July 30, 1968

The Uturu Catholic Mission for Children

On July 30, 1968, New York Times war correspondent, Mr. Lloyd Garrison, visited the Catholic Mission for Children in Uturu, Biafra and filed this report reproduced unabridged:

Mr. Lloyd Garrison, Journalist, Former Foreign Correspondent for The New York Times

{An atmosphere of death and despair hangs over this hilltop Roman Catholic seminary in secessionist Biafra, now an emergency hospital for more than 300 starving children. It is a hospital in name only. The children, all skin and bones, lie on straw mats on the floors of the dormitories and class rooms. There is no resident doctor and virtually no medicine. Even the aspirin has run out. Two Biafran nurses and three Marist brothers work round the clock in the race against death. The strain has taken its tool. The Marist brothers, Scottish, Irish and American, on the verge of physical and spiritual breakdown.

At the foot of the hill, a new grave is dug every morning and is not filled over until nightfall. Vultures circle overhead, lured by the scent of death. The children are buried as soon as they die, wrapped in their straw mats. There is no time for casket-making. There is no time for funerals. A few prayers are murmured at graveside as the child is lowered gently. Then it's back to work again.

Brother Aloysius, the Irishman, takes 10 minutes off at noon for a smoke and tea break in the mission house. He is a tall, wiry man of 41 with a craggy face deeply lined with fatigue. He sits hunched over in his chair, head in his hands, close to tears. “I don't know, I don't know,” he whispers. “I'm fast losing faith in humanity. I don't know how the Lord can permit this.” He stumps out his cigarette and the monologue continues. “It's one thing to be killed by machine guns. But how can the world allow one country to starve out another? Whether you die by the bullet or from hunger, it's still the same thing: genocide.”

Brother Aloysius is angry at Britain for giving Nigeria arms. He is angry at the United States for backing British policy. He is vitriolic over the refusal of Nigeria’s Head of Government, Maj. Gen. Yakubu Gowon, to allow relief flights to fly direct to Biafra with aid, a stand taken on the ground that direct flights would compromise Nigerian claims to sovereignty over this former Eastern Region, which seceded May 31, 1967. Civil war broke out the following July.

“I wish I could fly,” Brother Aloysius continues. “I’d get a Red Cross plane and fill it up with food and fly it to Biafra in broad daylight. I’d defy Gowon to shoot me down.” The American, Brother James, enters quietly and slumps down in a chair. “Can you image?” Brother Aloysius goes on. “In this district alone, we could fill 20 hospitals with starving children. Out in the villages, they’re dying by the scores. Even here, we’ve buried 32 in the last 11 days.” “Thirty three,” says Brother James. “Who was it?” “Johnny, the little one we had on intravenous. We just buried him.” Both men fall silent.

From the distance comes the rumble of artillery. Biafra’s northern front is only eight miles away. Are they worried about the coming of the Nigerians? No, not for ourselves,” answers Brother James. “They normally don’t kill a man of the cloth. Not if he’s a white man. But we fear for the rest.” “It would be one thing,” Brother Aloysius adds, “if we were merely overrun and they let us get on with the job of saving the children.” But when they took Abakaliki, they put the 11 white fathers there on house arrest. In the hospital outside Enugu, they shot all 14 Biafran nurses who stayed behind, then went down the wards, killing the patients as well. It was the same thing at Port Harcourt.” Silence again.

Then Brother Aloysius rises, says good-bye and pauses at the door.

“I’m sorry to have rambled on like this,” he says. “We’re all run down, you know. We’re on our last legs. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid what you see is a very embittered, disillusioned old man.” (New York Times)

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