Valentin Ndoba was studying political science at the University of Lubunbashi, in Zaire (now DR Congo), when he woke and heard a disturbance outside. Curious, the 24-year-old student got up and went out to find out what was happening, to find himself in the middle of an escalating student demonstration.
It was 5 February 1989. Unhappy they had not received the scholarship money promised, students were demonstrating on campus. As Valentin arrived the government sent in soldiers to force the students to stop. Chaos ensued, and trigger-happy soldiers opened fire. Valentin was hit..
The bullet went in his lower right shoulder, through his spine and lodged in his left shoulder. In a critical state, and unable to feel or use his legs, his panic-stricken friends took him to the university medical clinic, where doctors fought to stabilise him. After ten days, concerned about the political fallout, the government of Zaire paid for him to be sent to a clinic in South Africa, where Valentin went straight into intensive care. The government was claiming no-one had been seriously hurt in the incident and wanted Valentin tucked away out of sight, to prevent his story spreading.
Valentin had significant internal bleeding. As he recovered, doctors recommended he should be sent for rehabilitation to either Switzerland or the UK. With rehabilitation there was a chance he could regain the use of his legs. There were no good rehab options for a black student in apartheid South Africa.
The Zairean government refused. They weren’t interested in an expensive European clinic where his story might be heard. Instead the message came that they would decide where to send him. And so Valentin found himself in Morocco. Hidden away, in an ordinary hospital, with no specialist rehab facilities or even physiotherapy.
Valentin was stranded. No passport, no money, no Arabic. His bed was provided, his meals were paid for, but, still paralysed from the waist down, he couldn’t walk, receive treatment or continue his studies.
This situation would drag on for a further three years. Until Global Care stepped in.
Students from a French-speaking church used to visit the hospital, and eventually befriended Valentin, who lay there, day after day, week after week They started taking him out for Bible Study groups and to choir practice – he loved to sing! One day they brought him to a Bible study group at the home of Ailsa Mackintosh, run by her friend Gill Shipp, two British expats coming to the end of careers in Morocco. They too befriended this lonely young man, derailed by a tragedy not of his making, alone in a foreign land with life-altering disabilities and no idea of what the future held. Suffering frequent infections, Valentin was often in a great deal of pain.
In 1990, Ailsa left Morocco, and Gill also retired back to the UK shortly after. After two years, in August 1991, the Zairean government allowed Valentin to have a passport. But there was still no other change.
Then, in 1992, the daughter of the pastor at the French-speaking church Valentin attended got a job at a rehabilitation clinic in Belgium. She messaged home – if they could raise £3,000 Valentin could have three months rehab there. Maybe it would be a way out of the impasse? By this stage, back in the UK, both Alisa and Gill were working for Global Care. When they heard the news, they took it straight to Ron Newby, Global Care’s founder and CEO. Now aged 27, Valentin was way older than the children Global Care usually supported. Gill recalls: “Ron agreed that he could stretch a point, as officially Valentin was still a student, and it was such an unusual situation. He told us that if we could raise £2000, Global Care would contribute the remaining £1000.”
However, unbeknownst to Ailsa and Gill, back in Morocco Valentin had received unwelcome news. The Zairean government would no longer pay his costs, and the hospital planned to evict him in two weeks. There was no money for flights home, and he was worried about his safety if he did attempt to return. He would be out on the streets, a disabled beggar. “I wouldn’t have lasted a fortnight,” he says.
“It’s at this point that the timing becomes so crucial”, recalls Gill. She had been invited to Bromley Baptist Church to speak on Global Care’s behalf at the church’s harvest festival supper, the proceeds of which were to be shared between Global Care and another charity. Gill told them Valentin’s story and they held a collection: “They collected £4,000 – it was a miracle, just from a harvest supper! So at this point we were able to say quite definitely, there’s a place available for him at the clinic. The timing was just superb.”
Not wanting to alert anyone, the French pastor visited the hospital to take Valentin out as usual, but instead took him straight to the airport in Casablanca, gave him a one way ticket to Belgium and told his daughter to meet the plane with a wheelchair. “It was a miracle” says Valentin.
Valentin spent three months in the rehab clinic. After three years with no treatment they could not restore movement, so they focussed on teaching him skills which would make him independent, how to do shopping and cooking, how to manage his condition better, as well as computer skills.
Valentin claimed asylum in Belgium and was eventually granted refugee status. For the last 15 years he has worked in administration at the clinic where he was rehabilitated, and is now an elder at the church which first welcomed him to Brussels.
After his asylum application was granted he was able to make a short visit home, to visit his mother, whom he hadn’t seen for 13 years. While there he met Emilie, the girl he had wished to marry when he was a student, now divorced with three children. His mum said “wouldn’t it be good…” And so began two years of courtship by phone and letter, until they were married by proxy in 2004, allowing Emilie and her youngest son to join him in Brussels.
Now aged 54, Valentin is still so grateful to Global Care, which saved him from potential life and death on the streets of Morocco. He says: “I was in need and Global Care didn’t know me, but they stepped in and helped me. I have seen the hand of God at work through Global Care.”