As Christmas and New Year drew closer, orphanage homes are usually devoid of Christmas aura, and the hope of celebrating these festivities like other children are bleak. However, while most people do not care about institutionalised orphans and their caregivers, The Orphan Empowerment Society (TOES), an Afrocentric non-governmental organisation, cares and believes in orphans’ happiness and survival.
On December 19, 2020, I was invited by my friend Olugbenga Ogunbowale, the CEO of Empower NG and founder of TOES, to their annual event for orphans simultaneously held in Oyo and Lagos States, and also in Sierra Leone, Botswana and Zambia. The theme of the event was ‘TOES Fashion Academy: Graduation edition’.
Ogunbowale stated that they chose these specific countries because of the unique needs of the orphans there. They had strong requests for fashion skills training from caregivers in these four countries, and they do not only provide training spanning weeks and months, they also provide tools like sewing machines, fabrics and more for the orphans.
TOES, as an organisation in its four years of existence, is dedicated to empowering orphans and their caregivers, and its goal is to empower one million orphans across Africa. They believe that the empowerments will help orphans to be better placed in the society when they become adults.
In 2020 alone, Ogunbowale noted that TOES provided free medical care to 843 orphans in Africa (595 in Nigeria), free meals to over 1,000 orphans (about 700 in Nigeria), free vocational skills training to 525 orphans (about 400 in Nigeria) and free business toolkits to 95 orphans.
At the Oyo event—which took place at the Care People Foundation, located at kilometre 15 Ibadan-Lagos expressway—the Oyo State coordinator of the organisation, Fafure Adegolarin, noted that it is not just enough to visit an orphanage home at the end of the year. They believe there should be sustainability.
Adegolarin added that they carried out medical outreach in other parts of Oyo State and other states in the country where they conducted medical examinations and gave out drugs. They also recommended some of the orphans that needed medical attention to the hospitals.
In the course of the Oyo event, some of the orphans, aged 12 – 17 years, who were trained in fashion design such as tie and dye, were tested to ascertain their efficiency in the art. After the test, they showcased their work to the audience and were presented with certificate of participation. Their trainer, Toyosi Onajinrin, who is the assistant Oyo State coordinator of the organisation, stated that they had been training the orphans for a while now, and would continue to train them.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow orphans who benefited from the fashion training, Boluwatife Adeniyi thanked TOES for giving them the opportunity to have skills and for giving them the basic tools they needed to work with. She said the training will help her and her colleagues in the future.
Ogunbowale stated that to be a TOES volunteers is simple. Volunteering information is available at: www.toes.today/volunteer. He noted that they look out for people who have a heart of service and people with professional skills (like medical professionals and vocational skills experts) that can directly empower orphans. They look for people who can think creatively, who are driven by passion and can work in teams.
At the end of the event, the orphans were engaged in dancing, games and funs. One had to see the happy faces of these orphan children as they ate and dance with TOES members. After the fun, food and relief items, medical supplies were presented to the orphans and their caregivers.
Adegolarin stated that apart from empowering the orphans with skills, they also provide them with food items that could last them for three months; and after the three months, they would come back to see how they can sustain them throughout the year. “We don’t just come during December. After three months, we come back to check if they’re making use of the skills we taught them and if the food stuff we gave them was able to sustain them for that period,” she said.
The caregiver of the orphanage home, Deborah Kenneth, commended the organisation for the help they are offering to orphans and admonished other organisations to emulate the good and selfless work the organisation is doing.
––Kingsley Alumona, Ibadan