Like many young women of her age, years ago, one of Maltina Ochiaka’s dream was to get married and build a good home with her husband. Having achieved that, she did not envisage one of life’s many vicissitudes playing a fast one on the union that has produced three children with an unexpected demise of her husband who was the sole breadwinner of the family.
Like Maltina, 29-year-old Chidera Emene also had bright prospects and visions for her future and for her young family when she got married. “We were a happy couple going through the normal life of the average young Nigerian family in a country like Nigeria. Life was good, things were easy until life took a turn for the worse with the death of my husband.
“Suddenly, the responsibility of taking care of two kids, a boy and a girl aged three and five respectively, myself and going to school myself to give my children a better future, fell solely on my laps,”Chidera explained.
Oftentimes, as is the case of Maltina and Chidera, the impact of marital death falls more heavily on women, who may be excluded socially and lose their home and property. According to a survey, one in ten African women above the age of 14 is widowed!
Across the world, there is a steady worrisome increase in the number of widows. The number of widows has grown by 9 percent since 2010. Although accurate information is limited, it has been estimated by the Loomba Foundation’s World Widows Report that there are some 285 million widows around the world, with 584,574,358 children (including adult children). Out of these number, 115 million of them live in abject poverty!
Africa has an estimated 33 million widows and Nigeria alone accounts for more than half of these figures with over 20 million widows. An estimate of 3 children per widow which is about over 46 million children, many of which have uncertain future due to their mothers’ financial state.
This staggering statistics may be better appreciated if you consider that the population of widows in Nigeria is bigger than the population of the entire people in countries like Argentina and Netherlands, and bigger than Switzerland, Austria and Armenia combined!
The effect of this on any country is going to be staggering considering the population of children that will become tomorrow’s adults. To help forestall these dire consequences, the Felix King Foundation was instituted by Felix King Eiremiokhae, MD/CEO, Oralce Experience to provide the much-needed help for disadvantaged widows and their families in Nigeria and Africa at large.
The Foundation builds partnership with stakeholders, widow groups and individuals everywhere it has footprints to ensure effectiveness in campaigns and works; to ameliorate challenges faced by widows and provide ideas on how together with the communities widows’ maltreatment can be abolished, so that tomorrow becomes a better world than we met it and empower them. These objectives, the foundation aims to achieve through initiatives.
Fortunately, Maltina and Chidera are among beneficiaries of one such initiative called the Widows Economic Empowerment Progress (WEPROGRESS). They joined over 120 other widows to benefit from some funds that have been earmarked for the programme which began earlier in the year by the Felix King Foundation.
Felix King earlier in the year said that the initiative is premised on the fact that over 90% widows struggle to own small business and are denied access to capital for business.
“WEPROGRESS will help disadvantaged widows in Nigerian communities gain access to capital they need to build their small businesses so that they can contribute to the prosperity of their families and that of their communities as well. We believe that when these women have access to capital, they are going to build their small business, then they can take care of the responsibilities such as looking after the children, paying school fess and rent. These are responsibilities circumstances has put on them,” he said.
King who is also the Managing Director/CEO of Nigeria’s largest and one of the foremost Experiential Agencies in Africa, Oracle Experience, said that the programme is in furtherance of the foundation’s drive towards supporting and promoting women’s welfare in the society. ”Empowering women, especially disadvantaged widows, is the best way to impact the society. I believe that if you invest in women like these, you are going to positively impact on the community as many women especially widows are the economic backbone of their families.”
Beneficiaries of the initiative cut across ethnic and religious divide as they come from different states around the country. Adam Opeloyeru who is the coordinator of the foundation said that so far, beneficiaries have come from such states as Kaduna, Ogun, Enugu, Cross River, and Abuja, among others. So far, he adds that 120 widows have received money running into millions as grant from the initiative. A widow that came from Abuja, for instance, spent five days in Lagos, patiently waiting for her turn to see,” Adam said.
As it is the case with some Nigerians to take undue advantage of laudable initiatives like this, Adam says the foundation had to put precautionary measures in place to ensure widow’s alone gain from this program as it was designed for them. “We discovered that women who are not widows were also applying for WEPROGRESS, which is contrary to the objectives of this initiatives.
“We had to put measures in place to checkmate this. We have a screening process which is neither rigorous nor traumatic for the widows. We ask them to present the death certificate of their late spouse and then we ask a few questions,” he said.
In the month of August, a batch of widows went through the screening exercise and thirty of them were selected and empowered.
Felix King corroborates and also adds, “We had a template we had adopted earlier were we wanted to assist widows in a group system format. We had to ditch it when we found out that it is going to be more challenging to operate. We discovered that most of the groups – even from church- that came where not honest. We are however going to work with already existing groups in groups in the future. These are people who came together to have a common economic front, support each other. What we have done is now to say, the group can enter as an already existing widow group. There is no bias here. What they tend to do is to partner with them.”
The programme has thus far, recorded outstanding successes with many of the beneficiaries now independently running their own business and taking good care of their families. Maltina for one has opened a bar well stocked with drinks and sells peppers soup by the side.
“With the money the Felix King Foundation gave me, I was able to stock my bar and enlarge my business the way I never expected. Now, my life and that of my children is much better. I am thankful to the Felix King Foundation,” an excited Maltina enthused.
Chidera has always had a passion for cake decoration. With the grant she got from the WEPROGRESS initiative, she was able to give life to her passion. King added that among successes recorded by the programme include a farmer who has expanded her farming business beyond expectation. One of the widows is now also the proud owner of a pharmacy!”
