The Marycare Health Center, built with the help of New Haven parishioners on the dream of former St Aedan’s and St Brendan’s assistant pastor Fr. Emmanuel Ihemedu in impoverished areas of Ejemekwuru, Imo State Nigeria, immediately filled to capacity as word of the hospital’s opening spread quickly among villagers. The crush of those seeking health care overwhelmed the limited staff, taxing the nascent hospital’s ability to fulfill its life-saving mandate.
The New Haven Independent first reported on the priest’s quest to bring life saving resources to his home village in 2009. Working through the auspices of Marycare, a New Haven based 501(c)3 not-for-profit working “to break the vicious cycle of poverty in communities marginalized and isolated because of their ethnic and social economic status,” much was achieved in the early days of the collaboration.
Life-saving water wells were dug and pumping systems installed, liberating communities from the waterborne illnesses that claimed the lives of thousands, including Fr. Emmanuel’s own sister. Scholarships were set up providing educational opportunities for young people, and a system of establishing small business opportunities through micro-loans to village women began to turn the economic tide.
In what was billed as a (Westville) Village-to-Village fundraiser to continue the life saving work in Ejemekwuru, a cadre of Westville parishioners and supporters working with Fr. Emmanuel and Marycare, devoted the next few years to raising funds for a much-needed health clinic in a region of Nigeria with soaring infant mortality rates and very little, if any, preventative health care and screening. The clinic building began to take shape in phases, as funds allowed.
This past January, the clinic’s opening was celebrated by hundreds at an official ceremony attended by local dignitaries, villagers, Fr. Emmanuel and other visitors from the U.S.
According to Marycare board member Dawn-Marie White, who attended the clinic opening with Fr. Emmanuel, the governor of Owerri, the capital of Imo State Nigeria, seeing the success and potential of the clinic promised “to add an operating room addition to accommodate minor surgeries such as umbilical hernia removal which is prevalent in many of the villagers — especially the small children.” This was an unusual but welcomed development since Marycare usually side-steps government bureaucracy to deliver care and resources directly to the needy without government oversight or assistance.
Fr. Emmanuel is expected to return to Nigeria next month with a dentist, to help with the pressing oral care needs of villagers.
White noted that the need for medical supplies and additional staff in meeting demand is now critical. “We are in the process of sending one container, but our wish list needs could fill three containers” she said. Currently there are two doctors scheduled at the clinic every Thursday. Other staff includes two nurses and one receptionist. White said that monies raised at this year’s fundraiser — scheduled for April 1, 2016, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Yale University’s St. Thomas More Golden Center on Park Street — will help fund additional doctors and doctor contact hours, additional staff, beds, medicines, and supplies. “We are seeking the funds to maintain this facility that is doing so much good already. Donors can be assured that 95 percent of their donations go directly to the center,” she said.
In what has become both a celebration as much as an annual fundraiser, attendees can expect heart-warming entertainment which this year will include a slideshow and video of clinic progress, a choir and Fr. Emmanuel is expected to lift his own voice in song. Special guest speaker and honoree will be New Haven-born, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza. The food, wines and indigenous silent auction items have always proven superlative; especially enjoyed in the context of an event rooted in a life-saving endeavor.
Veteran Marycare fundraising emcee, Hillhouse High School teacher Jack Paulishen, who was the Marycare honoree last year and received a Community Service Award, described Bishop Rosazza as being “In the mold of Pope Francis,” but quickly reordered his assessment: “ Actually, I think Pope Francis is made in the mold of Bishop Rosazza.” In a tongue-in-cheek challenge, Paulishen said he did not want to put too much pressure on Bishop Rosazza — “But we did raise an awful lot of money with me as honoree last year. Let’s see what he’s made of …”
Donations can be made directly to Marycare, 230 Blue Hills Avenue, Hartford, CT 06112. For more event information email event coordinator Lina Alpert: LinaJMA@hotmail.com or call 203-397-1653.