Felicia Martins, a woman with a heart for the mentally challenged
According to the World Health Organization Mental disorders are among the risk factors for communicable and non-communicable diseases. A WHO document said that factors such as poverty, social isolation, loss of independence, loneliness and losses of different kinds can affect mental health and indeed general health. For developing countries like Nigeria where the WHO estimates that about 20 percent of Nigerians suffer mental illnesses, poverty, hopelessness and insecurity is on the rise, causing so much stress, anxiety and high level depression. Woman of Substance in its 1st edition this New Year speaks with Mrs. Felicia Martins who runs a home for the mentally challenged. She opens up on the struggles of caring for people with mental disabilities, family interference and funding.
WOS: The plight of disadvantage children is a major issue, a fact which compound that for those with mental disabilities, what will you say is reason for the neglect?
FM: The society and our economy are two factors that have not helped at all including our traditional believe that they are cursed are part of the reason why we don’t pay much attention to disabled persons let alone those with mental disabilities.
WOS: Sosaid is a project so dear to your heart, what is the story?
FM: Well the journey so far have not been easy, the Organization was born in the year 2000, through the inspiration of God, when I was still studying law at the Lagos state university, I differed my course, failed most of my exams but all is to the glory of God as I have triumphed. I was formerly a manager at KAFAM Services Limited and a 300 level law student at the Lagos State University (LASU) when the inspiration to care for the mentally challenged and destitute on the streets of Lagos came.
It was a real struggle for me at the beginning as my husband wouldn’t hear anything of it. He just couldn’t understand how I would abandon my well-paid job to run a shelter for the homeless and mentally challenged people on the streets. It was a tug of war and this passion that was burning inside of me and it drove a dagger into my marriage.
WOS: As a mother of 5, what did it feel like going round the streets looking for people with mental disabilities?
FM: It was not easy, with the Nigerian mentality (that insanity is spiritual and cannot be cured) people despise you, look at you as if they are your immediate relations or family members, at the initial time we had to chatter cabs to take the rehabilitee to the center, some cabs will refuse even with your money, it is not easy but I feel joy seeing the rehabilitees coming back to their senses, it is a fulfillment and it was a delight when my husband agreed to take me back after realizing that I had an unwavering passion to help the destitute.
WOS: Did people ever look at you as having mental issues because you were drawn to such people?
FM: Yes at the initial time, my friends thought I was insane, family members deserted me because they felt I was involving myself in something strange. They found it difficult to understand I had abandoned a beautiful career for such a voluntary job and I was asked most times why I was doing the job of the government.
WOS: Why would your husband chase you out of the house because of your passion?
FM: It was not just my husband who had difficulty in understating my desire to care for the insane; my friends were cross with me as well. My husband believed I was bringing disgrace to his family and friends and my children just couldn’t understand what was going on in my head or why I chose to deal passionately with insane people but all that is history today.
WOS: Was it so bad that your son had to hit in the face?
FM: Yes because wherever he went his friends tell him your mother is associating with mad people, which was like a stigma to him. I tell you, it was difficult in those early days for anyone to understand when I started. They were angry and felt I had missed it in life, because I left a well-paid job to support destitute. So people may justify his actions at that time but the passion has kept standing.
WOS: What did it take for them to see thing from your perspective?
FM: Oh I believe it is God, when they saw that God is involved everything and how they are healed, they were compelled to run with the vision. If you look at how I started, I started at the Beach Land Estate and I recall time when I would cook food and give to these less privileged ones. I would try so hard to win their friendship and sometimes I will spend the night on the streets with them. Amazingly the women who clubbed at Beach Land Estate at that time saw what I was doing and had pity on my so they would provide for me and my new friends financially. I must say that when God sends you on an errand, he opens doors for you.
WOS: What was going through your mind sleeping out in the cold for 8 months and was there reconciliation after wards?
FM: It was a very bitter experience, but God has his way of doing things, all through I was optimistic that all would be well. We have since reconciled and the proximity is so strong with mutual understanding to the extent that they help me with ideas in running the Organization
WOS: Where there times you felt the urge to drop the passion and turn around?
FM: To be candid I felt so, at the initial stage because the challenges that I face was so intense and unbearable, I had to cry most times or even now when there is no money to feed or buy drugs for the rehabilitees or when the children are being stigmatized or chased out of school for lack of funds.
WOS: How possible is it for you to relate with the insane?
FM: It is possible because it is a vision imbedded in me by God and as such he gives me directive on what to do, in the aspect of relating with them which have always yield positive response hence they become fully rehabilitated.
WOS: What is the nature of illness for some of the women in the home?
FM: I would say for these women who come from all walks of life not all of them have mental issues, but due to one frustration or the other, they give in to such mental tendencies. Some of them are from broken homes, some are maltreated by their husbands or mothers-in-law, and some are teenagers who have been molested by either a relative or their masters, they fall into depression that now affects them in a way.
Sosaid is an organization just like other organizations for example the red cross, girls guide, boys scout, Usaid and so on, it has already been structured in such a way that the organization is different from the C.E.O as a person
Some of them came in here with their babies, while others came in with pregnancy. We do all that we can to see that they receive the care they deserve. If you must know, the children attend good schools and engage in social activities to help erase the stigma of isolation from other members of the society
WOS: How have you managed to run the Home this Home vis a vis support from individuals or corporate bodies?
FM: Well we have kept the dream alive through well-meaning Nigerians, who come on daily basis to support the Home with whatever they have, either in kind or cash and this has helped us to keep up with the demands of running the home
WOS: How did it feel winning the 2 million naira grand prize in the 4th edition of supermom?
FM: I was so glad to hear that So-Said Charity Home won, but I was more impressed by the number of people calling to congratulate me, which means that the public are really interested in the work, and the cash involved will help in running the activities of the Home.
WOS: What do you think will happen when you pass on, have you thought about a succession plan?
FM: Sosaid is an organization just like other organizations for example the red cross, girls guide, boys scout, Usaid and so on, it has already been structured in such a way that the organization is different from the C.E.O as a person, because it has its board of trustees, board members, state coordinators, patron/patroness, administrators and managers in every state where it exists, so it has grown above one a man business, if I pass on, it will continue the way it is functioning in other branches without me and I give God the glory for that, it’s all about having a vision and having people who agree with a vision because they understand it.
WOS: Thank you for your time