Community Champion: Meet Fr. Peter Abue Who Is Rebuilding Rural Nigeria Through Quality Education
After series of interviews and testimonial from community members, Ibrahim Olalekan had a chat with the Community Champion where he narrates to RuralReporters his journey into the Priesthood, his passion for community service, challenges and future prospects.
One unique feature of Fr. Peter Abue’s work is the state of the art structures he built in Ogoja and Obudu. The Parish Centre, which houses his official residence in Obudu is second to none in Obudu Community.
RuralReporters exclusively gathered from Fr. Peter that the worship centre cost about N110 million naira. He told RuralReporters that with the help of individual donors within and outside the country, the parish centre was constructed.
Acknowledging the community’s contribution to the existence of the parish centre, Fr. Abue disclosed that the community contributed largely to the project despite their low income.
THE COMMUNITY HAS FELT YOUR IMPACT AS A CHAMPION. HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO LAUNCH THIS PROJECT?
The passion for intervening in human predicament matters to me a lot. When the concept was conceived, the first person I spoke with was the founder of Abode for Children, Thomas Rosocki. He came over for an evangelization tour then I took him to the village and explain to him plight of the children; then and there we decided to build a school called Abode for Children. In 1999, the first building was completed.
WHAT INFORMED YOUR DECISION TO ESTABLISH CHILDREN OF RURAL AFRICA (CORARICA)?
I grew up in this kind of community where my father could afford education for us. I also found out that many children didn’t have the opportunity that I had and I started asking myself what can be done to protect the lives of children.
When I became a priest, I began to be very interested in social work due to the kind of things I saw when I was a growing up. The Abode for Children was the first organization I knew when I went to the United States as far back as 1995 when I was doing my Master’s Degree. The founder, Thomas Rososki came to our village in Ogoja, where he went to see the plight of children. From there, St Joseph’s Orphanage School was established. This started before CorAfrica was established.
ADOPTED EDUCATION MODEL
The model we have adopted is called Community Education Centre Model. It has five different programmes attached to it. We have support system like agriculture, medical clinic, skills acquisition centre for empowerment and water sanitation and hygiene all within the school system. In Ogoja, the farm is part of the school for students to get first class education in agriculture.
Soon we are building a Skill Acquisition Centre for the children to learn basic entrepreneurial skills while in school.
There is the stress there no doubt. However, what we do is, we plunge in 100% of what we get as donations into our project and because of the magnitude of the project, we run into financial constraint.
What has been blessing us is that, sometimes when we start a project, the donors, mostly outside the shores of Nigeria that we do keep in otuch with tend to continue the funding until the project stops. For example, before we built the St Joseph’s Orphanage School block of classrooms, we had an understanding with Abode for Children, and over the years, they funded the entire thing.
The good thing about foreign donors is that if you can give periodic update of accountability, there is a tendency that they will always fund you. Presently we just completed the school block of CorAfrica; all that is done by the effort of some particular donors who I have had a personal relationship with in the United States.
It may interest you to note that throughout my community ventures, I’ve not had anything from any big organization; it has been just individuals who have had a personal interaction with me and have been generous enough to fund us.
If you can do this much with the help of just few individuals who trusted us much, how much more can we do with the help of big agencies, government and other ministries within the government in the state and federal level?
We believe in partnership with government just like a few individuals have trusted us so that more community development work can be done.
ANY REQUEST OR PUSH MADE TO THE GOVERNMENT FOR PARTNERSHIP?
Luckily, I sent a proposal to the Governor of Cross River State, Benedict Ayade, but it is not easy for us to penetrate. So for somebody to say we are not trying is telling a lie. Last year, we made an effort to reach out to government of Liyel Imoke but were not successful.
In the area of education, we proposed the government hire the best teachers available in the Ministry of Education to provide quality and sound education for the rising population of our kids. It is critical that we hire, train and retain the best teachers available and supply their classroom with the best learning materials. These are some of the collaboration we are seeking from Governor Ayade. We have constantly made effort to reach out to government; we are hoping for the best and eventually our request may yield result.
GAINING THE COMMUNITY TRUST
One can only do the much he can. I have seen many cases I couldn’t take because of limited space. If we had the resources, we could expand and try to take in as much as we can.
For now, we are not able to take little orphans due to lack of in-house proper care. We only take children of ages 5 and above who can go to school and take care of themselves and not the toddlers who have been abandoned. But if facilities are provided for us, it is possible that we can take all this.
