child. All these processes, including the adoption process, are for the safety and welfare of these children who cannot speak for themselves. Government wants to make sure they are protected because they could grow up to be me and you!
Do you follow-up on the welfare of these children after they’ve been adopted?
It is the duty of the Ministry of Youth to check on adopted children. But let me just drop a clue here. At Living Fountain, we have a relationship with the adopters of the babies here. A lot of them call, they email and also visit. Some of them have become partners of the home; helping to make sure the home continues existing so that more children can be saved. Only a few adopters take off and don’t look back.
How do feel and cope with mothering children who aren’t biologically yours?
For me, it is the most fulfilling thing to do. I’ve always worked with children. I was a teacher for years. In fact, all I’ve ever done in my life has always been with children. Biologically, I’m blessed with six children and six grandchildren as well. It’s quite fulfilling when a child has been adopted.
I see them as an extension of me, and I feel proud that they are now in a home where somebody also loves them. When I run into them in churches, shopping malls, etc., it’s always a pleasure because they begin to address me as ‘grandma’! It’s quite fulfilling because one of the things I love doing is to see things grow.
I love to plant a flower or a plant and watch it grow, and this passion extends to human beings. I love to see their outcome. Out of them, there could be a Steve Jones because God can pick something that looks useless and turn it into a world star.