International Day of Persons with Disabilities is celebrated every year on December 3rd. In recognition of this day, we take a look at the great work being done in the Compassion Centre for Physically Challenged Children in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. A ministry of the Religious Sisters of Charity, the centre aims to educate and rehabilitate each child according to his or her needs.
The Centre marked the day with a small event sponsored by a family who came to celebrate with the children. The event started at 4pm with a talk titled ‘Ability in Disability’ delivered by a motivational speaker invited by the sponsor. After the talk, questions were answered followed by entertainment, presentation of gifts to the children and refreshment. As part of the celebration, the children, together with other charitable homes were invited by an NGO called Life Line to Air Force Children’s Park in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. The children from Compassion Centre presented drama to demonstrate how a physically challenged child rose to the position of honour in the society despite her disability. The children came back to the Centre with gifts. They felt encouraged after meeting with other physically challenged children and adults at the Park.
Owned by the local Catholic diocese, the Compassion Centre was founded in 1982 and was originally known as Compassion Home. The Religious Sisters of Charity were then invited by the diocese to oversee the management of the centre in 1992. Co-founder and medical director Sr Pauline Butler had seen the centre grow and provide for hundreds of children over thirty years before her return to Ireland almost three years ago. Throughout this time, the Sisters have strived to improve standard of care by constructing new buildings for the children, leading to the creation of four new homes. The Santa Maria Nursery/Primary School next-door – the Compassion Centre’s former home – provides the younger children with a high-quality education.
Care provided by Sisters of Charity
Staff provide 24/7 support to the children in their care. Two sisters, Sr. Jacinta Chukwu and Sr. Maureen Anoje, with the help of 27 staff serve the 29 young residents. The work of the centre is divided into three different units: childcare, health and education. The childcare unit is responsible for the overall care of every child and adheres to the Congregation’s child protection policies. Children are taught practical skills that enable independence and encourage self-belief in their potential, helping them lead fulfilling lives.
When Sr Pauline Butler first arrived at the Compassion Centre in 1992, children could only crawl on their hands and knees. Together with the healthcare unit, Sr. Pauline arranged corrective surgeries to help them to walk. While children wait for their surgeries, occupational therapy helps them to stand up, and the use of wheelchairs greatly increases their mobility. Following corrective surgery, the students receive physical therapy to learn to walk with crutches. More than 1,000 corrective surgeries and 30,000 physiotherapies have been arranged by the Compassion Centre since its foundation. Over 500 adults and children have also received shoes and callipers (femur support), 200 patients now have prosthetic legs and more than 19,000 children and adults have received crutches.
The education unit works with the local community to integrate the children into society. In the early years of the centre, children lived at the centre while attending both primary and Secondary School. Now, in an effort to involve the students in their home communities, they typically attend the nearby primary school, have their corrective surgery and physical therapy, and then return to their families for Secondary School. The Santa Maria Nursery/ Primary School next door has 550 pupils in total, with students from both the Centre and nearby villages and towns. Pupils from Centre are provided with free education and the Centre relies on donations to pay their school fees, although many of them win scholarships.
The Centre has helped many children throughout the years, including Gaus Ogan, who has become a barrister and is happily married. Gaus credits the work of the Religious Sisters of Charity with helping him to lead the life he has today, “the Compassion Centre played a fundamental role in who I am today. The Sisters helped me to survive and to me, that is a great victory.”
Challenges faced by centre
Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian economy shrank by 1.8% in 2020. Donations to the centre have decreased, and the centre have been forced to cap the student intake. Corrective surgeries are quite expensive and there are long waiting lists. While the children wait for their surgeries, they must be housed, aided with physical rehabilitation and be brought to school. To avoid compromising on patient care, the centre only takes the number of students that it can sponsor.
The future of the centre
In 2020 The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF declared that polio was no longer endemic in Nigeria. Unfortunately, cases were recently reported in the north of the country. As long as children suffer from polio, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Compassion Centre will care for them, fulfilling their vow to devote their lives to the service of the poor.
Caption: A celebration at the Compassion Centre on International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Caption: Sponsors who came to celebrate with the children