Due to a debilitating work injury sustained by his father, Leo Okonkwo was pulled out of school at age 11 to work as a bonded house servant for a local tribal chief in exchange for financial aid. Leo longed to return to school and continue learning, but his hopes were dim. When he was 14, Leo resolved to pray a 9-day novena to St. John Bosco and on the 9th day he received an offer to attend a minor seminary. His house master released Leo who returned to school full of gratitude and joy. Right then, he made a covenant with God, promising to be a holy priest and to be the slave of poor and marginalized children in situations like, or worse than, his own. Leo went on to found Water For Life Mission in 1997 to extract clean water in rural villages and to educate poor orphaned children.
Watch Leo, now a Deacon, tell his story here.
In addition to digging clean water wells and raising funds to pay for orphans’ school fees, Leo also prayed for the sick in the rural villages. Diseases like AIDS, Malaria, and Cholera are common in villages where contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation prevail. Volunteer missionaries joined Leo’s efforts and, in 2004, he organized them into a religious community called the Messengers of Justice (MOJ), who model their lives on Jesus Christ in service of the poor and marginalized orphans and widows. The costs of paying for orphans to attend private school became prohibitive. So, in 2006, with the blessing of his family, Leo willed his father’s estate and purchased land in the rural village of Umuagwu. There, the Mother Enabler Compassionate Home School became both the home and school for the orphans.
Problems arose when Leo lost his funding sources due to philosophical differences regarding the religious and educational nature of his mission. His supporters wanted him to focus only on water. This issue was compounded by the Nigerian government pressuring Leo to upgrade a dilapidated structure he used for primary school classes. Under threat from the government to shut down the Home School, Leo reached out to his old friend and former seminary classmate, Nick Costello. In 2013, Leo visited Nick in Chicago and founded Home To Enhance African Life (HEAL) as a 501c3 charity.
Download and print our HEAL introductory brochure.
Watch Nick talk about HEAL and why he got involved.