MISSION OF MERCY
A trip to Nigeria with the African Women’s Health Project International gives participants hands-on experience with health problems of poverty-stricken regions
See details of the itinerary of one of our missions:
BY HELAINE R. WILLIAMS ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Publication: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Date: Mar 18, 2006, Section:Religion;
Page Number: 43
It was a 1997 medical-mission trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, that first brought “foreign missions” from a much-heard-but-vague term into something I would actually experience. That was one of the hardest jobs I ever loved, and as the years passed, a new desire began to take hold: To do mission work in Africa.
The desire became a prayer that was answered in February. My husband, Dre, and I were part of a five-member delegation to Lagos, Nigeria, our first trans-Atlantic trip, and a journey to what many of us black Americans refer to as the Motherland.
This was a combination mission and fact-finding trip on behalf of African Women’s Health Project International (AWHPI), a 2-year-old, nonprofit organization based in Little Rock whose goal is to meet the healthcare needs of poor women and children in Africa. The purpose of this trip was to set up two-day health fair, tour hospitals and speak with local health officials about health-related needs. Deun (pronounced Dee-ohn) Ogunlana of Little Rock, AWHPI founder and chief executive officer, is a native of Lagos who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years. She is also a Yoruba princess, the granddaughter of the late Oba (King) Ajasa Ogunlana, ruler of Lagos.
It was during a 1997 trip back to Lagos for her grandmother’s burial, Ogunlana says, that God opened her eyes to the lack of adequate medical care, especially when it came to poor women and children.
“When you have healthy mothers [and] women, you will have healthy families,” says Ogunlana, a devout Christian, publisher of Virtuous Woman magazine and a bridal-shop owner.
“My goal is to get the women and children all over Africa the … medical care that they need, as the Lord would permit us.” Our delegation to Africa also included Minister Brenda Jackson of Little Rock, a Calvary Bread of Life church member; and Ogunlana’s brother, Dr. Babajide Ogunlana, a podiatric surgeon in Houston. We were hosted by Nigerian Sen. Musiliu O. Obanikoro, whose namesake foundation is a collaborative partner of AWHPI. We knew AWHPI’s work would be cut out for us. U.N. estimates predict that metropolitan Lagos (part of Lagos State), with a current population of 11 million, will be the world’s third largest city by 2015, with a population of 23 million. Unfortunately, its “size and population far outstrips the physical planning efforts of government and the private sector, as well as the development of infrastructure facilities,” according to information on the Mega-Cities Project’s Web site, megacitiesproject.org.
Writer Paul Okunlolo agrees. In his online article “The power and the heartbeat of west Africa’s biggest urban jungle,” he also cites Lagos’ “widespread urban poverty, massive unemployment … emerging slums and overwhelming environmental decay,” along with health problems that include malaria, diarrhoea, a 6.6 percent HIV/AIDS rate (higher than the national average of 5.4 percent) and maternal/infant mortality rates higher than that of any other region in the world. But, as we found, Lagos’ positive aspects are numerous, too: The food, the friendliness of its people, their strong sense of family and their creative and entrepreneurial spirit.
What follows is a diary of our mission activities.