With more widows empowered this month, the Rose of Sharon Foundation is fulfilling its vision of transforming the lives of vulnerable people across the world, writes Solomon Elusoji
In 2006, Chinwendu Augustine lost her husband in an accident along Oshodi Expressway. The news shook her like the trembling man who passes a hand through a strong current of electricity.
“I did not even know I would be alive today,” Augustine said, 11 years after the unfortunate incident that left her an unemployed widow with three kids to support. “It was tough and a very heavy burden; I was left all alone.”
However, in 2012, Augustine heard about the Rose of Sharon Foundation (RoSF), a non profit organisation focused on caring for widows and orphans. Quickly, she signed up. That decision changed her life. “The Foundation has really changed my life,” she said. “They wiped off my tears; they gave me interest free loans and sent my children to school.” Augustine’s only daughter just recently passed out from the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, studying Business Management and Agriculture, through a RoSF scholarship. “In fact, anytime I call upon them, they are always there for me,” Augustine added. “I thank God that He used this Foundation to take care of me.”
Augustine is not the only widow whose life has been affected by RoSF. Founded by one of the richest women in the world, Folorunso Alakija, in May 2008, the Foundation has empowered hundreds of widows and given scholarships to well over a thousand of their children. As at December 2016, 110 beneficiaries of its scholarship programme had graduated from the university. Augustine, actually, shared her story with THISDAY during the fourth edition of RoSF’s Enterprise Development Training and Skills Acquisition programme, an initiative organised with the sole aim of empowering widows and orphans for a brighter and better tomorrow. It was held within the premises of Yaba College of Technology on October 4, 2017.
“Some of these women who have been widowed have never had to work when their spouses were alive,” Alakija, in her opening speech, said. “They were pampered and taken care of, but on the demise of their husbands, they have had to take up the responsibilities of both parents, to train, feed and support their families.
“These women, like the proverbial tea bag, have been thrown into the hot water of life. But we believe in the Rose of Sharon Foundation that with little support, emotionally and financially, they will thrive, become stronger and achieve their life’s dream.
“This is what motivates us at the Rose of Sharon Foundation to keep doing what we are doing. We are living witnesses to the transformation in the lives of some of our beneficiaries who have been empowered in earlier editions of the programme. Women, who when they come to us could barely feed themselves, have now become employers of labour and are providing for their children. They have become bold, assertive and their dignities and self-esteems have been restored.”
In the last three editions, RoSF has trained and empowered over 800 widows and orphans in various vocations such as: make up artistry, decorations, fashion design, millinery, confectionery, catering, jewel making, accessory manufacturing and tie and dye making.
The handiwork of its participants from last year’s training were exhibited during the Foundation’s Christmas Party for widows and orphans in December, where they made huge sales and most of their products were sold. “We also intend to do the same this year during the party on December 14, 2017,” Alakija said.
This year, RoSF has expanded the programme to include its graduates who are awaiting their call up letters for the one-year mandatory NYSC programme and those who are currently unemployed. They’ve also introduced farming in this year’s training because of the huge economic potentials of agric business in Nigeria.
“Today, we have about 300 participants who will be undergoing training in one vocation or the other and at the end of their training, they will be empowered to start up their businesses,” Alakija, who was represented at the event by RoSF’s Public Relations Officer, Temitope Olusola, said.
The foundation’s empowerment programmes are delivered through seven initiatives: the Rose of Sharon Micro Credit Scheme, the Enterprise Development and Skills Acquisition progamme, the Small and Medium Enterprise, the RoSF Life Support Scheme, the Agric-Business Scheme, the Legal Support Services and the RoSF Shelter programme.
Also at the empowerment programme was the First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, who commended the RoSF, especially the founder, Alakija, “for all achievement recorded in the past years, in the area of welfare improvement for widows, orphans and persons in need of help.”
She noted that “although all levels of government try in various ways to make life easier for the people, much room still exists to accommodate external assistance for children without parents, women without husbands and many others in situations that make them vulnerable. It is this sort of vacuum that the Rose of Sharon Foundation was established to fill and which it has done with impressive impact, going by the happy stories of all that have benefitted from its enterprise development and skills acquisition programmes, young and old.”
Also, the First Lady, who was represented at the event by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mrs. Boladele Dapo-Thomas, specially applauded the skills acquisition programme, noting that the initiative is “commendable because it is about the best thing that can happen to a widow for welfare development. It is about teaching them to fish instead of serving them the cooked fish.
“We all know the condition of the average widow in Nigeria. It can be traumatic as it can be difficult. Widowhood here can be a nightmare, a life of isolation, when those unlucky women are exposed to the harsh reality of life.
“One of the worst things that can happen to the widow is not to have a means of income; and one of the best things that can happen to her, is to have a means of livelihood. When she does not have a means of income, she depends on the generosity of everyone, which invariably makes her even more vulnerable. But when she has a stable means of income, she is better positioned to take charge of her life and fend for her children and other dependants.”
She urged the widows to take advantage of the life-changing opportunity. “Apply your mind to the training, so that at the end of the programme, you can beat your chest as the proud owner of a skill, that can generate stable income for you,” she said, while adding that they can also “take advantage of the various skills acquisition centres of the Lagos State Government closest to you.
There are about 17 such centres across the state, teaching various women-friendly skills and professions. You can tell your friends and others who may not be aware of such opportunity. I wish to assure you that the state government will continue to pursue welfare improvement for women.”