Christopher Omusi uses a broad range of volunteers and individuals and businesses to teach, provide career guidance, and generally help the disabled. His teams enable physically disabled people to re-engage fully with mainstream society.
The New Idea
How one treats the physically disabled says a great deal about one's ethical sensitivity and commitment. How a society treats such people defines how it will treat anyone. Christopher Omusi, a man who left a promising career to study for the priesthood, is working to help Nigerians become far more sensitive to the weakest Nigerians, the disabled. He is as concerned with strengthening the ethical state of the country as he is with helping the disabled.His approach serves both goals by seeking to engage as many citizens as volunteers helping the disabled as possible. The ultimate challenge is making this approach work on a large scale.
The state of services for the disabled in Nigeria is dreadful. The few existing facilities are generally filled to capacity, and woefully ill-equipped. The general public's attitude towards the disabled is often one of scorn and neglect, and there is little coordinated public education working to reverse these corrosive attitudes. There is virtually no outreach to the disabled population. Unless a disabled person has significant help and support from family and friends, he or she has little chance.
Christopher has only the barest of resources. He works from a warehouse in Benin City where he brings together physically disabled people who are often marginalized and neglected. One of Chris' clients was abandoned by the roadside. His services are, however, expansive. He means to go beyond meeting the barest needs, to offer enrichment and self-fulfillment: "not to just live life, but abundant life." The project already boasts groups working in art, drama, music, horticulture, and pottery. It will soon be adding weaving and textile design. Christopher uses volunteers to teach these skills, and he is determined to involve a wide-range of citizens and businesses in the project to ensure that the broad public has the opportunity to join in and interact with the disabled population. He has also been instrumental in getting the disabled from his region active in the national sports for the handicapped, triggered by another Ashoka fellow. One of his clients recently won a gold medal at the disabled sports association games in Lagos.Based on the needs of his clients, Chris solicits volunteers from the community to serve as instructors. He believes that such sharing leads to relationships that will be valuable in bridging the gap that marginalizes the disabled. The able-bodied will also gain fulfillment and awareness from the experience, and ultimately, the society will take on a more humane character.Chris plans to multiply the impact he can obtain through such direct involvement via a public education campaign aimed initially at removing people's fears, superstitions and prejudices about the physically disabled. He wants the able-bodied to understand that the disabled can contribute to the recovery of the Nigerian economy. He also hopes to encourage volunteer programs for the disabled to spring up in other parts of Nigeria.
From childhood, Christopher has had a passion for the disadvantaged in society. Chris's training in Industrial Management allowed him to rise to the position of Principal Technical Officer in the Ministry of Commerce and Industries. He resigned from this promising career in 1983 to study for the priesthood. His training for the priesthood served to motivate him to use his managerial and planning skills on behalf of the disabled. Chris has studied and worked in Holland and the United States, and his exposure to other cultures convinced him that Nigeria can and must do a better job caring for the physically disabled.