I first saw her on Monday, 15 June, 2015, early morning on my way to work. She was sitting right on the corner of my street’s junction. When I drove a little closer, I noticed she was fast asleep and looked tired, just before I made a turn, zooming off to work. I remember my first thought was a prayer that someone should be kind enough to give her some food to eat. Then I felt a pang of guilt in my guts that I wasn’t that someone. I also felt sad that in a beautiful, rich country like Nigeria, that someone could suffer this fate. Moments later, I turned my radio on, tuned to a station and….that was it.
Yes, this is not the first time I’m seeing a homeless person. But I am not the ‘complain and go’ type I am more of the ‘guilty and pissed’ type. Guilty because as a human, I believe humanity as a whole must have done something wrong for the person to be in that condition, and pissed because I am clueless on how to assist the person.
After seeing the lady on Monday, I totally forgot about her and didn’t notice she had been lying right at the street corner. It was on Thursday’s evening, on my way out that I noticed two ambulances parked right at the same street corner and it dawned on me that she has been there since that Monday.
I drove closer to notice that she was bathed and clothed and they were administering intravenous drip because she was so weak she couldn’t eat. I felt so happy and relieved that humanity had not failed her.
Fast forward to 11 pm that night, I went to search for some late night snack and bam, the lady was lying on the cold slab, fully illuminated by a lamp-post right above her, as if nature was screaming out, “can’t you people help your fellow human!?”
Pity, sadness, anger and frustration swept through me in one swift wave. I forgot why I came out in the first place and immediately started making enquiries about why the ambulance guys left her there. I was told the ambulances came courtesy of the Nigerian Red Cross Society and the Local Government Council to assist the lady.
Also, that they left her because they couldn’t get volunteers to donate some ten thousand naira and act as contact person for her to be admitted in a private hospital since the government hospitals were on strike. I felt like beating someone up.
But I just decided that this is the last time I am going to walk away in self-pity because that lady could be me or anyone else I love and care for. So it was empathy and anger that compelled me to do something.
Tell us, if you will, what exactly you did to help the lady. How did you pull it off?
The first thing I did was to call the emergency number, 767 to report the case. Then I went closer to the lady too and confirmed she was still alive but totally unresponsive.
So I decided to get more people involved, I took a snapshot of her in her state with my phone and twitted the picture (you can see the tweets by checking @chukwulozie).
Then I called 767 some more and got more people to call them too. I also called a friend who runs a charity FreeHands (@freehands_org) for consultation and she turned out to be a good source of encouragement and help throughout the whole campaign. I went to be bed unhappy that night.
The next morning, I went out to go check up on the lady first thing in the morning, and she was still there alive. I went straight home, cleaned up a little, informed my cousin, Ikenna, that I was going out to go take the lady to a hospital myself. Trust me, this was an irrational decision from my healthy anger.
My cousin offered to go with me. It was in the car that he suggested we go to the police first to lodge a proper complaint to see if they’d help and to let them know of our intentions of taking her to a hospital in order not to get in trouble. At the police station, we made the complaint and asked for their assistance but they told us they couldn’t help since there was no vehicle and help team available from their end. They advised to go to a Lagos state emergency point at Mile 2 and ask for their assistance and to call the emergency number some more, and that’s what we did. But nothing came out of it.
Wow. Quite an experience you guys went through.
We then asked them (the police), if we should go ahead with our initial plan of taking her to a hospital ourselves, they gave us an amazing answer, “we don’t know, but just be very careful how you go about helping out to avoid getting in trouble” This was when Ikenna suggested we go to the church and ask for help, yes the church because the corner she was lying was just outside the fence of a catholic church.
We met the parish priest in charge and told him why we called. He told us he knows right well about the lady, that he was the one that contacted the Red Cross and the Local Council to come assist the lady, and that was how far they were willing to get involved.
We enquired why the church couldn’t get involved any farther. Were they not obligated to help the homeless as a corporal work of mercy? His response was a scary story about how the parish priest before him and the catechist were arrested and detained for a whole day on kidnapping charges when they got involved in a similar case.
How did that happen?
He said the destitute was found right in front of the church’s gate. They took him to a hospital, paid the bills and the person was discharged two days later healthy. But three days later, they saw him again lying close to death right in front of their gate, so they called the police, but before the police could get there, the man gave up the ghost. Then the next day, the person’s relative appeared out of the thin air, with the police to arrest the parish priest and the catechist claiming they kidnapped and killed their son.
The parish priest told me it took a lot of money, string pulling and the grace of God to close the case. That they also believe it was a set up to extort money from the church. Hence, their decision to not get involved in this case. He then also warned us to be “very very very careful too”, just like the police did.
Nonetheless, we didn’t give up, I told my Free Hands friend, Ayomide, and my colleagues at work what was going on and how scared and clueless I was then.
They all encouraged me to launch a twitter campaign by coining a hashtag, that they will join me. I immediately formed a hashtag, #HelpThisLadyLagos. I shared it and started making tweets with the lady’s picture attached and mentioning some prominent Nigerians, media houses, bloggers, the government and the police. I also got everyone I know on twitter to re-tweet and call the emergency number.
How easy was it to do this? Share with us, if you will, any obstacles you encountered while trying to help the woman.
It wasn’t easy at all, it took my whole day on Friday. I was scared and discouraged at times, but my cousin, and friends kept encouraging me by calling me and posting more tweets. Their consistent effort to tweet and call me gave me the strength to carry on the campaign.
When did you hit the breakthrough? When did you eventually get a positive response from the authorities?
I never really got a positive response from the authorities. The emergency services kept making promises until the next day, that’s Saturday.
Nevertheless, I believe the breakthrough came when all my friends, especially my cousin Ikenna (@tropismpc) bullied some popular bloggers and social media celebrities to join the campaign, thus giving it more publicity nationwide. Also, we knew we’d made some impact when the emergency call center agents started telling us they know about the case and that help is on the way when contacted, instead of the usual myriads of query.
What’s your reaction to the ripple effect this caused on social media, specifically twitter?
I discovered how powerful social media is. Actually, I came to a conclusion that twitter is a living organism. Finally, that people actually still care.
It is wrong for people to suffer in this world. God has given humanity enough resources to take care of one another so it is a crime against humanity and God for people to suffer like that lady. Furthermore, that lady could have been anybody, you and me or our loved ones. Also, never keep quiet or just ignore homeless people, there is always something you can do, trust me there is always something you can do to change his/her situation.
Thank you Joe for sharing with us.
At Grow360, we celebrate the transition from mere potential to meaningful performance. We hope that Joe’s story will inspire you to make a positive difference wherever you are, with whatever you have -even if it’s just a smartphone.
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