Father Christopher Okrie, a priest in Our Lady of Mercy Parish, has long been working on plans to provide clean water to what used to be the village he resided in, Obinagu, Nigeria. Everyday, children living in that village must walk miles to a polluted stream to bring water to their families. More than one third of the people living in Africa have access to clean water, and as a result, millions of people die each year from waterborne diseases.
Upon coming to America and becoming an assistant at Our Lady of Mercy, Father Okrie shared his stories of Nigeria to the rest of the church, receiving extreme feedback. Members of the church wanted to do something to help, and so for the past year, Our Lady of Mercy’s non-profit organization Water for Life in Africa has been raising funds to dig a permanent well in Obinagu, which will end up costing from $100,000-$150,000.
The people living in Obinagu have been neglected by the government, who should be providing clean water and electricity to all citizens. However, this distribution fails to reach many of the people, leaving them without water and electricity. In Lagos, a major city in Nigeria, there are entire apartment buildings that have no electricity at all.
To make matters worse, Nigerians have undergone extreme exploitation over the search for oil in the Niger Delta since the 1990’s. Recently, the Nigerians have formed militia groups and are fighting back, demanding that usage of the Delta go back to the Nigerians. Still, any oil taken from the Delta provides no benefit to the people of Nigeria, and many protests against this result in their houses being burned down.
Father Christopher has hopes that by one small act at a time, and with the help of others, he can make a difference in his homeland of Nigeria, and provide a better life to those living there. This shouldn’t prove to be too difficult, seeing all the people who have volunteered to hold events and give their time to him to help in any way possible. Jim Freeley, an associate professor of business at C.W. Post College had his students host a fashion show to benefit the cause, raising $5,000. Donations from parish members have been pouring in, ranging from $2 to $10,000. In total, Water for Life has received about $40,000 from donations alone.
In addition to acting as a priest in Our Lady of Mercy, Father Christopher serves as a part-time chaplain at St. John’s Prep, in Astoria. Students there
have raisted about $4,000 for Water for Life, and are pondering a trip to Nigeria as a service project. Besides this, people who arrive at soup suppers or fundraisers that Our Lady of Mercy holds become interested, and offer to help with the organization, or have fundraisers of their own.
In seeing all of the enthusiasm and feedback from people who learn of his project, Father Christopher has never once doubted that his plan will be successful. He is bringing newfound hope to the people of Obinagu.