Despite a U.S. health care system in transition and often described as being broken, the majority of Americans can still access health care when needed. It is difficult for us to imagine what it might be like to live with no health care, no doctors, no hospitals and no medicine.
That is the situation facing thousands living in Ejemekwuru, Imo State Nigeria, hometown of Father Emmanuel Ihemedu, a former assistant pastor of St. Aedan Church in Westville. It is a situation the priest and others are working to change.
A beloved and charismatic priest, Emmanuel has made many friends here. Some are former parishioners, others who do not necessarily share a common faith with the Catholic clergyman and current pastor of St. Justin and St. Michael churches in Hartford. Three years ago, as he was transitioning to his new parish in Hartford, Westville neighbors held a “Village-to-Village” fundraiser at Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery to support the work of Marycare a New Haven-based charity bringing life-saving development to the people of Ejemekwuru and its surroundings. The organization was founded in 1996 by Anne Bates, a trained nurse, peace worker, social worker, missionary and all round lifesaver.
Fr. Emmanuel serves as vice president of Marycare, and frequently returns to Nigeria where the organization has established an effective network with a remarkable track record of getting things done. Unlike many charities whose donations are gobbled up by administrative costs, 95% of all donations to Marycare are applied to end-source needs and programs.
The vision of bringing a health clinic to the impoverished area of Ejemekwuru was seeded years ago, and is now in the initial stages of being realized. Land for the project was donated by Fr. Emmanuel’s own father, and his sister, who is a nurse, will help train staff, according to Marycare board member Lina Alpert, of Westville. Alpert and other MaryCare board members are presently organizing a new funding effort to help raise the thirty-thousand dollars needed to build, furnish and supply the modest clinic. Designed to have one ward, four rooms, and a reception area, the clinic will provide prenatal and general health care for some 10,000 area residents. In a region where one-in-seven women die during childbirth and where one-in-five children die before age five, the need for health care is critical.
Holding a sparse but budding sapling in her Westville home, Alpert explained that Marycare hopes to plant a significant orchard of “Moringa” trees adjacent to the hospital. The trees are rich in essential vitamins and amino acids and will help provide nourishment for the many children who suffer from malnutrition. Acknowledging that hunger is a problem even here in America, Alpert said that Americans should feel good about extending their generosity and help to the people of Ejemekwuru because the need there is so great: “They have absolutely nothing” she stressed.
Construction of the clinic, which is entering phase 2, will provide employment and training opportunities for local workers and builders as part of Marycare’s ongoing efforts in economic development, infrastructure improvement, agriculture, education and health care.
Helping to accomplish the goals of this special Marycare project here, will be Lyric Hall’s John Cavaliere, who has donated the use of the Hall. Cavaliere, has been the beneficiary of recent community generosity in helping to rehabilitate Lyric Hall after a series of devastating floods. He said he is happy to be able to give back and help support this worthy event.
The celebration and fundraising event which is sponsored by Marycare, features entertainment by the “Caribbean-American Dance Group” and others, and includes a silent auction; African jewelry and beads made in Nigeria, indigenous textiles, art and sculpture will be for sale. Fine foods and refreshments will be provided.
The hospital clinic, yet to be named, is an honor awaiting a generous benefactor whose contribution would need only be measured in thousands, not millions. FR. Emmanuel said that while he fully expects the clinic to be built by the hands and contributions of many, he would not mind naming the clinic after a majority contributor, as is sometimes done in these matters. “The important thing is that healthcare is brought to thousands of poor men, women and children who presently do without” he said.