Stimulated by his love for humanity and the desire for the less-privileged ones in the society to enjoy the good things of life like other privileged persons, a self-employed physically challenged young graduate, John Obinna Ukumuneh, established a foundation he named after himself, John Obinna Chukwuma Foundation.

As a flagship event to bring his dream to bear, he held a three-day free eye screening exercise for internees at the Special Correctional Centre for Girls, Idi-Araba, Lagos State recently. Mary Ekah writes about his many challenges as a result of his being physically disadvantaged right from when he was just about four years of age and why he has come up with a charitable organisation

For self-employed but physically challenged young graduate, John Obinna Ukumuneh, disability does not stand as obstacle between a man and his aspirations. The real disability is the disability of will and determination. And so, even though he has been confined to clutches and wheelchair from an early age, he has not allowed that to deter him from aspiring to attain greater heights in life just like his able-bodied counterparts.

Being disabled is a tough thing to deal with in everyday life but, over the years, Ukumuneh has adjusted to it and has wheeled himself into prominence. This determined young man has committed to overcome his physical challenges and look to his abilities rather than to his disability in order to assist his community in pulling themselves out of poverty and improving their living standards. To this end, his burning desire to help the needy and less-privileged in the society has led him to establishing a foundation. As a flagship event to bring his dream to bear, he held a three-day free eye screening exercise for internees at the Special Correctional Centre for Girls, Idi-Araba, Lagos State, recently.

“I was prompted to start this Foundation because I don’t want people to go through the kind of pains I went through in my life before I could get to the stage I am today. It hurts me a lot when I see people go through unnecessary stress just to make ends meet,” he said.

He revealed that according to statistics, people go blind day by day due to lack of proper care for their eyes, and for this reason, the Foundation decided to organised a free eye care exercise in Lagos to reduce the rate at which people are going blind in our society today.

According to him, people don’t do check ups on their eyes as often as they are supposed to and by the end of the day, they do not know that they have serious issues with their eyes, which most time eventually result into blindness.

Ukumuneh noted that the Foundation is also looking at how to empower youths in the country to make them employers of labour rather than waiting to be employed for jobs that were never available. He revealed further that eye screening exercise has been carried out for two times in previous years and that the just concluded exercise was the third and it had to be held once more due to the demand by the community.

“The outcome has been encouraging because the turn up has been huge. This goes a long way to show that a lot of people desire to have their eyes checked on a regular basis but because times are hard and they hardly have enough to feed themselves and families much less to pay hospital bills for check ups and so they don’t have a choice but to wallow in their deteriorating health condition until help like this comes. So they are so excited to have such service rendered to them free of charge and so they troop out in large number for this exercise which has been on for three day now,” he said.

The John Obinna Chukwuma Foundation, Ukumuneh said is basically out to give succour to the less-privileged and the handicapped in the society, adding, that the Foundation which is just about three months old has touched so many lives in the short period of it existence.

The Foundation, an offshoot of Ukumuneh’s Community Development (CD) programme during his NYSC during which he held similar events in 2010 and 2011 and due to its success and demand by the community it affected, the self-employed physically challenged young man, was stimulated to establish a Foundation he named after himself and today, the Foundation though barely four months old, is making a lot of impact on the community and society at large, giving relief to a lot of people in Lagos and its environs.

Ukumuneh, who said that so far the programme has been a huge success due to the supports he gets from various organisations and individuals, is still soliciting for more support from companies, governments and individuals as well.

However, his appreciation at this particular point, goes to Chi Pharmaceuticals Limited, Nigeria; Anchor Healthcare Limited; Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) here in Nigeria, RCCG Bahrain and RCCG Garden of Peace, India and most especially, the Director of Ladkem Eye Hospital, Surulere, Lagos, Dr. Festus Osoba, whose hospital took complete charge of the eye screening exercise. His gratitude also goes to the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development for their tremendous supports.

Being a physically challenged himself, Ukumuneh said the driving force behind his going all out with his Foundation, especially in the aspect of eye screening, is to ensure that the rate people are going blind in Nigeria is minimised.

