Peter Uzoho, who was at the 10th anniversary of the Rose of Sharon Foundation in Lagos, writes on the love shown widows and orphans by Africa’s richest woman, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, in the last decade 

Like the biblical Dorcas, whose good deeds to widows and orphans still resounds, founder, Rose of Sharon Foundation (RoSF), Mrs Folorunso Alakija, has been a great succour to the widows and orphans in her time. Also recognised as one of Africa’s richest women, the oil tycoon has kept faith with those widows and orphans that the society hasn’t been fair to. 

Worldwide, it has been estimated that there are about 258 million widows, and about half of them live in extreme poverty. They are often subjected to cruelty by their immediate families while some even face discrimination. Turned immediate breadwinners after the death of their husbands, these widows often find it difficult getting their footing back.

It was to carter for such widows that the RoSF was born 10 years ago, making it a decade-long affair of transforming the lives of widows. 

Inception  

According to Alakija, it all started 10 years ago, when she received a revelation about the harrowing experiences of widows, their children and orphans. This came with an instruction – to help these less-privileged and vulnerable people by putting a smile on their faces, and to fill the vacuum created by the death of their loved ones.

Without hesitation and realising the urgency of the assignment, she set off to search for these widows. Initially, she succeeded in finding just two. Not deterred, she started organising prayer, praise and counselling sessions with them. From just two persons, the ministry soon blossomed into RoSF.  

Vision 

Established on June 23, 2008, the vision of RoSF is to be a refuge for widows and orphans. Founded as a humanitarian non-governmental organisation, RoSF’ focus is primarily to alleviate the plight of widows and orphans. And, the project has, since inception, seen the lives of such widows and orphans transformed positively in line with God’s mandate and goal of the founder and its board of trustees. 

Success Stories 

In the last 10 years, RoSF has tried to put smiles on the faces of the widows and orphans. Its success stories have been achieved through the impactful projects embarked upon by the foundation. At the moment, over 3000 widows have benefited from the foundation’s vocational skills empowerment programmes, and another 1000 widows have received its interest-free loans to start up or support their businesses.

The RoSF has equally awarded scholarships to 1, 366 students and, in addition, adopted 86 orphans whom it provides accommodation and monthly allowances for. Similarly, the foundation has provided funding for either business or residential purposes to 82 widows who were in dire need as a result of extreme situations or occurrences like fire or sudden ejection. 

Celebration

To mark a decade of its existence, the Queens Park Event Centre, Corporation Drive, Oniru, Lagos, venue of the occasion, buzzed on June 23, as thousands of these jubilant widows, their children and orphans thrilled guests with songs, dances and poetic renditions. 

Amid their joyful rendition, they made sure all understood what the founder had done in their lives through the foundation. The celebration which held same day with the International Widows Day had the theme: ‘Widowhood in the Midst of Despair’.

Meanwhile, the foundation’s support list keeps increasing as many widows are being registered in its platform as beneficiaries. Recently, another set of 100 widows were empowered with machines for the production of raw pasta, macaroni and spaghetti during the 10th anniversary of the foundation in Lagos. The widows equally received free cancer screening at the ultra-modern mobile cancer centre donated to Lagos State by Famfa Oil Limited, Alakija’s oil company.

Dignitaries who graced the occasion included the First Lady of Lagos State and Matron of the foundation, Mrs Bolanle Ambode; former First Lady of Cross River State, Mrs Owanari Duke; Guest speaker and Group Managing Director of Safari 54, Dr. Shedrack Madlion; Chief Executive Officer of Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Stella Okoli; and Vice Chairman of Channels Television, Mrs Shola Momoh, among others.

Testimonies 

 With overwhelming joy, one of the orphans and beneficiaries of the foundation, Master Seun Eruenah said, “I am an orphan and the struggle was too much for me but Mummy Alakija has been a blessing to us. 

