Mobilizing Change

Local church collects walking equipment for distribution in Nigeria

A small South Side congregation is helping West Africans with walking disabilities to become mobile again. The congregation planned to ship an estimated 1,000 used and donated items — crutches, walkers, wheelchairs and canes — at the end of October to Nigeria for distribution there, following an initial shipment last spring.“

In a nutshell, it’s a project geared toward people with disability,” said Frankie Jackson, a pastor at Syracuse Salt of the Earth Ministries, a non-denominational church located at 320 W. Onondaga St. He has been working with the project, called Project Restoration International, since it began a few years ago at the hands of “a gentleman named Sola” in 2009, he said.

Olusola “Sola” Ogundola is a Nigerian man who graduated in May from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in media studies. He has since returned to Nigeria, but his message can be found on YouTube, where a video shows him speaking for the rights of disabled people. From Ekiti State, where he currently resides, Ogundola said he plans to lead the distribution effort for the donated items once they get to Africa.

Jackson said his son struggled with paralysis as a child, and he knows the help that is available in America for those who need it. In Nigeria, however, the community treats disability differently, he said.

“Just from their families, alone, disability is considered a curse. There is no real effort to expose them and help them,” he said, adding that the Nigerian government is currently doing little to assist citizens with disabilities. “There’s two-fold opposition over there.”

Pastor Nathanael Akinpelu, another minister from the congregation, said he knows what it’s like for those with disabilities in Nigeria. Akinpelu is also from Nigeria, and he said the lack of technology in Africa’s most populous nation makes it difficult for those with disabilities to get the equipment they need.

“Some of them crawl. I’ve seen someone rolling on the ground because he didn’t have limbs,” he said.

In an email interview, Ogundola described one person’s experience. “A lady who was involved in a road traffic accident has been home for the past seven years. Her family would not let her out because they feel it is embarrassing to see her crawl on the floor. They made her improvised crutches, but you need to see what further harm this has caused her.” With help from Project Restoration, the woman can now freely leave the house and is considering returning to school, Ogundola said.

In January, the church began collecting donated walkers, crutches and wheelchairs, storing them in a garage in the back of its building. After months of gathering equipment, the congregation shipped out the first load of items to Nigeria in April, Jackson said. What started as donations coming from the small congregation of no more than 100 people grew to include gifts from all over Central New York and beyond, with an estimated 25 percent of the items coming from beyond the Syracuse area, Jackson said. “One of our biggest donations came from three hours away in Pennsylvania,” the pastor said. Sometimes the church goes and gets items from donors who are unable to transport them themselves.

The second shipment was scheduled to be on its way to Nigeria on Oct. 31. In an email, Jackson said the church raised money to cover the $6,000 shipping costs through donations from the congregation and local businesses and organizations. With more than 1,000 items, including several motorized wheelchairs, October’s shipment dwarfs the first.

“This is an ongoing thing,” Jackson said. “This is not a one-time thing.”

For Project Restoration International and the Syracuse Salt of the Earth Ministries, there are plans for things to grow even bigger. The church’s congregation, though small, is very diverse, with many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Besides Akinpelu from Nigeria, the Syracuse Salt of the Earth community has several other African immigrants, including Jackson’s wife, Sheba, from Ghana, and some members from Kenya. Pastor Jackson said in the future they plan to extend the project to Kenya and Ghana.

The items are also open for use by Syracuse residents who might have trouble getting disability equipment, though Jackson said that’s not very common. People have too much pride to use second-hand things in America, he said.