Inveterate Hugger Rescues Orphans in Nigeria

Lane Hartill, CRS regional information officer for West Africa, submitted this report.

Nigeria orphan

Christiana Oga is the orphans and vulnerable children coordinator at the dioceses of Otukpo in Benue State Nigeria. Mathew Ojah, pictured here, is one of the children Mrs. Oga works with. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Christiana Oga is a hugger. When you have 2,000 children, you have to be. They all call her Mama, and with that slow, swinging gate, and that bouncing laugh, you kind of want a hug too. She doles them out to anyone so don’t worry, she’ll give you one.

Mrs. Oga is the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Coordinator for the Diocese of Otukpo, one of the 26 diocese in Nigeria that CRS supports. But don’t use that name around her, or around the children she helps. She doesn’t like it. To her, they aren’t acronyms, they are children. “What can we do about this name?” she asks. “I always look at these children as my own.”

Oga spends her days in the villages around Otukpo, Nigeria, located in Benue State. CRS did a study in 2008 and found a startling number of orphans. Nobody is sure how many there are now, but judging by the women who come out of the woodwork when Oga enters a village, begging for her to help with children that have been left with them, there are many.

It weighs on her. “I wake up at 2 or 3 am and think: How do I tackle this problem?” she says. Some recent late night stumpers: how to get a teenage girl who dropped out of school to go back; and where to come up with money to pay for one orphan’s mechanic classes. She may resort to her own purse, a source she turns often to, despite her small salary.

“You have to learn to have that stamina and not to attach sentiment (to the orphans) but have empathy and think of a way forward,” she says. All this can be stressful. Cold drinks and movies seem to help.
So does playing with her grandchildren, she says with a chuckle.

The need is so great, especially in distant villages, Oga has started her own organization with a network of outreach workers helping more than 600 children.

I went with her to check on Adiku, Samson, and Monday, three boys who live together and who have had it rough the last few years. When Adiku and Samson’s parents died, Adiku became the head of the house. An uncle came and rounded them up, took them to northern Nigeria, and made them deliver soda all day long. They were forced to sleep at night outside on cardboard. When they returned to the village, neighbors knew they were alone and that they could get away with paying them almost nothing to work in their yam fields.

But you don’t do that and get away with this when Mrs. Oga is around.
She’s got village chiefs on speed dial and has a glare that can melt iron. When she learned that the boys were being exploited, she knew just what they needed: a mother.

“I’m a mother and I know what it is to transfer love,” she says.

She found Anna, a mother of eight children. Anna has her hands full with her own kids. But Oga could see she had heart. The boys now have someplace to eat and sleep if they want to. And they have a woman who looks after them.

They’ve even started calling her mom.

– Lane Hartill

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