For Adebiyi Adejoke, a widow and mother of one from the South-western part of Nigeria, life could not be harder after she lost her husband in 2003…or so she thought. Shortly after, her only son, Daniel got seriously sick. As the sole breadwinner of the small family, she had to commit to taking care of her son, nursing him back to his feet. Daniel however got worse and had to be admitted at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos. Since she could no longer go out to work and had no support from anywhere, she ran out of funds and could no longer afford the medical bills for her only son.
Ivhazegboya Solomon, a woman from the South-southern part of the country suddenly found herself widowed with six children to take care of. Unemployed, Undaunted, unfazed, she took the gauntlet of challenge life threw at her and starting frying beans ball by the road side to make ends meet. With six children that need food, clothing, shelter and importantly, education, there was only so much she could do. Things were rough!
For Lydia Onwe, things were not much different. One day she was a happy dutiful housewife in a family that with four strapping children the next day she had assume the unceremonious and unwanted title of ‘widow’ with ‘unemployed’ and ‘homeless’ added to her identity. “Accommodation became a problem for my children and myself, my sister had packed out of her house and there was nowhere to go, and to add salt to the injury, my children, where kicked out of school due to the fact that I couldn’t pay their school fees,” she said.
The plight of these vulnerable women in a predominantly patriarchal African society is the same with other estimated 20 million widows living in Nigeria alone with their over 46 million children, many of whom have uncertain future due to their mothers’ poor financial state. Felix King Foundation however, is serving as the merchant of hope to these women, offering a better tomorrow through sustainable initiatives aimed at empowering them economically, socially and financially. For Dr. Amb. Felix King Eiremoikhae, the founder of the Foundation and the Chief Executive Officer of Oracle Experience, one of Africa’s largest experiential agencies, being a product of hope had inspired the initiated that has been running consistently for years without external support. “As a product of hope, I know what it is like to live without faith, hope and love. This is the reason we are supporting disadvantaged widows and active poor rural Women so that they can tell their better life stories.”
And better stories is what many widows and poor disadvantaged rural women are telling since they have come in contact with the Foundation. Today, Adejoke’s son, Daniel is healthy, bouncing and in school while she has no need for employment since she now runs a thriving business selling provisions in her own store, courtesy the Felix King Foundation.
For Ivhazegboya, her life and that of her children changed when she encountered the Foundation: “In 2016, I heard the Foundation was doing something to empower widows. I went there and was given money to restart my business. Today, as I speak I have expanded my business and no longer fry akara alone, I now fry yam, potatoes, plantain, fish and also sell food stuff. I also own the shop I do my business now at my bus stop. I can now feed and pay my children school fees!” she enthused.
Like Adejoke and Ivhazegboya, Lydia is also singing a new tune. The unemployed and homeless mother of four now enjoys a good accommodation for herself and children and can boast of a steady stream of income courtesy the Felix King Foundation.
Over the years, the Foundation has come up with several initiatives and programmes worth millions of dollars to empower these vulnerable women to overcome poverty through skill-based training, job creation, access to micro-finance, legal aid, medicare and scholarships for their children’s education. As noted on its website, the Foundation said, “We build partnership with stakeholders, widow groups and individuals everywhere we have our footprints to ensure effectiveness in our campaigns and works; to find a lasting solution to the 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 for us than we met it.
“Across communities we operate, we’re driven by the commitment we owe to God despite the huge challenges. 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 such programmes as Widows in Farming aid program (WIFARM AID ), Medical support for children or championing the campaign in communities on the importance of abolishing widows maltreatment to enhance community growth…,” it said.
With a huge focus on widows, the foundation has a two-pronged approach towards empowering these women-widow advocacy and entrepreneurial empowerment. On advocacy, the foundation runs a far reaching international widows rights movement which campaigns for the abolishment of widows’ maltreatment, while advocating for United Nations’ declaration of June 23rd a zero maltreatment day for widows in countries with traditional societies where women suffer human rights violations. Renown celebrities like 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, among others have lent their voices to this campaign. The Foundation also appointed Nollywood stars Desmond Elliot and Mercy Aigbe as ambassadors with the objective of helping the foundation in these advocacy programmes.
On entrepreneurial empowerment programme, Oracle Experience through the Foundation launched the Widows’ in Trading, WITRADE initiative which has evolved over the years to become Widows Economic Empowerment Progress (WEPROGRESS). Anchored on the belief that every disadvantaged widow deserves a better life, the programme is aimed at empowering widows through skill acquisition and grants for trading and start-ups. It is a social capital programme that empowers disadvantaged widows to be self-reliant, and it is coordinated in partnerships with volunteers and structured women groups and widows associations who coordinate these disadvantaged widows into groups for easy coordination and progress monitoring. Felix had last 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 unfortunate circumstances have placed on them.”
Beneficiaries of the initiative as seen from the stories of some of the beneficiaries above, 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.
Beyond the financial support, the foundation consistently engages these women in training, skill empowerment and gives them exposure knowledge sharing platforms with professionals to enlighten them on ways to grow their businesses. “We have done sessions where widows were counselled 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.
Asides focusing on widows and poor disadvantaged women, the Foundation focuses on their children as well. It is a fact that children of poor widows are pulled out of schools for lack of money to pay school fees. Consequently, many of these children are doomed to spend their lives as hoodlums, drug addicts, cultists and dangerous social miscreants who will come back and haunt the society.
To this end, the Felix King Charity Foundation steps in to assist in paying tuition and providing scholarships. In the area of wellness ad health too, widows whose children are stranded in hospitals, denied treatment or detained by hospital managements because of their mothers inability to foot hospital bills are bailed out and their bills and treatment paid for. The foundation’s wellness programme is also targeted at providing nutritional based food for disadvantaged children under our scholarship scheme through provision of Milk , eggs , beverages, biscuits etc during school time.
Through its food and housing programme, the Felix King Charity Foundation further supports disadvantaged widows with housing and food stuff provision. Through the housing scheme, widows are supported with house rents for 24 months period. While food items like rice, beans, garri, vegetable oil, milk and petty cash for condiments are distributed on a monthly basis. At present, thousands of widows and their families benefit from this scheme.
Yet another initiative worthy of mention is the Widows and Disadvantaged Women in Farming, WIFARM Aid. Aimed at relieving widows of the burdens the patriarchal society has placed on them by empowering them with a veritable tool for survival-agriculture. At the very subsistence level, farming has enabled many families survive, at semi-mechanized levels, it has, and it’s still helping a significant number break the vicious poverty circle to prosperity.
“We are aware of the huge potentials that Nigeria has in agriculture and the roles women have played at family unit levels towards ensuring food sufficiency. Our new initiative is therefore to leverage and strengthen this already existing model by instituting a Widows In Farming Aid programme (WIFARM-AID) and support it as a platform that will enable widows easily gain access to tools and facilities for commercial agriculture businesses,” King had said when the initiative was first launched years ago in Edo state by the by the wife of the Governor of the state, Mrs Betsy Obasike and other dignitaries.