Holidays in Benin City by Paola Tirimagni

This is the diary of Rock of Fire Onlus first journey in Africa.

We are leaving Rome for Lagos, but we are not tourists, and this is not a holiday.  In less than three weeks (this is the period of our time in Nigeria) we are sure we will know the people and the background of a wonderful and real continent – Africa.

Pastor Julius Agoh – the Honorary President of our association – is waiting for us at Lagos Airport.  We stay there for one night, and the day after we continue the journey to our final destination – Benin City. Pastor Julius Agoh is the founder of the Rock of Fire Church in Benin City. Close by is the church which is nearing completion and the building of the orphanage has begun.

We are planning to buy a field close to the church in order to construct a kindergarten, a primary school, a home for unmarried mothers and abandoned women and finally the most important project – a children’s hospital.

When our association’s orphanage is completed we will throw  a wonderful party for the Benin City orphans and abandoned children.

The main function of our association is giving aid to abandoned and disadvantaged children. This is the first and most important reason we went to Nigeria. For the African children it is difficult to know the real meaning of a carefree and light-hearted childhood.

These African children start working at a very young age to help their families. They act as shop keepers on the streets and sell boiled nuts, corn cobs, bread, soft drinks and prepaid phone and mobile recharge cards. We met a lot of them on our travels. Nigeria is a great outdoors market.

The service sector is well developed. You can find something to buy at any time of the day. Catering is very popular. On the street with the locals we ate grilled meat served on newspaper, boiled eggs, rice and yam (sweet potato). Population manoeuvre in all kinds of reparation on the streets; slippers, flip-flops and tyres.

The traffic is incredible during both the day and the night and the smog is deadly for the respiratory system. Apart from that, in Nigeria there are a lot of astonishing tourist destinations such as the Yankari Game Reserve located in Bauchi State, the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State, and the Ikogosi warm springs in Ekiti State.

Our destinations were all different.  We visited some orphanages in Benin City. One of them amazed us – l’Oronsaye Orphanage. After we saw it we thought that not all Nigerian children are as happy and smiling as we see in the pictures.  

This orphanage is located in one of the poorest areas of the city. We lost a lot of time coming to terms with our sorrow over that one. The sadness comes from a combination of giving up, not caring and resignation.  In children’s minds life is a daily struggle for survival. They are amazed to see our tears.

We gave them children’s biscuits from Italy, but they did not seem to like them too much. In Nigeria the local food is rice, yam, chicken and catfish. It is almost impossible to convey to you the feelings and emotions of that encounter. However, I think photographs could.

On the following days we visited other orphanages. We see the same sad faces and similar unhappy eyes. This time we took with us different food – lollipops and crackers. The children liked them much more! In one of the orphanages we saw two baby girls who had been abandoned on the street and taken to the refuge by policemen. They were put in a makeshift incubator.

We rarely met smiling children. Many times we met children who didn’t smile immediately we approached.

Our wish was to give them a wonderful party and a beautiful day to remember. THE ROCK OF FIRE NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANISATION held this celebration on the 27th August 2011. We do not invite all refuges but please join with us.

At 2.30 p.m. the children and their carers began to straggle in. We learnt very quickly that punctuality and organisation aren’t Nigerian characteristics. We let that pass.

The party started at 3.00 p.m. We played children’s games to break the ice with ring-a-ring-a-roses then children’s songs and African dances and so on. We and the children are so happy. We see many smiling faces! We see Pastor Julius dancing with young children. It is so strange for us. We know him as usually so stern and austere, but children change our hearts.

Some babies begin to sleep. It is time to have an afternoon snack. It is an African snack for the sake of our friends. The children sit quietly on chairs while we serve them their food. It is nothing like an Italian party! Some of them continue playing and dancing.

Finally we distribute clothing, shoes, educational material and the drugs we collected in Italy from amongst our friends, neighbours and pharmacists and which we had brought in our heavy luggage. The children quietly wait their turn to take the gifts. They raise their hands if they want something.

The celebration draws to a close. Children have to go back to the orphanages and ....... it starts to rain! All of us are tired, but we are so happy.

Now it is time to leave and we see smiling faces turn into sad faces. For a little while this afternoon those eyes delighted our “palefaces”. The children go back to their refuges crammed into rickety old minibuses.

We have crossed our first finish line and Africa lives deep within our hearts.

The next day the orphanage managers call us to say “Thank you for spending time with our children”. However we are not happy because we cannot spend much more time with our little friends. We are moving on to the next stage of our journey. This is our ‘longing for Africa’ (nostalgia for Africa).

Surely we will come back to Nigeria. We will travel with other citizens in solidarity with African people. We will meet other faces and tell you other stories.

Now we ask you, dear web visitor, to help us to cross our next finish line. This first African journey changed our life, and we wish these stories to change your life. We want you to exclaim at the end “The hand of solidarity is powerful!”.

Paola Tirimagni Rock of Fire Charity Organization Chairwoman 

20 September 2010