“Having myself become physically challenged as toddler, I was exposed to the stigma and assumptions associated with disabilities. I was looked at with pity and sometimes with resentment by my peers. As I grew up, I began to realise that the onus was on me to make something of myself and create my life and future the way I desired,” he recalled.

“I do not want people to go through same nor feel depressed because they cannot afford a little token to screen their eyes or cater for other health needs in their lives and as result wait till their health condition deteriorate. I want to use this little avenue to assist as many that I can possibly help because it hurts me so badly when I see people suffer unnecessarily.

“And as a young man, I am into a lot of skillful ventures which will enable me help the less-privileged to better their lives. So apart from the individuals, the church and companies I get supports from, I also work hard as a businessman to raise funds for the Foundation,” he said.

The screening which was carried out on over 250 people, including children and adults at the Special Correctional Centre for Girls, Idi-Araba, Lagos State a couple of weeks ago, Ukumuneh assured will be held more regularly from now on that the Foundation is fully established and will also spread its tentacles to other cities and states in Nigeria.

He therefore called on Nigerians to seize the opportunity and do check ups on their eyes as regular as possible while they also endeavour to have a thorough checkup on their health conditions on a regular basis, adding, “I am also calling on people who have the capacity to help in making the programme a regular exercise to do so, as a lot of people out there do not have the means to visit the hospital.”

A 2009 graduate of Guidance and Counseling from the University of Ibadan, Ukumuneh, despite his shortcomings as a physically challenged person started off his education at the Kemether International Nursery and Primary School, Ijesha Lagos, after which he proceeded to the Ijeshatedo Secondary School, also in Lagos and finally the University of Ibadan after which he served with the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development between 2010 and 2011, during which he held his first community service at the Girls’ Correctional Centre, Idi-Ara, Mushin, Lagos. He has also acquired additional professional certificate from the Institute of Social Work of Nigeria.

Born in 1980 completely healthy like every other newborn, the indigene of Agbo Ohoroho Ovim, in Isuikwato, Abia State, Ukumuneh’s ordeal, according to the mother, Mrs. Okwuchi Ukumuneh, started when he was just six months old.

The mother who was seen running helter-skelter to ensure everything was in order during the screening programme, said, “He was born a normal child but trouble started when he was barely six months of age and was diagnosed of a particular health condition which suddenly paralysed his lower limbs and after several efforts to get him back to normal, it never worked and so we left him to fate.

But despite his disability he went through school from nursery to primary and then from secondary to the university. During this period, I noticed that he had developed this burning passion to help others even when he could hardly cater for himself. He would tell me that he wouldn’t want anybody to pass through the pains that he has passed through in life and that if possible, he would even stand in gab for the less-privileged. Each time he told me that, I wonder where he got the guts and how he was going to get around it considering his own condition.

And when he persisted, I couldn’t but give him all the supports I could. Since then he has done lot of projects, which earned him awards from NYSC and the Lagos State Government. After achieving success in other projects he executed, he said he wanted to establish a foundation so that he could reach out to more people in the society and then we asked: How do you go about doing that with your disability because even with the able-bodied people, it is not easy to source for funds? But all he would say is that his own strength is hidden in Christ that Christ will help him to do all that he desires for the needy in the society and since then we have been encouraging him in every way that we can,” she recounted.

Sourcing for money, the Mum said, has not been easy, adding, “but we are very grateful to all the organisations both private and government, as well as individuals who have given a helping hand to ensure that my son, though physically challenged, brings his long time dream and passion to reality.”

Speaking further, the supportive Mum said, “From all indications and especially, from how people have responded, I see a greater and better prospect for his passion and the foundation at large and with such supports and with the Almighty God by his side, he will, no doubt go places.”

The exercise was spearheaded by Ladkem Eye Hospital, an eye hospital equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment for full eye care and the Foundation’s Public Relation Officer, Mr. Iheanyi Emmanuel, said those found with critical cases during the screening would be referred a specialist for further medication or surgery, as the case may be, while those who required just simple medication and medicated glasses were given at the spot.