For Mercy Statter, the opening of a school in Nigeria for vulnerable children and teenagers was a fulfilment of her mother’s dying wish.
Martha Okoro’s whole life revolved around helping people within her community, regardless of her own situation.
Widowed very young, it was always a dream of hers to build a school for children in Nigeria who would never get the opportunity of realising their hopes and dreams through an educational route.
She passed away in October 2012, never realising her dream due to her illness.
Mercy, 49, from Morecambe, who came to the UK in 2000 after marrying her husband Mike, was unable to see her mother before she died.
After a trip to Nigeria in 2012 after her mother died, she said: “It was so emotional, All these children depended on her. there were nine or 10 kids at the time.
“I came back and spoke to my husband Mike. I wanted to make a difference to these children.”
In February 2013, less than one year after Martha passed away, Martha’s daughter Mercy and Mercy’s husband Michael founded Martha’s Dream, carrying on Martha’s lifelong dream.
The charity was born with the aim of providing a free school that would have both a significant and positive impact on the children and families within the community that Martha so passionately wanting to help.
Mercy and Mike held their first fundraising event and with their own resources, appealed to the local community for help in raising funds and raising awareness.
There was the first glimmer of hope that the possibilities of the project were attainable.Mike Statter, Mercy’s husband and co-founder of Martha’s Dream, said: “Our aim was to build a school but we realised it might take years so we managed to rent a property. Twenty five people turned up on the day and we now have 157 children. One girl aged 13 had never been to school.”
In Nigeria, children with albinism or Down’s Syndrome are treated like outcasts.
The teachers don’t know how to accept these kids, said Mercy.
She said: “One girl with albinism had never been taken to the doctors and had all sorts of health issues.
“Her mother doesn’t have a job and her father drives a tuktuk. He was previously working as a security guard making 10,000 NIRA a month – the equivalent of £20.61 a month.
“This is why we opened this school for vulnerable children like this and we have made a massive difference.”
One particular child who was living on the streets after being abandoned by his parents held a special place in Mercy’s heart.
She said: “We had a kid we called Mark and he was one of the kids who moved me. His own case is extraordinary.”
Mark (not his real name) was born on April 1, 2005 at Uzuakoli, Abia State, Nigeria.
Mark was born after two siblings had died both within 12 months of being born. Mark’s mother and father separated due to the mother insisting she was a witch.
She told her husband she couldn’t repent because her father was a native doctor and would die if she confessed to this. Mark’s father sent him away with his mother but in 2008 she sent him back.
Mark was sent to several schools but every time, the schools refused to educate him due to his disruptive behaviour.
Mark’s father re-married but his second wife died, eight months into her pregnancy.
Due to the belief that Mark is to blame for this death due to evil spirits within him, he had been abandoned and left to fend for himself.
This included sleeping in the street and begging food from whoever took pity on him.
When Mark tried to find shelter away from the street he was often chased away or manhandled.
In October 2017, Mark was seen wandering around the streets of the village in a state of complete confusion.
Mercy’s brother Emmanuel, the project coordinator at the school, immediately fed him and conquered his trust, to bring him for medical checks.
Generous donations from UK beneficiaries allowed the charity to give Mark a complete health assessment and provide him with food and shelter, where he is now slowly starting to recover from the deep psychological damage his story has caused.
Mercy said: “No child in this day and age should be subjected to these conditions. It is our wish that Mark and many more like him can be helped through Martha.
“This is a familiar story throughout rural Nigeria and it is through spreading these appalling stories and making people aware that we will succeed in our school project.”
In February 2017, Martha’s Dream Academy opened its doors and welcomed 40 children on the first day. In July 2017, the first nursery graduation took place.
This year the children in Nursery 3 graduated and will be starting Primary 1 in September.
Mercy said:“We are trying to educate the parents as well. If the parents aren’t educated they can’t get decent jobs.
“It helps the whole community really if the young mothers have a skill. We are setting up a shop for the young women to learn sewing.
“If people could donate sewing machines we can employ a teacher and people can learn how to be independent and support themselves and the kids.”
The charity is not resting on its laurels and is continuing to fundraise and send money and donations to the school.
Mercy, who runs a cleaning business, has two sons, Tony, 17 and Jason, 15. Both their schools have run fundraising events and asked for people to donate items for the charity.
Mike Statter, 51, a support worker who is currently studying at UClan, said: “We use a company in Manchester, 90% of their work is shipping stuff to Africa, which takes about six weeks on a boat.
“Lancaster Road CP School and St Bernard’s RC School in Preston have raised money and donations off their own back.
“Our two sons both went to Lancaster Road CP School and the teachers and pupils were wonderful, raising money and asking for clothes etc to be donated.
“We self-funded the school for the first eight months and never asked for money. People donated and fundraisers helped us.
“What we want and need is sustainability.”
Martha’s Dream has a sponsorship scheme for the school or the pupils, with a minimum donation of £6 a month.
They provide meals three times a week at lunch.
The charity sends 30,000 naira in Nigerian currency to feed the children per term which is a massive commitment. They also hold fundraisers throughout the year.
In the future, the charity has an Academy 2020 project which aims to build, by September 2020, a joint primary and secondary school.
The charity will then be able to offer free secondary education to young adults.
The next fundraising event for Martha’s Dream is a cross-bay walk from Arnside to Kents Bank on Sunday, August 18, starting at 10.45am.