Needs exist but our resources are limited in such a way that you cannot take care of all the needs. Each of the 750 kids we are taking care of in St Joseph’s Orphanage School right now has a need. Many children in the village go without education, care and welfare because their families have abandoned them.
Education is our trust in whatever we do because we want to equip the child for a sustainable future. We are not like Mother Theresa who takes kids that are abandoned in gutters; rather, we take care of kids who may have families that can feed them but lacks what can put them to the next level of life through a good education. That is the difference between what we do. The needs we attend to are many but our resources are few.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN YOUR THIRST FOR EXCELLENCE
I grew up in the village but not under extreme poverty. My parents were the paramount ruler of the entire Ogoja. I wouldn’t say we were very rich but we never lacked and try to maintain that taste for my beneficiaries.
I don’t believe that I should present children who are hungry and live in tattered places; what I believe in is, our schools and churches should be the best and meet urban standards. Most of the public institutions in our villages are dilapidated but I don’t believe in that mentality because I didn’t grow up in that mentality. I grew up in a village where there were available resources to help me have a balanced life so I want to give back to the society.
The people and community heads have been very friendly. I have never experience anything like assault or attack.
CHALLENGES SO FAR AND ADVICE TO FUTURE GENERATIONS
One thing I have learnt is that all of us in this world are like one family. People should not look at other people as strangers. Everybody belongs to the big human family so try to spread yourself around other people because that is your brother and your sister. That we are not from the same tribe doesn’t mean; do not be afraid to help because it is not your person. One thing I have to tell others is to try to help others.
Another thing is, human being by nature can be very disappointing. I have had lots of disappointment from people especially people take you for granted because of the charity that you do; people will cheat, lie and scam you and because you are a priest. It is difficult to react the way another person will react but that had not deterred me.
This thing called charity is one of the most difficult things to start. Charity is a very dicey thing because it tends to make the people take you for granted; make you receive abuses from people but that does not mean that you should relent. I always say that the greatest is behind and my philosophy of life is ‘life goes on’ and no matter the disappointment you have and difficult things could be, life would always go on too.
ENTRY INTO PRIESTHOOD
I was ordained a priest 30 years ago, precisely 1985. I started having this dream and passion to help others and build better structures in the community to help children.
Seven years ago since I came here, things are expanding for me and I also hope things will expand in the future years. Tomorrow, I can be taken away from here and I will also do something in another location. One thing I must have to say is, my priesthood gives me freedom and ample opportunity to spend my life more for others. So these things are anchored around my priesthood.
A priest is called another Christ and Christ wasn’t married but he went about from community to community doing good. He healed the sick, woke the dead, and made the blind see; that is how exactly the priesthood raises me.
I was born about 50 years ago in the village of Mbube-Ogoja . My father and mother lived there and my father was a paramount ruler there. I grew up in a rich family of nine children and I was number six of the children. My father died in 1987 while my mother died in 1995 the year I was ordained so I have orphan for about 30 years.
I went to seminary school after my secondary education where I was blessed to have superiors who trusted and believed in my person. I am grateful to the Church and the Diocese where I belong for their support and considered me fit to be a Priest. Without their support, I will not be able to do all this I am doing.
Apart from my brothers and sisters in the church, the closet is my family members; try to maintain good relationship especially with your nuclear family because they are your last hope. If everybody should fail you, your blood brothers will never fail you; they will always stand by you and that is my own experience. My blood brothers have never failed me; when I need love and need to open up myself, I always run to them. I must say I am a Blessed person to be a member of my biological family and the Church I belong.
One thing I have noticed among my family members is, they don’t grudge me of my obligation to other people. As I am, I don’t have a personal house to live; some people build houses in their home where they live. I don’t have a personal house or a place I can go to rest and I have been a priest for 30 years but my brothers don’t hold it against me. In fact, they encourage me.
My elder brother told me I can come to rest in his place and that of my sisters anytime. I don’t have my own house and I don’t care because my family members understand my work very well and sometimes it is my family members that donate the resources I use.
For example, the entire of the land where the orphanage school was built is my own family land and not a community land and it is my elder brother, Joe that donated that land and he has also said to me that whatever I want to do, if it is God that prompted me to do it he will always support me. When he was in government, he donated cars to our work so I must say I am lucky to have a good family.
I have come to understand that my family are the least beneficiary. It is not as if they are not rich but sometimes they may be lacking but find it hard to donate to my family; instead, I donate to other people.