In 2002, Julian had finished his specialist training to be a psychiatrist. Whilst I was qualified as an occupational therapist, and had always worked in mental health settings, at this time I was working in the voluntary sector: for Ealing Voluntary Services Council, supporting health and social care community groups in the borough. An interest in international development had brought us together, and we often wondered if it would be possible to serve overseas, but opportunities for mental health work in development were scarce. We had both always hoped Africa would be part of our future somehow; Julian was born in Congo, and moved to the UK when he was 12 years. I had taken a year out after A levels, and taught in the Congo, then moved on to Zimbabwe to complete the year.
A (very clear) door opening
So there we were, sitting in Harlesden Methodist Church one Sunday morning, and the visiting preacher mentioned that he had just returned from visiting a mental health project in south east Nigeria: Amaudo Itumbauzo. After the service, we both approached David Cruise to find out more about the project he had briefly mentioned and asked, ‘Could you use us?’ We didn’t discuss it with each other; I don’t remember any conversations about should we or shouldn’t we. I do remember being with a crowd of friends a couple of weeks later, and overhearing Julian say ‘we’re going to volunteer in Nigeria’, and thinking ‘yes, we are!’ The doors opened readily and six months later we were bumping our way down a red dirt road to a tiny village in south east Nigeria.
The Amaudo years
When people ask to explain ‘What was it like?’ it is easiest to describe the simplicity of daily life; we collected water from a hand pump for drinking water and bathing; we used a pit toilet; and we had ‘bucket baths’, we ate together in community. But my overriding memory is that life was intense; we often felt the extremes of immense joy and then despair within the same day. Life was raw. There was death and life on the door step. Funerals in the neighbouring villages were regular, the condition of people who came to the centre was heart breaking. The joy of walking into a village with an Amaudo resident, who had been presumed dead by their family, and yet was being brought home in good mental health, brought scenes of wailing and praising God. It was a privilege to be part of the process of rehabilitating people. Every day was full of new experiences and challenges.
The next chapter(s)
A few weeks before we were due to leave Amaudo, CBM, an international development agency, that had supported Amaudo, approached Julian to offer him a job as their mental health advisor for the region. It would mean a move to Abuja. Being 6 months pregnant we planned to go back to the UK to have the baby, and return to Nigeria soon after. We were excited about the prospect. I remember sitting at the airport having a coffee with our families who had met us, telling them we were going back. It was quite a shock for them. After three years, they had been looking forward to having us home, and of course seeing us go away again, with a baby, cannot have been easy. As we said, Amaudo changed our life!
Those three years at Amaudo, turned into 14 years in the West Africa region. In 2017, we returned from Togo. We are now settled into life in Tring, Hertfordshire. Julian continues to work for CBM as their Mental Health Director, as well as at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He draws heavily on his time at Amaudo and later in Nigeria and Togo. He travels frequently and still visits Nigeria at least once a year. I am working as an administrator at High Street Baptist Church in Tring. Fin and Lois, 12 and 11 years, have adjusted to life in the UK. As a family we regularly talk about Nigeria and Togo and have very happy memories. Our connection to the continent and Nigeria specifically is very strong - both Fin and Lois have God parents from our time there. Today we often plan our holidays around meeting up with the close friends we made during this time. Amaudo is an incredible project, making a real difference to people, in the midst of a great challenges. Our heart for Nigeria has never left us and we are grateful for our time at Amaudo.
You can donate to Amaudo here