As parts of efforts to assist the less privileged in the society, Airtel Nigeria has been using the Airtel Touching Lives initiative to impact on people’s livelihoods, write Ugo Aliogo and Jemima Bolokor

She laid down on the rugged floor, her mouth was dripping with saliva. She was looking helpless and weak. She could barely move her hands and legs. Sitting beside her, was her mother looking frustrated and drained of hope. Treasure Egwuatu can neither hear nor communicate properly. She is in a serious dilemma, in her present state, material things makes less meaning to her. All she aspires for is to live a normal life like others.
Egwuatu is seven-year-old girl suffering from a medical condition known as cerebral palsy. The condition has prevented her from living a normal life like others. It is a condition which involves a group of permanent movement disorders that appears in early childhood.

Medical research posits that the symptoms include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, and tremors. It could result to problems with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing, and speaking. Babies with cerebral palsy do not roll over, sit, crawl, or walk as early like other children of their age. It is caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance, and posture.
The mother of Treasure, Mrs. Ruth Egwuatu, said at the initial stage, she cried and prayed to God to reverse the situation, but it did not change. She however accepted the situation as her cross and never gave up on her daughter. As a single parent, she continued to seek recourse in prayer and the support from her mother. For Egwuatu, treading this lonely path has been very difficult, but her determination and courage in the face of adversity has kept her strong.

In the journey of life, the supplications of the afflicted are not left unanswered by God. Recently, Treasure’s case received the attention of Airtel Nigeria, and she was nominated in the Airtel touching lives episode 9.
After a thorough screening process, Treasure’s entry was picked and she given an imported deluxe wheelchair to aid her gradual recovery. She was also given a speech therapy and physiotherapy session. Treasure’s story is one amongst many individuals which Telco is utilizing its Touching Lives initiative to create a compelling narrative.
Egwuatu expressed appreciation to the telecommunication company for the gesture, noting that her burden has been lightened and daughter is improving gradually.
The programme which is a television series targets individuals and communities with a story to tell. It offers a platform to celebrate humanity, inspiring hope and enhancing people’s quality of life. The programme identifies extraordinary people from various walks of life with dire needs and impacts their lives. The programme has helped build a culture of giving selflessly and nominating extraordinary individuals, who ought to be given a gateway to a better life.

Speaking during a viewing session in Lagos recently, the Director Corporation Communication and Cooperate Social Responsibility (CSR) Airtel, Emeka Oparah, stated that the touching lives initiative is aimed at supporting the less privileged in the society.
Noting that the uniqueness of the initiative is not only to assist the needy, but also to encourage others to help, “the reason behind what we are doing is that, when people see the good work we have done, they will be motivated to also do the same thing.”
Oparah explained that through the initiative they are trying to spread a message of giving, adding that they get positive feedbacks from the media, the community and the stakeholders, adding “government is impressed with the way we go about it.”

He said: “We try to go a step further to touch people’s lives. Touching people’s lives is very wonderful. We are not obliged to do this, yet we do it, pay tax and go a step further to touch lives. Another unique thing about touching lives is that the people you touch their lives do not go back to their former condition.
“We intend to continue this project because if it is not a good thing, we would have stopped. Generally speaking, CSR is beginning to get good attention from government. Last year during the tax reform period, the people in tax office were asking me to put together a story of what we have done. But I could not put figures together; I know CSR is influencing tax.
“As the country develops, we will begin to see goodwill reporting. Again, we are a private company and we are not quoted on the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE), therefore we cannot account for it publicly. But I know that as things take shape in the future, government will tell the story of how companies are giving back.
“The mechanism for a nominee is that at the beginning of a new season, we call for nominations. It comes through email, text messages, or typed document. Then we collate all these entries together. We screen the entries and pick 10, 20, 30 entries out maybe out of the hundred that are most pressing.
“Touching lives is an initiative centred not just in Lagos; rather we concentrate in all the geo-political zones. It is our CSR flagship initiative. The reason behind the initiative is that there are a lot of incredible changes people are going through. People are really suffering, it is only when you look closely, you realise that people are going through a lot. We have received a total of 75,000 entries, and for this year we had 1,000 entries.

“For us, the real essence of it is to create awareness for the hardship that people are going through. Airtel invests just money to help and encourage others to join us. We want to popularise the ideal of giving. This is the season 2 of the programme and we are not planning to stop here. We have been in this for a long time and the initiative is something that is borne out of the desire of the employee to help the poor.
“We have what is known as employee volunteer scheme, it is an initiative where staff give certain amount of their salary monthly, some give debit loan and some write cheques which we put together to give to the poor in the community. It was what the staff were doing that motivated the company to do a little more into touching lives.”

Oparah appealed to the media for support, in order to propagate the message, while encouraging other people to emulate what Airtel is doing stressing that the brand wants to remain customer friendly and the most loved brand in the country.
The story of Treasure is a reminder that we should always appreciate God for the gift of good health. Whether in affluence or want, good health is vital. When people suffer serious health challenges, it can impede their dreams and prevent them from living a normal life.