First Lady of Enugu State, Mrs. Monica Ugwuanyi (middle) with pupils of Community Central School, Obe, Nkanu West Council, where her foundation offered some scholarship awards, built lavatories and renovated classroom blocks

Laurence Ani writes on how the First Lady of Enugu State, Mrs. Monica Ugwuanyi, crisscrossed the 17 local government areas of the state to bring social welfare programmes to the residents of various rural communities through her Ugo Touch of Life Foundation

A major criticism of non-governmental organisations is the fact their operations are mostly sited in urban areas, and less so in rural areas where the critical intervention they offer is more expedient. But there is also another compelling reason why NGOs ought to train their attention on rural areas – a large majority of the country’s population resides there.

A sense of just how severe the development deficit could be for rural dwellers emerged in the last couple of weeks as the Enugu State First Lady, Mrs. Monica Ugwuanyi, crisscrossed the state’s 17 local government areas to bring the social welfare programmes offered by the Ugo Touch of Life Foundation (U-TOLF) to residents of various rural communities.

At each stop, an overwhelming number of locals thronged venues of the humanitarian outreach to access items donated by the foundation and services that often comprise screenings and treatment for medical ailments, entrepreneurship training with the accompanying seed capital, scholarship awards to indigent students and several other vital socio-economic undertakings. From the outset, the goal of the foundation established by Mrs. Ugwuanyi was unmistaken. “It is our commitment to touch the lives of the vulnerable in 17 local government areas of the state. This pursuit is a care-giving job designed to touch the lives of the downtrodden,” she explained during her visit to Ohodo, a community in Igbo-Etiti council area.

The conviction that underline her humanitarian endeavour is a fairly straightforward philosophy. “Learn to be compassionate to one another to attract the blessings of the Lord. The time is never ever insufficient for us to touch somebody’s life. Touch people’s lives to enable them to always remember you, love one another, don’t hate your fellow human being and endeavour to assist the vulnerable,” said the governor’s wife.

And it’s just as well that such altruistic outlook syncs perfectly with Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s move to often reach out to disadvantaged groups, the least developed zones and the vision to create more urban centres via extensive infrastructure upgrade in rural communities. It was this commitment that inspired the administration’s “every community, one project” initiative and simultaneous flag-off of 35 major projects across all the local government areas, late last year.

Like her self-effacing husband, she is demure and unassuming, traits that are at odds with life in the spotlight. But she has nonetheless been inexorably thrust into public glare by fate. And how well she has acquitted herself, earning wide acclaim through her infectious grace, simplicity, generosity and remarkable work ethics. She has so far traversed numerous communities in councils such as Igbo-Etiti, Nkanu West, Isi-Uzo, Udenu as well as Oji River, and despite the physical strain that such busy schedule exerts, remains unrelenting in her resolve.

For instance, just a few months after her visit to Nkanu West for a mass deworming of pupils, she was back last week at the council. This time she implemented projects which somewhat eclipsed the equally spectacular deeds undertaken at her last visit. This includes the award of scholarship to six pupils of Community Central School, Obe, where she cut the ribbons to inaugurate lavatories and blocks of classroom built and renovated, respectively, by her foundation and also distributed uniforms to the pupils, gestures which the member representing Nkanu West at the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board, Mrs. Nkiru Ogbodo, described as the “first of its kind in the state”.

A common refrain during such visits is how complementary her welfare-themed interventions have proved in relation to the government’s own programmes, and how supportive she has been of the governor’s objectives. The paramount ruler of Ngwo, Igwe Innocent Ayalogu, alluded to these in exultant terms when the First Lady visited Udi Local Government Area in continuation of her socio-economic outreach. “The monumental development in Enugu State piloted by our dynamic and amiable governor leaves no one in doubt. We believe in the axiom that behind every successful man is the wife, the people’s governor is a grassroots politician,” he said at the medical outreach that featured screenings to detect medical ailments like eye defects, diabetes, cervical and breast cancer.

Mrs. Nwanneka Agbo, wife of the Igbo-Etiti council chairman paid the governor’s wife a similar compliment during her visit. “This is an era where over 30 states of the federation are struggling to pay or simply cannot pay salaries. Enugu State is gradually but steadily reclaiming its past glory as a pacesetter in development, in peace, and in security. You deserve as much encomiums having proved beyond any shade of doubt to be a pillar of strength,” she noted, commending the First Lady for her medical outreach which she said has helped in alleviating several health challenges that residents in their communities typically experience.

But beyond the resounding applause the Enugu State First Lady is earning for her selfless efforts to bridge social gaps, there is a gradual imbibing of the virtues she has tirelessly espoused among the populace. Wife of Isi-Uzo Local Government Area chairman, Mrs. Roseline Edeoga, hinted at this during the graduation ceremony of Sure Hope Empowerment Scheme, a foundation she fashioned after Mrs. Ugwuanyi’s U-TOLF.

“Inspired by your zeal to put smiles on the faces of the less-privileged in our state, and in line with your exhortations with regard to improving the lives of the poor and needy at the grassroots, I embarked on the empowerment programme to assist indigent youths in the council’s 11 wards. We educate them on the dangers of drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, indolence, and offer them skills acquisition trainings. By the grace of God, they will soon become self-reliant and employers of labour. I appreciate your motherly care, support and encouragement in making this day a success,” she said.

Mrs. Ugwuanyi admonished the trainees to always be diligent and hardworking to enable them to actualise their dreams and grow in their different vocations. “Make use of the skills you have learnt to assist others; a journey of a thousand miles starts with a pace,” she counseled the youths as they waited in line to receive their certificates and items comprising computer laptops, sewing machines, hair dryers and welding machines.

The beneficiaries and host communities of the outreaches have expressed their gratitude in mostly effusive terms, pronouncing God’s blessings and conferring traditional titles on her. But despite all the adulation, Mrs. Ugwuanyi still betrays no obsession for the limelight or the fripperies of privilege. For her, empowering society’s most vulnerable ones is simply a calling to which she will always be committed.

Ani, formerly editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper and later Saturday Telegraph, is a senior research and communications aide to the governor of Enugu State