AFTER A life-threatening operation, a grandmother from Manchester found her calling in helping abandoned children in Nigeria.
The charity she founded now celebrates its 10th year and Aunty Lydia, as she is affectionately called, has fulfilled her dream of opening a purpose-built home for the children who are left to die.
Moved by reports on a Nigerian news channel of children being seriously harmed or killed due to accusations of sorcery, Lydia Ina, from Fallowfield in Manchester, who was born in Nigeria, went on her first mercy mission to Calabar in 2009.
“I was shocked when I watched the documentary about children living in Akwa Ibom state,” Lydia recalls.
“They called them ‘witchcraft children’. They set them alight. They buried some alive. They cut their bodies. Their parents were told that they were evil and they should get rid of them.
“I felt sick and shed tears at what was happening. The government had intervened and taken the children away but I decided I had to help them.”
It was at that point that Lydia made the drastic decision to sell many of her belongings, including her car and sofas, to buy items that she could ship to Nigeria and help the children.
“They took me to where they put those children. There were 50 of them, sleeping on mattresses on the floor of a big hall,” she said. “Some still had nails in their heads and scars over their body. I was shaking. I helped to bathe the children and wash their clothes then I went back to the bungalow that I own and cooked food for them. The children were calling me mummy and begging to come home with me.”
With little help available from the government, Lydia took five of them away to live at her three-bedroom bungalow, selling more of her possessions to pay the two staff that she hired.
Returning to Manchester with a heavy heart, Lydia set up the Gapolunya Foundation, which was registered in 2012.
Gapolunya is the name of Lydia’s late mother, who was known as ‘mother of the nation’ because of the contributions she made to the community. Lydia’s efforts are now supported by a team of trustees and it is a real community venture. In addition to an annual fundraising dinner dance, members of the Manchester community leave donations of clothing and in Nigeria the locals bring similar items as well as food.
But it was this year that the charity finally helped Lydia to achieve her dream of building an orphanage…
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