Meet Engr. Chidiebere Cajetan Okoro
Family background: I am Engr Chidiebere Cajetan Okoro, from Nawfija, Orumba South L.G.A, Anambra State; a civil servant who works with the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology . I am from a very close-knit family of four children, where my parents gave all of us the opportunity to express ourselves. I am married with four kids, three girls and a boy.
Education: I attended Demonstration Primary School, Awka, my junior secondary education was at Comprehensive Nawfia, and then Senior Secondary school was at then Special Science School, Achina, now St Peter’s Secondary School, Achina. For tertiary education, I studied Electrical Engineering at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, my Masters and Ph.D. were also attained there.
Passion: I have been deeply passionate about the welfare of orphans, especially kids. When I was a child, I most times celebrated my birthday at the orphanage home, and it continued that way. After my National Youth Service, NYSC, I went to Katsina State. It was then I began fully, the orphanage apostolate. I would organize free computer training for the kids. Later, I began to involve some of my friends who supported me to carry out bigger projects and to monitor the negative things people perpetrate using the umbrella of orphanage home. It was then we began the Okoro Foundation based in Awka.
Okoro Foundation and what we have been doing: We have, with the Okoro Foundation, made a lot of impacts. In 2017. We looked out for children in orphanages, as well as the less privileged on the streets; and then we began to treat those that were sick, take them off the streets and provided basic education for them. One of our beneficiaries was a boy, Umaru Abdullahi, from Northern Nigeria. We found him sleeping in one of the gas stations in Amawbia, Awka South L.G.A, in Anambra State, where his father was the security officer. We picked him up and discovered he was suffering from hernia; then we took him to the hospital. They performed surgical operation on him and then when he became strong enough, we enrolled him in a school in Amawbia. We have gone round almost, if not all orphanage homes in Anambra state. We discovered a lot of stuffs: children were not going to school, poor feeding, they do not even go to church and no one was celebrating Mass for them.
We had to train their staff in computer, we got them computers, so that they could teach those kids. But we found out that these kids had difficulties in reading or writing. How then, could they operate the system? So, we had to push further by enrolling them in schools. For their spirituality, we discussed with a priest at St Thomas Aquinas parish, Awka, Rev. Fr. Adolphus Obi, and he accepted and began celebrating mass with these children for those around.
We also discovered that these children who have been locked inside for a long time, found it difficult to associate with people. They were always scared when we visited. So, we decided to start with organizing parties for them. Birthday parties were organized to celebrate them individually, but some of these kids have no record of birth. We started celebrating these birthdays monthly. The children, since then, changed drastically. They now mingle; when we go out with them to amusement parks, they mingle with other kids. That is a lot of joy for me.
Friends do call me to seek advice on how they can help these children, knowing how close I am to these homes. I advise them on the right projects to carry out in that regard. I advocate for the kids and we have been trying our best to ensure that whatever people send to these children get to them, because some people use these means to enrich themselves. We channel most of the findings to developmental projects, so that people will not corner the material things given to the kids.
We are presently in partnership with the state government through the Hon. Commissioner of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, Lady Ndidi Mezue. She is extremely passionate about this cause and she had done a lot to see to the welfare of these kids.
A lot of people are using these kids to enrich themselves. What we are doing now is to advocate and monitor what comes in and out of these homes, so that we will know when they are exploited.
Fides: How do you carry out this advocacy job in this era of coronavirus?
We go to homes and educate them on how to handle these kids. People are not allowed to go close to them but greet them from a distance, to secure them from contracting the virus.
For their education in this period, we are discussing with the government to see how they can involve these kids in the ongoing online lessons.
Fides: In what way can people impact society besides going to the orphanage homes?
People should try to look out for the less privileged around them and then take care of their needs.it must not be big projects but they could start from little things that could change one’s life.
For the government, I advise that these kids be included in the Anambra State Insurance Agency, ASHIA, because these kids fall sick and sometimes no form of medication is administered to them. But if they are included in the health scheme, they will enjoy vital medical services for free or a very minimal cost.
Fides: What are your goals or mission for this project?
We want to ensure that these kids in orphanages have a future. We want to see them even better than those who are from non-orphanage homes.
Fides: it is a known fact that these private orphanages are better equipped compared to the government owned. What should be done to improve the government owned?
Sometimes we even find it difficult to organize school competition for these kids in orphanages, because those from the private owned homes are far exposed and well equipped, though not all. So, we advise that the government should come in. Although Lady Mezue is doing a great job at exposing homes that defile the innocence of kids, but a lot of work still needs to be done, not only by the government but by well-meaning individuals as well.