Reacting to the successes, Felix King says, “It is really amazing how our poor widows are making economic progress with WEPROGRESS.”
Queried on how the foundation holds widows accountable in the way they spend the grants given to them, King says, “Although we have a kind of data capturing system in-house put in place to monitor these people, it is not our business to dictate to those women what to do with their money. We can only advise. Instead of monitoring them and putting them under pressure, we motivate them instead. We tell them that they should embark on their business and call us to see what they have achieve so far. If we are impressed, we support them further, we give them more money to expand. That is what we have done for some of the widows that were outstanding.
Trainings for widows
Beyond the financial support, the Foundation engages in trainings these women to expose them to some level of knowledge to grow their businesses. “We look at people and what their peculiar needs are. We have done a session where we had to bring people from LAPO to talk to them on how to manage their businesses very well. We have also brought people from Stanbic Bank to talk to them on the need to cultivate a savings culture and invest wisely. In fact, some of them had opened bank accounts.
“We have done sessions where widows were counsel and advised on the most suitable business to embark on, given their talents, disposition and the environment they live. For instance, a widow wanting to go into retail trading at a certain location, may be advised to sell food instead because of the proximity to perhaps a working environment, etc.,” King said.
What is the future for WEPROGRESS? Felix King said there is the possibility the vision may go beyond Nigeria as there has been a lot of attention from countries like Kenya, Ghana and Liberia. “We have existing NGOs in that area that believe we have so much we are doing that they can tap into. We can also go into some form of partnership with them to replicate our model with them in the nearest future.”
Zero Maltreatment Day For Widows Advocacy Campaign
Asides WEPROGRESS, the Foundation opened a petition tagged, the ‘Zero Maltreatment Day for Widows,’ on chain.org. According to King, “the petition is a Felix King Foundation’s international advocacy Movement campaigning for the abolishment of widows maltreatment, while advocating for United Nations (UN) declaration of June 23rd, as the Zero Maltreatment Day for Widows in countries with traditional societies where women suffer human rights violations. What we realise is that on that day, what many people do is to sit and talk about the challenges facing widows without any concrete solution. The sad reality is that as people are talking, more widows are been maltreated somewhere that same day.
This campaign has gathered traction both globally and locally. In Nigeria, pop star, Harrison Tare Okiri, popularly known as Harry Song, rapper MI Abaga, internet sensation, Charles Okocha aka Igwe Tupac, and comedian Bayegun Oluwatoyin, popularly known as Woli Arole, are among celebrities have lend their voices to the campaign. The foundation also appointed Nollywood stars Desmond Elliot and Mercy Aigbe as ambassadors with the objective of helping the foundation in the advocacy programs.
“The support we have been getting from people has been overwhelming. People have been applying to pledge their support to the campaign. At the end of the day, once we get a certain number of petitioners joining the platform, then we are already gotten people and we are been assisted to make that process a reality.”
Other Initiatives of the Felix King Foundation
Asides WEPROGRESS and the advocacy campaign, the Foundation has championed and is still championing other initiatives in different communities the Foundation operates, King says it is driven by the commitment it owes to God despite the huge economic challenges in climes like Nigeria. Whether it’s creating economic opportunity by providing business start-up grant and skill acquisition for disadvantaged widows, providing educational enhancement scholarships for children of widows, increasing opportunities for widows through Widows in Farming Aid Program ( WIFARM AID), Medical support for children or championing the campaign in communities on the importance to abolish Widows Maltreatment to enhance community growth, The Foundation gets its satisfaction by the successes it achieves through these efforts: making the world better for widows and their children.
The Foundation also sponsored the bill for the abolishment of widows’ maltreatment in some states in Nigeria as well as run a campaign in recent times to that effect. As King puts it, “We believe that pertinent issues affecting widows like widow’s maltreatment should be abolished. Since we cannot start pushing for this abolishment from the central government, we decided to start from the states and work our way up. Last year, we went to the Edo State House of Assembly to present a bill to them on the need to abolish widow’s maltreatment.
“After what we did in Edo State, I am glad to say that Desmond Elliot also did the same at the Lagos State House of Assembly. To make the campaign effective. We signed on Desmond Elliot, Mercy Aigbe as ambassadors to push the messages.”
The Foundation has also taken the bold step in helping the health sector that is suffering from total neglect by governments at various levels. “As big as Nigeria is, there is only one hospital that attends to Lassa fever patients…only one. That is the Eruan Specialist Hospital in Edo State. The hospital is in a very sorry state. It has no beds, nothing. We decided to support them in the best way we can with the condition that treatment for widows there will be free.”
Awards and Recognitions
Earlier in the year, the media space was inundated with images of Felix King being honoured with the honorary citizenship of Georgia in the US. He throws light on this. “Mid last year, we got an email from the US. They felt what we are doing at the Felix King Foundation is worth recognizing and worth commending. We were invited to the senate of Georgia and we were recognized based on what we are doing.”
More recently at the Women In Marketing & Communications Conference/Awards (WIMCA), the largest gathering of female marketing professionals in Nigeria, the Foundation was also honoured with the Prestigious award of the ‘Female-Centric Foundation Of The Year.’
The foundation is also a proud recipient of the Humanitarian Award by Trinity International University of Ambassadors, Atlanta Georgia, United States of America.
Outside these, the Foundation has also been recognized and commended on several occasion at national and international platforms for its sterling role in the life of widows.