From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
In what may seem like the making of another Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Roman Catholic Nun, Rev. Sister Mary Mabel Ezeja has taken an unusual vocation of caring and curing mentally challenged persons in an Enugu rural community.
One Sunday afternoon, Sunday Sun reporter encountered her in the thick of handling a mentally challenged young man that had been freshly brought to the centre. The man though in chains was very violent as three able bodied young men straddled him inside the car.
Sweating profusely, it was a tug of war as the boys tried to prevent him from breaking the windscreen of the vehicle. Bringing him down from the vehicle was another problem because he was headbutting those boys with an unusual strength that confounded everyone within the vicinity.
But in the midst of the commotion, Sister Mabel was called to the scene and she rushed over, smiling and told the boys to move aside and leave the man alone in the car.
As if working with another unseen force, she stepped into the vehicle, smiled again to the mentally challenged young man and muttered some incoherent words of prayer. Suddenly, the violent man became calm immediately and she ordered the boys to unchain him which they did and the man willingly followed her inside one of the rooms in the centre.
Tucked away in Uda community, Enugu-Ezike, Igbo- Eze North LGA, Enugu State and very shy from publicizing her activities, Sister Mabel’s Mental Care Home has no signpost while she has refused to post her activities on the social media.
It is only those who had received her healing touch that inform others having similar problems and they find their way to the place.
After professing as a Catholic Reverend Sister years back, Sister Mary Mabel Ezeja decided to take a step of faith by going back to her roots. She moved from her first congregation and went back to her community, Enugu Ezike in 2009.
Having the strong zeal and passion for mentally and physically challenged persons scattered in the streets and homes, Sister Mabel decided to follow the voice of her passion and vocation. Her benevolent mind regarded the happiness of others as a great good and voluntarily makes seeking the good of others as the great purpose of her own existence. To her, natural medicine is a gift from God. His grandfather treated people with leaves and roots.
“As a kid, I always felt pity for the physically challenged people. I have always gone to look after them and I remember back then how I willingly gave my own ration of food to mad people those days.
“With an inquisitive mind as a kid, I kept on asking, can’t this people be normal again or live their normal lives again? I never knew that God was preparing me for this mission,” she told Sunday Sun.
Fast forward to her adult life and having settled for a religious life, she set forth first in Edem community in Nsukka LGA where she started scouting for mad people. However, not having a house to keep them at Edem became a big challenge.
She started visiting her patients’ homes and giving them herbal medications and taking care of them from 2008 to 2010. Her early trials yielded much unexpected results that surprised her patients’ immediate family members and the Enugu-Ezike community.
To appreciate her efforts and her selfless sacrifices and services, the then Chairman of Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Bonaventure Onuh and the Vice Chairman, Celestine Ezeugwu, seeing that the number of mentally challenged people on the streets had substantially reduced in the town, decided to donate the uncompleted building at a development centre in Uda community to house her patients. So she fixed the place a little and then moved in with the mentally challenged people in her charge at the time.
From picking people from the streets and achieving positive results, people started making referrals. In the course of time, mentally challenged people from faraway places like Calabar (Cross River State), Ibadan (Oyo State), Anambra people and parts of Enugu State began to throng her centre for solutions.
Today, the space is not enough to take in more people while other needs of the mentally ill patients are also becoming a major challenge because of paucity of funds.
Natural medicine to the rescue
Using natural products, Sister Mabel administers medication to the mentally ill in varying proportions. While those who got cracked up not quite long and are actively violent can become calm within three weeks, some can take upwards of months depending on their own condition.
Belief in festering mental sickness
There is a belief among the Igbo folk that somebody can afflict another person with mental illness either out of jealousy or wickedness. Asked about her position on this claim she said: “As a Catholic Christian, I don’t believe that somebody can afflict another person with madness. Rather madness comes in different forms. It can be hereditary; some become insane as a result of taking hard substances while others get cracked up as a result of accumulated stress.
Handling violent cases
Asked how she handles violent cases even when there is no male within the home to assist her in many occasions and knowing that mental cases can become wild unexpectedly, Sister Mabel said she cannot explain how she receives the inner strength to overpower the violent ones subdue them, and so that they can take medications that would make them sleep soon after.
“In some of the instances, I just apply humour and also approach such violent ones as a friend. Praying silently in my heart, such violent ones reciprocate my gesture by collecting the cup of drugs from me. In that process, I distract them and they follow me inside the rooms where we keep them. The next is that they fall asleep few minutes later and the recovery process starts immediately. The brain will cool down after that sleep and they take drugs subsequently without compulsion or use of force.”
Registered first as Mabel Mental Care Foundation with the Enugu State Ministry of Gender Affairs and Social Development, the place is now known as Mother of the Redeemer Mental Care and Home having registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Paucity of funds and accommodation problem is about to thwart Sister Mabel’s vision. She said the environment has been a great put-off that some people find it hard to relax in that place while the few rooms they have cannot contain the number of those seeking to come and receive treatment.
She said they are in dire need of public spirited individuals and benefactors who can help them get a better and spacious accommodation.
To make both ends meet, the nun and her associates sometimes engage in manual labour to put food on their table. They also engage in small scale poultry farming and production of locally made mentholated ointment etc.
Though mentally ill patients from privileged homes pay some token for treatment, the bulk of those who receive care in the centre pay nothing or little depending on what they can afford.
Also imbued with musical talent, Sister Mabel has been singing for God by releasing gospel songs in the market. Already out with four albums – Power that rolled the stone, Osinachi, Sharp Sharp Working God and Tears that provoke Heaven, she said she receives inspiration to sing at her quiet moments or in the dream while sleeping. Proceeds from the albums have been used to sustain the mental care apostolate.
Message to the society
Rev. Sister Mable advocates that people should not see the mentally challenged as society’s cast-away. Rather she cautions that people should see them as fellow human beings with all their dignity intact if not for their present challenge that would go away with time after applying the necessary steps.
“People should realise that anything can happen to anybody at anytime. The human brain is fragile and little things can trigger some confusion that can as well lead to madness. What they are suffering today can affect somebody’s child tomorrow so let them be shown love and care and not resistance,” she said