Whenever her name is mentioned, the Sinachi Foundation readily comes to mind. That’s talking about Mrs. Ifesinachi Ugwuonye-Okechukwu, founder of the charity organisation. This philanthropist recently marked the 20th anniversary of the foundation in her hometown, at Amankwo Oghe, Ezeagu Local Government Area in Enugu State. Ifesinachi is passionate about education and the girl child.She persistently challenges privileged persons to join hands to help keep kids in school and out of the streets. For her, everyone must continue to work hard until no child is left behind. Ifesinachi, a Mortgage Banker and a Lawyer, shares the story of her life and the quest for better life for her people in particular and Nigerians in general with Tolulope Ibukunoluwa
I grew up across Africa, Europe and America
I began my elementary school in Benin City, Secondary School in Enugu State, and undergraduate at the University of Port Harcourt, (Foreign Languages); then Master’s Degree in International Commerce from Lille, France; MBA from Arizona, USA, and Law School Juris Doctor (JD) from California, USA. So, I grew up across Africa, Europe and America. Professionally speaking, I am a Senior Mortgage Banker, and a Lawyer.
I was born at a time of great depression and instability in Nigeria
I was actually born at a time of great depression and instability in Nigeria, at the end of the civil war. My father, Prince Michael Ugwuonye, was a teacher, and the son of the then traditional ruler and customary Judge, Ezeani Ugwuonye. One could say that my family was privileged back then, but things were different by the time I was born, especially with my father and grand-father dying before I knew them. I grew up outside my immediate family, on the efforts of a very caring aunt, my father’s older sister. I was taught responsibility very early in life. I was raised to raise others.
I am a product of people’s benevolence
In many ways, my background and experiences helped to shape the person that I am today. Mine was a humble beginning. I am a product of people’s benevolence, and belief in me. At a very tender age, I realised and appreciated the meaning of working hard, and remaining true to the cause. I knew earlier on that before any meal, there must be work done. I learned perseverance, patience, dedication, loyalty, determination and focus.
I have a striking physical resemblance to my father
This is rather complicated. My father passed when I was only two years old. As such, I never knew him. I lived with my aunt from three years old, and as such, didn’t grow up with my mother or siblings either. However, my aunt kept my father’s image alive in me, by the stories she told me. My father was loved by his community, due to his commitment and efforts in the development of Umumba Ndiuno, and Ezeagu communities, at large. I got most of the values from my aunt. From the photos, I have a striking physical resemblance to my father, and people say that I have his character as well.
I became an adult before I could be a child
The best gift I received as a child is the gift of having my aunt, who instilled in me compassion and empathy. She taught me to be open-minded, and to respect all persons, regardless of their current situation. She taught me to love unconditionally, to see the good in everyone, and to pray for even my enemies. I can’t remember being a child really. I became an adult before I could be a child.
I am married to a good man
How did marriage happen for me? (Laughs) That will fill a page of your paper. But let me help you by way of summary. I am married to a good man, Dr. Vitalis Okechukwu with whom I share the same values. We are from the same area, Ezeagu in Enugu State. Ironically, we had to travel across continents to meet each other. We work together for the good of all, helping as much as we can. He is a man with awesome empathy. We combine efforts, bringing our medical, financial and legal backgrounds to bear. God has been graciously generous with us.
Every stage of life is just a challenge that must be overcome
This is a very funny question. Life itself is difficult, depending on how one approaches it. For me, I can’t say any particular incident stands out as being most difficult. Every stage of life is just a challenge that must be overcome to attain the next stage. It is like going through school, where you must finish one class before going to the next class. However, losing my father very early in life could have been a very big setback, but thank God for my aunt.
I do not consider incidents in life as mistakes
The biggest mistake I have ever made? I really do not consider incidents in life as mistakes. I consider them as experiences or teachable moments. It is understandable that with age and maturity, that, which seemed okay in the past, might no longer be okay in the present. Again, it is all about growth.
I am work in progress and God has been kind
Everything about life is “high point” because no one part will take the place of another. Every angle carries its now importance, and work together to achieve a desired point. I am pleased with the overall result, and where I am in the scheme of things. I am also work in progress and God has been kind.
I was built tough from childhood
I don’t really have personal fears. As I told you, I was built tough from childhood. My biggest fear really is for the society. In particular, my biggest fear is for the abandoned children, whose futures will ultimately be harmed, leading to a society of bad environments. I also fear the increasing intolerance, violence, and bitterness all around. It is quite scary and we must all work together to make the world a better place, starting with our immediate environments.
I desire a system of fairness and equity for all
Yes, of course, there are many things that I desire, for myself and for the society. I desire a system of fairness and equity for all. I desire a government that works for the wellbeing of citizens. I desire a country with good educational system, and employment for all. I desire a state where all are empowered to succeed. I desire a world of empathy where we all support one another to succeed.
