MORE THAN A MILLION SMILE
Pastor Mrs Esther Olugu Ukpai
It was a state of bewilderment when the ultrasound confirmed that I was going to have twin girls. “You are going to have twin girls” said the Doctor. “What! But no one had had twins in my family and in my husband’s family as that then”, I retorted. We were just baffled at the grace and faithfulness of God. Numbers 23:19 says “God is not a man that He should repent, has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken and He will not make it good”?
On that fateful day, being 29th September, 2004, the un-identical twins, Goodness and Mercy arrived, just 4 minutes apart. Goodness was always the happy and cheerful one while Mercy was always the crying type.
My husband got a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and travelled to Canada for his master degree program in May, 2005. Having been denied a family visiting visa which would have saw our family travelled together to Canada, my husband had to travel alone, leaving me and the 3 kids behind. “If you are applying from Nigeria, the chances of you getting a visitor’s visa are very low”, says Cohen, a Canadian immigration lawyer.
My Joy Was Short-Lived
However, the joy of having twins was short-lived. On the 10th of March 2006, sickness struck. Goodness and Mercy were down with sickness. I rushed them to the hospital. After observations, the Doctor said that “it was an infection.” So we were hospitalized and placed on treatment. Two days post hospitalization and treatment, Mercy was discharged, but Goodness couldn’t get better. She continued to receive treatment. At this time, not because of the initial “infection” that they were diagnosed with but of excess antibiotics given to her in the cause of treating the “infection”.
The Doctors Were Getting It All Wrong
Sadly, it turned out that the Doctors were getting it all wrong. She became anemic. On the 6th day of hospitalization, there was a need for blood transfusion. Unfortunately, when my brother in law and I opted to donate blood, we were told that we cannot donate because our blood couldn’t match hers. It took another 48 hours to get blood and transfusion was done.
On the seventh day, because of how obvious severe anemia and reactions on her body were, I was disturbed because there was no improvement. I saw Goodness just going like that. When my husband called from Canada, to check on how we were doing, I told him the situation. He immediately requested for a change of Doctor – a specialist or take us to another hospital. All these while, the owner of the hospital, a peadiatrist was not around. She was in the USA. She was always on the phone consulting and directing the resident Doctors on what to do. A new Doctor, supposedly, a more experienced one was assigned to take over. It was the new Doctor who now decided to run more tests on her to know exactly what was wrong. When the result came out, I couldn't believe my ears, it was malaria positive++. “Chai! A common disease that could have been easily treated had already taken deep tool on my Goodness”, I screened.
I Never Knew That I Was Carrying A Dead Child Over The Night.
On the eighth day, being March 20th, a tired mom holding her little Goodness dozed off to sleep. I was woken up by the morning Doctor and nurses who were there for their morning shift. “Madam, can I have the baby?” asked the Doctor. With open heart, I gave him Goodness. He took her down stairs to his office. I did not know that I was carrying a dead baby. Goodness died in my arm over the night. My husband who has been calling me to know how we were doing was again on phone with me that morning 5.45am and I was telling him that Goodness was with the Doctor for observations. Only for the Doctor and nurses to come back to my room, and held me, saying: “Madam, Goodness was already dead when you were carrying her. I am sorry she is dead.” Hmmm! This is the part I wish I never have to recount, because I get emotional and feel it all afresh. I screamed and bolted from my husband who was on phone with me. I couldn't hold myself together. I felt I have lost everything. I felt that God was no longer watching.
War Against Malaria Declared
Within 72 hours, my husband was in Nigeria back from Canada. That was exactly on the 23rd of March, 2006. He returned with bags full of clothes, wheelchair, and medications.
I was surprised for it seemed as if he was already planning for the trip. I asked him “What are all these for?”
“It is a war to finish.” he replied: “I have declared war against malaria. I want to turn my mess into a message and nothing can stop me. Since we couldn’t save Goodness, now come a golden opportunity to save other Goodness out there. Let’s prevent other parents from another grief.”
I saw tears and passion in his eyes. I felt a father who is in pains, a father who is determined. He told me that he had already called on 15 of his Doctor friends to come and help him fight this war because he alone cannot do it.
He was with us for 6 months and made sure that we were fine before travelling back to Canada. He said to me “It is better I lose my scholarship than to leave my family broken and rush back.”
So, in 2006 December, a three days free medical mission was flagged off, beginning from the 28th to 30th at Amangwu Ohafia. It was our first medical mission with 15 medical Doctors aside nurses and other medical personnel. Over five hundred people received free malaria treatment but there were no surgeries.
He was so excited that he was able to put smiles on people’s faces despite his pains. Life brings its own ups and downs and we are all faced with several challenges, and during this time, we need a lift more than a million smile.
During this medical mission, we felt overjoyed seeing people in need receiving help; people without hope; children with simple boils, but were left at home because of poverty. Seeing the smiles from their faces was healing to our fresh pain. So we started thinking how so simply putting smiles on people’s faces can cause us to forget our grief? Indeed, putting smiles on other people's faces through our pains and rediscovering of smiling formula was an accidental discovery.
Even up till date, his best moments outside home are when he is on missions*. In 2014, he went on medical mission twice –January and August. When I asked him if he would not take a break, his response was:
“ The more missions I go, the more smiles we put on people; and the more smiles we put on people, the more smiles we have and the better I feel”
Millions of people have benefitted from CHAMA’s over 15 years of medical mission. CHAMA with partners and teaming volunteers has built schools, provided clean water, empowered single mothers and widows through skill acquisition and local agriculture, provided bed nets, over 600 surgeries done, helped put smiles on children through sharing Goodness and set up a soup kitchen for the seniors in Canada.
CHAMA has an orphanage in, Uganda, and day care in Tanzania. This orphanage is going to change lives and put smiles in the faces of vulnerable children. Over 100 plots donated to CHAMA in Uganda.
CHAMA WAS BIRTHED
We thought that we have discovered an outlet for our pains and secret of smiles. We started finding ways to sustain it. That gave birth to Challenge AIDS and Malaria in Africa (CHAMA), in honor of Goodness. The overall vision of CHAMA is: To turn the pain of a Child loss into a message: that no Child should left to die of Malaria and AIDS needlessly, irrespective of Race, Location, Class or Gender.
These million smiles wouldn’t have been possible without the selfless voluntary services of CHAMA volunteers, medical personnel: doctors, nurses and lab scientists who abandon their personal businesses and families for Goodness’s sake and to the glory of God, just to put smiles on the faces of those in need.
Imagine the smiles CHAMA have put on people’s faces over a decade of CHAMA’s missions? It worth more than a million smiles.