Friendship Formed At Birth:
A Tale of Big Vitalis and Small Vitalis
Ad Gentes Report:
Jankasa is an open dry savannah farming community in Shiroro local government area of Niger state in Nigeria. Except for shrubs and vast expanse of savannah, it is dotted with cylindrical huts that cluster in homesteads of the local Gwari people that have occupied the area for centuries. Majority of the rural inhabitants are neither Christian nor Muslim, the dominant religions in modern Nigeria, though some adhere to traditional African religious practices of their ancestors.
As desolate as Jankasa is, so are the amenities that one would consider basic services provided to a community by the government that oversees the area. Instead, the community barely exists in the vision of the political and social establishment in the state. They have no schools, hospitals, community centers, electricity or other basic services of modern living. The lack of electricity is particularly painful since the largest hydro-electric dam that supplies electricity to virtually all of Nigeria is located a few miles away within the same local area council. Yet, the closest notion of electric light is what the Jankasa community gazes at in the distance from their huts every night.
It was in this community that the nascent Ad Gentes Missionary Society and Congregation decided to found their first home community in Nigeria. With a huge expanse of land donated and some sold to them by local community members, Ad Gentes Missionaries set out to construct a convent for their nuns, as well as other facilities to aid in their work. But looking around and realizing the hopelessness and guaranteed stunted future for the teeming children and adolescents in the community, they decided to establish a primary school to provide formal education for these kids and adolescents. That soon expanded to setting up craft and skills acquisition centers for the parents of these kids, who eager to learn had come along with their children to enroll in the primary school.
The establishment of the Ad Gentes Missionary community soon became the focal point of “government” and “social authority” entities perceived by the local community, where they could get “all” their services beyond just relying on similarly impoverished neighbors.
Ad Gentes Missionary Sisters soon became the “welfare officers”, “social workers”, “marriage counselors”, “financial aid facilitators”, “health care coordinators”, and of course teachers and provider of every need that anyone could come up with. While the Nuns were not equipped to handle all the demands, they could not say ‘no’ to villagers that approached them with compelling situations that demand attention and sometimes urgent attention.
It was in this vein that a local village woman along with her husband knocked on the doors of the nuns in the middle of the night. The woman was having premature labor and in desperate need of medical attention. Luckily, Reverend Father Vitalis Anyanike, the founder of Ad Gentes Missionary Society and Congregation, was visiting the community from his base in the United States that week. He was quickly roused from sleep and told about the emergency situation they were faced with. This was the middle of night, the nearest hospital was about 50 kilometers away and there was no ambulance or medical personnel around.
Father Vitalis seeing the deteriorating condition of the pregnant woman and the agony in the faces of her family members quickly agreed with the nuns to load up the family in the Ad Gentes van and drove them to the hospital that night. Not unexpectedly, the family had no money for the basic hospital bills, as you had to pay first before receiving medical attention. It was for the same reason that the pregnant woman never had any antenatal care all through her pregnancy until that night. Father Vitalis facilitated payment of all the bills for the care to proceed and luckily, the woman had a successful delivery of a bouncing baby boy.
In appreciation of Ad Gentes Missionaries saving her life, as the family put it, the mother and her husband decided to name their son Vitalis (Vitalis Danjuma Zongo), after Reverend Father Vitalis. Comically and not knowing the ways of the Catholic Church, they first insisted on naming their son, Reverend Father Vitalis. They only shortened it to Vitalis when they were persuaded that Reverend Father was a title which you acquire with time, education and ordination, and not straight from birth. Now, little Vitalis is 4 years old, and as though he knew the circumstances of his birth, he always walks the soccer field distance from his hut into the Ad Gentes compound on his own to play and eat with the Nuns, and sometimes wanders into any classroom of his choosing while classes are going on and stays for as long as he likes.
In October 2014, while big Vitalis was visiting the
Ad Gentes Missionary compound for the religious
profession of another set of Ad Gentes
Reverend Sisters, little Vitalis and his father
Danjuma Zongo, stopped by to say hello and
have lunch with big Vitalis. This is indeed
a budding friendship that started from birth.