Lessons life has taught me
Mainly, that there is only good in labour; that while working hard and smart could make life beautiful, laziness is a killer. Nevertheless, everyone has different talents and attributes. We should focus on that which we can do and not compare ourselves to others. Everyone is uniquely endowed. Everyone is uniquely called.
Motivations for the Sinachi Foundation
As I said earlier, my life, today, was made possible through the benevolence of others. These are people who believed that a little girl could be helped to attain education and success. They gave freely without expecting anything in return. Imagine there was nobody to stand in the place of my father after I lost him at just two years old. Imagine there was nobody to mentor me, send me to school, pay my fees, and so on. So, naturally, I am a product of grace and other people’s kindness. I was taught to help humanity wherever possible.
However, the idea of the Foundation was formed through an encounter with the story of Pip in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”, a High School English Novel. This is in addition to the belief that girls shouldn’t be the last ones to get sponsored in school. Many families have forced their girls into early marriages for the sole purpose of providing for these families. I started the Sinachi Foundation based on personal experience, and primarily to fund girls’ education, giving them similar opportunity as their male counterparts. The Foundation is also known as “Education for Girls Too” (EGT).
I was particular about the girls because I believe that all teachings begin with the girl, who becomes the wife and the mother, and who in turn becomes the first teacher for any child – the future. Remember that saying, ‘educate the girl and you educate a whole nation’. So, I believe that creating a good society starts with creating or building a good girl. As we know, people can only give what they have. A good girl will become a good wife, and a good mother. And her children will become good and responsible people that make up good communities and good society. However, we have since included boys in the scheme. So, The Sinachi Foundation was founded in 1999, in California, USA, and registered as a Nigerian NGO to add value to other people’s life.
Achievements of the Foundation
The Foundation has achieved a lot, even beyond my expectations. Several boys and girls have been helped through school with funding from the Foundation. It boasts today of over 40 scholarships, with 20 university graduates. Some of the graduates are already employed and are helping their communities in their own ways. Sometimes, I look back and I get quite emotional about it all, you know, nurturing and supporting people to become something is the sweetest experience. We just celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Sinachi Foundation, in Amankwo Oghe, our hometown. We had earlier celebrated at Agbaja Umumba Ndiuno and Isigwu Umana. We awarded additional scholarship to Ms. Benedict Uzoma Okongwu, who is going into her final year at IMT, Enugu.
But it hasn’t been just me. My darling husband and big boss, Dr. Vitalis Okechukwu, has been my pillar and number one fan. He also founded the Chineme Foundation to give free healthcare to our people understandably because he is a medical doctor. Yet, he finds the resources to support me a great deal. We also have many people, who have been working tirelessly to see that all the target communities are covered. I mean people like the National Coordinator, Chief Chinedu Onyia, General Manager, Mrs. Obiamaka Okonkwo; Director of Human Services, Mrs. Favour Chika Dick; Chief Media Director, Mr. Pachal Umahi; our facilitator, Mr. Charles Igboeli a well as Mrs. Elizabeth Onuegbe and Mr. Afam Okechukwu. And of course, the Trustees like HRM Eze Ozoekwem; HRH Emmanuel Anichebe; HRM Igwe Ofor; HRM Eze Ozobu; HRH Igwe Nnachetam; and HRH Igwe Okozor of blessed memory as well as members of the Board of Directors: Barr. Sylvester Igbokwe, Dr. Ezejiofor Udeh, Prince Oliver Okozor, Fr. Ike Ikeocha, and Lolo Oby Ike. What can one woman do without these people?
Government’s involvement in education
Of course, it is government’s responsibility to ensure that Nigerians have access to quality education. In Enugu, for instance, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration is investing so much in education. It has hired thousands of teachers for secondary and primary schools through UBEB under the Chairmanship of Chief Ikeje Asogwa. In Enugu West where I come from, Senator Ike Ekweremadu has done tremendously well in human capital development through Ikeoha Foundation’s bursary awards, scholarships, Adult Literacy Programme as well as youth and women empowerment. He has set the stage for others like us to follow. The needs are enormous and good-spirited and privileged individuals should help. Just a little will go a long way.
How far I hope to go with the Foundation
I hope that the Foundation would outlive me, and continue to cater to the needs of the community. Though it was started with focus on Ezeagu, other areas of the state have also benefitted from the scheme. Apart from scholarships, the Foundation is also helping in the construction and rehabilitation of schools and a health center in Agbaja Umumba Ndiuno. The foundation is equipped to carry on to the next generation and beyond.
Work outside the Foundation
I am involved in Socio-Economic-Cultural affairs as they relate to Africans in general, and Nigeria in particular. I held the position of the National President of ‘Enugu USA,’ an umbrella Association of all Enugu State People in the USA. We are involved in development efforts and annual medical outreaches in Enugu State.