“Through her, I am in my final year at Destiny Institute. I am a dance trainee and an actor. By God’s grace, all the dancing you’ve been enjoying since morning, I was the one that taught the dancers.”

One of the widows, Mrs Blessing Osezua, said the foundation had wiped away her tears. “As a young widow, the foundation tried as much as possible to wipe away my tears,” Osezua said. “She (Alakija) took care of me and my children. In fact, she inherited my children as her grandchildren. When I made a move of setting up a crèche, I sent my proposal to the foundation and they came to me, they checked out every other facility which was not there and they encouraged me. Today, not just a crèche, I have a nursery and primary school approved by the Lagos State Ministry of Education.” 

Founder’s Joy

For the founder and her team, seeing these widows and orphans happy again is a great achievement. According to her, “June 23 of every year was designated by the United Nations as the International Day for Widows, and today, we join the rest of the world to celebrate these women as well as raise awareness about their plight. 

“It is heart-warming and gratifying to see lives and hope restored and transformed over the years. The joy of seeing smiles on the faces of our beneficiaries where there used to be anxiety is indescribable.

“Those with low self-esteem are now walking confidently with their heads held high, because their lives have taken a turn for the better. Area boys and girls have become successful entrepreneurs and employers of labour, while school dropouts have become graduates.

“Those who were once dejected, rejected and treated as outcasts by family and friends have now become the toast of their families. Indeed, the ‘stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

“We at the Rose of Sharon Foundation are grateful to God for the privilege of being a part of history. With 10 years of on-the-ground experience working with widows and orphans in Nigeria, we understand that deploying comprehensive programmes that address their social and economic empowerment are the most effective ways to impact them directly. 

“We believe that when a widow who is a breadwinner of the family is empowered, the entire household becomes the direct beneficiaries of the impact. Therefore, we create opportunities for them through financial support, provision of scholarships for their children and skills acquisition. This enables them to secure decent jobs, help to protect their children and avoid the cycle of inter-generational poverty and deprivation.

“I am glad to report that our programmes have contributed in no small measure in alleviating poverty as well as reducing crime rate incidence in the country. It has been an extraordinary time for us –one that is filled with good experiences and reports, significant learning processes and the creation of many memorable moments.”

She explained that the successes recorded by the foundation in the mission were wrapped around programmes,  such as the RoSF Widows’ Empowerment Programme (WEP) – Micro Credit Interest Free Loan Scheme and the Enterprise Development and Skills Acquisition (EDTP); RoSF Educational Programme (REP), RoSF Advocacy programme (RAP), RoSF Agric-Business Programme (RAB), and the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP).

She added, “Many a tear has been wiped away, many a sorrow has been transformed into laughter, inferiority has been changed to confidence, helplessness to hopefulness and weakness to strength. Fear has turned to courage and poverty into economic independence. It has indeed been a walk of faith, hope and transformation.” 

Encouragement 

The special guest at the occasion and Lagos State First Lady, Mrs Bolanle Ambode, who also doubles as the matron of the foundation, encouraged the widows to be strong. While expressing her pleasure for being part of the remarkable occasion, she said she was more pleased to share the broad vision of humanity for widows and orphans which the foundation has championed since 10 years.

Ambode who painted a touching picture of the plight of widows and orphans described their condition as pathetic.  According to her, what used to be the burden of two people suddenly becomes the burden of one.

She said, “The condition of our orphans is even more pathetic. These thoughts on our minds impose the moral duty on our conscience to take steps to positively affect the lives of children in this condition and on women in widowhood. 

“This is what Rose of Sharon Foundation has been doing since the past 10 years and still counting. Tears had been wiped, lives transformed, women empowered and children put on a solid academic footing to live great lives.”

Ambode, who was also one of the recipients of awards for supporting the humanitarian work of the foundation, encouraged the widows and the children to have hope despite their condition, saying there is reason to hope.

Meanwhile, in appreciation of Alakija’s benevolence to them for the past 10 years, the widows presented a joint gift to her.