‘My motivation to support Polio survivors started in the Netherlands’
Humanity First is truly humane –Donald Jnr
Poliomyelitis, commonly shortened to Polio, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. It is one of the oldest, most dreaded childhood diseases. Many children did not have the opportunity to go through immunisation trips against the virus. Some others who were immunised also had the misfortune of suffering from the effects of such. This has left many of them on the streets. They grew up to often navigate through hard terrain and the scorching weather, over rickety bridges, and through slums. It was to alleviate their sufferings that two NGOs, Nigeria’s Welfare Centre for Survivors of Poliomyelitis (WELCENSUP) teamed up with German-based Humanity First, to put a smile on the faces of many sufferers on Boxing Day. Isioma Madike, who was at the event, reports
It is those who have encountered many survivors of Polio on the streets that can relate with the story of a bug that has hounded the human race with devastating effect and the enormous sufferings these Nigerians go through to survive. Many of them grew up to often navigate through hard terrain and the scorching weather, over rickety bridges, and through slums.
They dealt with numerous bumps and scrapes. In some more volatile locations, there is also the threat of violence. That was punishing, both physically and emotionally. Indeed, polio, a medical condition, has dealt a devastating blow to humanity without boundaries.
Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious virus that lives in the digestive tract and attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis in hours or days in one of every 200 children infected. It is marked by a severe and sustained high fever, muscle weakness and severe constipation. Perhaps, it was this that motivated Kexter Donald Jnr, himself a victim of the Polio vaccine tragedy, to establish WELCENSUP with like minds to help put a smile on as many faces as he can with his non-government organisation. Donald Jnr, a Business Administration graduate, who talks passionately about these Nigerians, is the president of the organisation.
He told our reporter that his motivation to support polio survivors in Nigeria started in the Netherlands where he was treated by the government of that country like someone from a privileged home. I was given a house in a city called Tilburg, he said, and free access to medical care at the expense of the government. He added: “I was placed on a weekly allowance to be able to survive and given the opportunity to go to language school to learn about Dutch culture.
I received free transport vouchers from the government to go to the hospital whenever necessary. All I needed to do was to simply call an executive taxi any time I was going to hospital and pay with a voucher. “I just felt I can try to replicate that in Nigeria with polio survivors. Then as I got to Nigeria I registered the Welfare Centre for Survivors of Poliomyelitis with the Corporate Affairs Commission.” Donald’s dream came true on December 26, when, through his organisation, with support from Humanity First, he was able to distribute items to so many polio survivors in Lagos State. Although he stated that the Boxing Day event wasn’t the first, it only climaxed on that day, he told Saturday Telegraph.
He said: “We have since been distributing these items to Polio survivors but on December 26, we organised a big event tagged Christmas GIVEAWAY to polio survivors and it was a huge success as it fulfilled our desire to put smiles on the faces of Polio survivors in Lagos, Nigeria.
“The event attracted so many dignitaries such as Chief Oriyomi Kamilu Ishadipe, the Baale of Oke Ayo Kingdom, who graciously came to identify with us. He is our grand patron. He came to support us to deliver wheelchairs, crutches, food, drinks and other items we freely gave out to the Polio survivors. There are many others too numerous to mention here.”
The event, which was planned for 20 Polio survivors, attracted so many of them that were not invited that the organisers had a herculean task controlling the crowd of these special Nigerians. Items received by the Polio survivors include wheelchairs, crutches, and cash.
There was food and drinks for everyone present also. Many of the recipients couldn’t hide their joy as some of them recounted how the government usually harasses, collects money from them and, in some cases, detains them for days. One of the recipients, Mohamed, who was given a wheelchair, was moved to tears while thanking the organisers of the event, saying that his long suffering on the streets of Lagos, is gone.
According to this Kano-born beggar, navigating the harsh weather on a daily basis is not only killing but something he’d never wish on anyone. He said: “I am so happy for this gift. If someone had told me I’d be receiving this beautiful wheelchair today, I wouldn’t believe such a person.
I really never dreamt of it because I know it’s very expensive and beyond my reach. May God compensate them so richly. “Just last week (on December 17, I was arrested by officials of the state government and taken to Alausa where they collected N25, 000 from me before I was released. Although that wasn’t the first time I had been arrested.
I was first arrested in September shortly after I got to Lagos and was also made to pay the sum of N25, 000 before my release.” Another, who identified himself simply as Adamu, from Sokoto State, also said: “You people have just done what our government could not do We can never stop praying for you people. As you remember us today, God will also remember you in your hour of need.” Sani from Zamfara State spoke in the same vein, saying he would live to always remember this day.
“This crutch I received here today will definitely aid my movement. I had always wanted to buy one for myself but I have not been able to save enough for that. This is a big relief for those of us who unfortunately found ourselves on this side of life,” he added. Others, who could not get either wheelchair or clutches, were compensated with N20, 000 each. According to Donald, “We did that so that nobody leaves here empty handed, although we did not make provisions for the crowd we are witnessing here today. But as they are already here, we couldn’t ask them to go just like that.
“However, in our next event, those that couldn’t get today will be considered first. We have taken their contact addresses for easy tracing, we shall be checking on them from time to time. This is my constituency and I can never forget them even though the government cares less about them. The little we have and could get from our partners, we share with them.” For anyone over the age of 50, Polio still casts nightmarish shadows of babies entombed in iron rungs, hobbling in leg irons and adults confined in wheelchairs. Seemingly appearing out of nowhere in unstoppable epidemics, Polio killed or paralysed millions, and mostly affected children.
The disease grabbed headlines, stoked panic and drove massive fundraising campaigns. Doctors and scientists were powerless to prevent or treat the scourge at its early incursion. Polio, as Gareth Williams, one of the famous personalities that survived the blight suggests in his fascinating study, was one of the diseases that defined the 20th century.
It is a disease that also defines the history of medicine. It was virtually unknown before the end of the 19th century. Although the disease was first noted in 1789, only isolated cases surfaced until the first epidemic struck a village in France in 1885. From then on, Polio gathered strength; there were epidemics in North America from the 1890s, Scandinavia from the early 1900s and the United Kingdom, Africa, Australia over the following 40 years.