By Chris Onuoha
Bishop Charles Ighele is the General Superintendent of the Holy Spirit Mission (aka Happy Family Center).
Ighele has been involved in many life-changing initiatives to help the society and one of it is the multi-million naira ‘African Children Village’ project. In this interview, he explains the idea behind the project.
What are the things you are doing to help the society?
In our ministry, we initially saw that people will gather in the hall, pray, praise and then go home. A church that does not impact a community is not complete.
The church is for the people. In our ministry, we carry out projects that impact the people, whether Christians, Muslims or any other religion. We have as one of our projects the ‘African Children Village’ and many other projects that people are not even aware that our ministry is running.
Can you tell us more about the African Children Village and how far you have gone with the project?
One of the social problems in Nigeria today is that many teenagers, young ladies in particular get pregnant indiscriminately. Some of them throw these babies away. It is so common now. A Divisional Police Officer in Lagos once told us that, every week, two or three babies abandoned are brought to their station.
This is out of hundreds of such in Lagos. Some kill the babies; some sell them to ritualists while some abandon theirs on the streets. Now, we have had cause to stop some from selling their babies and brought them here to see what we can do with them.
If you take an environmental scanning, you will see that hundreds of babies are thrown away every year. It is a social problem and, based on that premise, we now have to think of setting up an African Children Village to cater for these children. In the first phase, we have to construct a structure of about 30 bungalows. It is like a town, hence, the name, African Children Village. Each bungalow will have a live-in mother – someone who loves children, passionate about being with kids.
And someone who might have had experiences about children of such nature or perhaps wants children of her own and maybe has no husband. But they must love children. They will be selected from the African countries. Each home will accommodate 4 – 5 children with a mother they know, who will bring them up as a family.
At the home they will grow up together, with the woman as their mother and other kids as their siblings. This is different from the typical orphanage homes. For the children, this is the only town they know as their own. From here, they will grow up, go to school, learn, become independent and finally integrate into the society. We will get people that matter in the society to pay for their education. This is what we are doing now with the resources in our hands.
Is this coming as a result of your life experience or maybe somebody that is related to you passed through such experience in life?
No! I grew up and I was raised by my both parents. I have no such experience while growing up; however, I must say our ministry is family-centric because it is what I am passionate about. The family is so important to me.
That is why, sometime in 1996, we started a weekly media broadcast entitled ‘Marriage and Family’ programme in Benin. We were the first to start such and it was a widely watched programme by millions of people. The issues of family mean so much to me. When I see a family break up, I can cry.
Where is the project going to be located and I am sure it must have a huge financial involvement?
It will be sited on a location at the outskirt of Lagos. What our ministry did was to secure the land first. A Christian ministry abroad that got to hear about the project became interested.
We are also depending on different individuals, groups and organisations for the actualisation of the project. Part of our plan is to name each bungalow after any donor that helped in building it. We are modeling a western touch African village here. It is going to be a beautiful place.
Are the kids in this village adoptable?
Yes! They can be adopted as provided by the law. This can be done at a minor stage. After a given age, they will not be adoptable again. Once the children begin to know themselves, we can’t release them. But as little babies, they can be adopted. Besides, I believe so much in adoption. For me, your child is who you put your values into.
I know of a particular couple in their 60s who adopted six children. The couple is dead now and the children are keeping the family name alive. And most people do not know that the man and his wife did not have children of their own.
Then, these girls who get pregnant are ashamed of their act. When they come to us, we confide in their parents and pastors and take them up to stamp out the stigma. Sometimes, they believe we are the only people that can tolerate them. We don’t tolerate but love them. We give them second chance. That is why we established an NGO that we call, ‘New Life for Teenage Mothers,’ so that they can pick their lives back again. Most of these girls, after going through rehabilitation in our place, get married or reconcile with their parents. This is part of what we do.
Another aspect of the African Children Village is that when a girl gets pregnant and the parents may not like to see her around, the family will sign an agreement with us to allow the girl stay with us throughout the pregnancy period.
After delivering the baby, there will be another undertaking to either sign the child out to the village or accept both mother and child back by the parents.
An incident happened sometime ago when a young girl gave birth to a baby boy and the parents got mad and said ‘we don’t want a bastard.’ At eight months old, the girl’s parents buried the young lad alive. It was a gory story that happened years back. When the lady came to me, I sought her permission to preach with it as a testimony.
With these experiences, some families are ashamed of unwanted pregnancies and we want to cover their shame by giving the children life and opportunities to exist. When girls or families throw children away or sell them to ritualists, it is bad and I call it another form of slavery. It is child slavery. We want to fight it and wake up the conscience of this nation for people to know that a nation that does this cannot be blessed by God.
Talking about partnership, who are partnering your ministry on this project?
There some Americans who are partnering us on this project. For now, we are working with them, although they also have limited resources. They have come to inspect the place and have got committed.
With that effort, some part of the project will be completed in a short while. After that, we hope that this will encourage them to support more for the completion of all the projects. These Americans are interested in solving problems in Africa than our indigenous people.
They sacrifice a lot in giving and they also trust my ministry for the integrity and accountability that we are known for. They have tried our readiness to partner them before by sending some medical relief package to us to distribute to Africans in need. We did it and such trust endeared their confidence in partnering us. They harped on our integrity to show more interest in our projects.
This project was built out of my personal vision and to stand out among people. Greatness to me means service you render to people and not on personal accumulation of material wealth. That was what Jesus taught us. He said to the disciples while they were arguing about who is a great man, he said ‘the greatest man is the servant.’ This is an advice to our politicians to serve the people well instead of robbing the people of their wealth and calling it greatness.
You spoke about 30 house units. What about other facilities?
All other basic infrastructure and recreational facilities are factored in the project plan. This is a huge project that I embarked without money. I believe in the power of vision. When you are genuinely doing a project to serve humanity, no matter how huge, one way or the other, help will come. The money is big but I believe it shall be completed and thereafter attract other interests, foreign tourists including our indigenous people to the site.
With this kind of project, I hope it shall not be seen as another baby factory?
Everything is tidied up legally and fully approved by government. We are operating under government guidelines. We strongly believe in giving to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what is His. I am a law abiding citizen and I hate to disobey the law. Everything we are doing will be transparent. We will not cut corners or go against government rules.
If you are to put a cost to this project, what will it be?
We have a consultant who has put all these in paper. It is huge and the amounts in hundreds of millions. We are not afraid of the cost because help will come. All we want to create is a modern village for children that were initially disadvantaged or abandoned in the society.