The outpouring of love and testimonies that rent the air at Rose Of Sharon Glorious Ministry auditorium on June 23, was unprecedented.It was on the occasion of the International Widows’ Day, a day set aside and recognised by the United Nations to celebrate widows globally. Widows, young and old, had gathered in their hundreds. These widows were beneficiaries of the Rose Of Sharon Foundation, an NGO focused on alleviating the plight of widows and orphans.
The atmosphere at the event locates the purpose of the occasion which was meant to draw public’s attention to their challenges. In so doing, they will draw many more positive influencers in one way or the other in fighting for the widows and their children all over the nation while providing for their needs. These needs include but not limited to free medical healthcare, scholarship and sponsorships, free interest loans to enable them start up businesses, and provision of free legal services to support other agencies.
Tagged, the Rose of Sharon International Widows’ Day, the organisers noted that the event marked the 4th celebration by the foundation since inception in line with United Nations mandate to celebrate the course of widows. Ironically, the same international agency had described widows all over the world as: “absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society”. It is of utmost concern then that their travails and challenges have gone almost unnoticed by the generality of the society.
The widows have different kinds of challenges from time to time, many of which are not immediately met. However, the Rose of Sharon Foundation which is strongly believed to be spiritually mandated and committed not to allow their plights to go unnoticed are more so, determined to fight for their rights and provide succour to them as best as possible. Hence the need to celebrate them regularly, especially on the day globally recognised.
The founder of Rose of Sharon, Mrs. FolorunsoAlakija, whom the women described as their pillar and source of strength, encouragement and inspiration, had amongst other distinguished personalities graced the occasion. The personalities include Her Excellency, The First Lady of Lagos State Mrs. BolanleAmbode, represented by Dr. Folashade Onanuga, Director General, Lagos State Pension Commission; and Mrs. AyodejiMegbope (CEO No Left Overs Nigeria Limited). Others are Mrs. Aisha Imeh-James of Ample Food Venture; Mr. Adewumi Oni (Head, Micro Enterprise Unit of the Lagos State Employability Trust Fund); and the Medical Doctors and their team led by Dr. Martina Agberien.
The guests had by their various offerings impacted on the widows one way or the other through either medical and health services provided during the course of the day, to cash donation made by the First Lady of Lagos State, on to the healthtalk delivered by Dr. Friday Oke of Vision Spring on eye maintenance and care treatment.
The offerings include a special medical outreach session where the women were given medical treatments, such as checking up their blood pressure to finding out if any one of them had any form of ailment. Ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure tests, this had preceded other programmes of the day, leading up to the main conference of the event.
Health workers including doctors and nurses attended to the widows, drugs were prescribed and dispensed to them after various assessments on them. Those with ailments such as high BP and low sugar level based on the result of the tests carried out, got drugs prescribed to them in turn.
In her capacity as the Grand Matron of The Rose of Sharon Foundation, the First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. BolanleAmbode, donated N1,000,000 to support and advance the cause of the widows. The money was allocated equally amongst the widows present at the occasion.
One of the high points of the day was the amazingly inspiring story of the guest speaker Mrs. Megbope, whose ‘moimoi’ business she started with just a thousand naira has grown into a full scale catering company. According to Mrs. Alakija, “This year, we have with us a seasoned entrepreneur as our guest speaker in the person of Mrs. Ayodeji Megbope, the CEO of No Left Overs Nigeria Limited, a full-scale catering company. She started with a take-off capital of N1000 but today has an annual turn-over that runs into millions of naira.” She took the widows on a roller coaster of her grass to grace journey just to encourage and empower them towards economic liberation.
“This same business has taken her to the White House in America. We hope that her story will inspire and encourage many of our widows and others today, to believe in themselves and realise that with hard work and tenacity, no amount is too small to start the journey towards economic freedom,” Mrs. Alakija added.
With the theme of this year’s celebration being “Economic Empowerment of Widows: A Call To Reach Out And Touch”, the foundation believes that the greatest need for widows is economic empowerment. “This is because most of them are stripped of their husband’s financial and material resources at the demise of their spouse. The result is that widowed mothers would have to support their families alone.
“Without help and support, they are forced to withdraw their children from school and to rely on their labour. Moreover, the daughters of these widows may suffer multiple deprivations, increasing their vulnerability to abuse. The sons may get into bad company and so on and so forth.”
Speaking on the journey and success so far recorded by the foundation, Mrs. Alakija said: “Initially we had just three widows for a year and half and we cried to the Lord, saying ‘there ought to be widows in this state and in this country, where are they?”Eventually God spoke to me to go on air. Three words, ‘go on air’. I did just that and in one day, having gone on air, we had a hall full of 250 widows,”
“That’s how we started. And we ended up empowering up to 900 widows to date, including sending two of their children or as the case maybe later on, one of their children to school on scholarship from whichever level they came to ask, to university and now we have extended that level to masters’ degrees amongst those who excelled exceptionally. And we give glory to God.”
She however called for the enforcement of various laws that forbid barbaric acts against widows and those that were vulnerable in the society, of which category children and orphans fall into. She also used the occasion to charge the government at all levels to support and provide specifically for the widows and not only women who were being maltreated and bartered as is the case in some states of the federation.
On her part, the First Lady of Lagos State Mrs. Ambode noted that “in our society, the public unfortunately despise the widows. We sometimes even punish them rather than sympathise and empathise with them on the death of their beloved husbands.
“We all appear to forget that death is inevitable and hence we cannot but have widows, widowers, and orphans in our midst.
”The issue is what is our responsibility towards this vulnerable group? Should we care for them and their children? Should we give them a sense of belonging or should we abandon them and give them treatment given to lepers?”
She added that the plight of widows as an ostracised group was a human rights catastrophe.
“Depending on the part of the world you come from, the treatments meted out to widows differ but one thing is sure – widowhood makes the woman vulnerable. The loss of a husband is the first traumatic step in a long term ordeal.”
Mrs. Ambode expressed her desire that the widows in our immediate environment and in Nigeria at large live a life free of stigmatisation and rejection by the society, adding that widows should have the right to peace of mind and their self esteem should in no way be diminished.