WE HAVE LOST IT AS PARENTS…CHIGOZIE UDEMEZUE
In a time and field where awards and plagues mean recognition and social standing, Chigozie Udemezue simply refuses several proposed awards. Reason? She feels that apart from academic awards, laurels for achievement should not come early in one's life but after the length and retirement of one's life.
The youngest child in a family of six, she grew up a restless child, and always wanted to be everywhere and do just about everything. A lawyer with several international academic caps, she has been fully involved with social welfare programmes at all levels.
In this interview with Daily Sun, she tells her story
About your Leadership club for girls?
I founded The Leadership Club for Girls in 2006 and this was inspired by my experience during my participation in the US Department of State funded International Visitors Leadership Program, (IVLP). I was nominated by Atim Eneida George of the US Consulate in Lagos and prepared for the trip by Bene Uche of the Public Affairs Section of the Consulate. The trip left me with the zeal to return home and touch more lives. The high point was our visit to the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Moore house College both in Atlanta. It was at the Leadership Center at the College that I got the inspiration to set up the leadership club. The club provides leadership skills development trainings and trainings on personal development skills for girls in and out of school.
What the effect of materialism, get-rich quick syndrome has caused in the minds and lives of the young people?
Our young people are desirous of making money and making it fast, and majority of them do not aspire to work hard to acquire wealth, rather to dupe and defraud individuals and organizations just so they become rich. The influence of society on them and the lack of values contribute a lot. Many homes are in disarray and the children learn nothing from parents and so they live anyhow. There are even parents that are fraudsters and their children learn from them.
The trend now is to hand them over to teachers and daycares centers and take off for the day. I realized that very early in the morning we drop off our kids at school and when they close from normal school work, they stay on for lesson and some do not get home till 6pm or even later, and next morning they are off again, what time do we have as parents and guardians to inculcate family values? Or I might even ask further, do we still have family values? What do you teach your children? Are you a parent that will pay invigilators or teachers to encourage your child to engage in exam malpractice? Some would even pay mercenaries to sit for exams for their children.
The life style our young people live today is actually how they have observed us live, we taught them by examples. For instance when you accept bribe as a worker, or bribe your way through every step, when you forge documents to lay claim to what is not yours and your children watch, how do you expect them to live differently? We adults contributed immensely to the moral decadence in our society.
What are the objectives of your organization?
As my own little way of giving back to the society, I set up a Foundation for widows and their children, Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation and through this Foundation we have principally provided services and support that will alleviate the sufferings and hardships widows face on a daily basis. And to ensure that we realize our goal, we run different programs like the medical aid scheme, spiritual counseling, economic empowerment, free legal aid and support, provision of scholarship and support for indigent children of widows, and support in housing and property right issues. Our main objective and target is to make sure that we put a smile on the face of any widow in need that we come across and to ensure that they discover the love of Christ.
Our activities are anchored a lot on the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We encourage widows to live good lives, to work hard and to desist from living in adultery, from experiences of some widows we have come across, the tendency to keep male friends for financial support is very high but we also found out that those who chose to dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ found help and raised their children without having to sleep with any man.
Our desire is to ensure that the poor widows have access to their routine drugs, especially those suffering from diabetes and hypertension because the costs of those drugs are too high for an indigent widow to afford. Apart from the drugs, we administer during our outreaches, we always have drugs in our office for widows registered with us to collect their routine drugs and save their money for other needs. We also give out syrups and other basic drugs for their children; a widow's main headache is always the welfare of her children
As an author; most of your articles suggest you are Pan African, very proud of your roots,true?
Yes, I am very proud of my roots, if you read through my articles especially under customs and culture, you will discover that they originate mainly from my Igbo roots and my experiences as a child and even now as an adult. My experience while growing up helped shape my thought pattern and my views on life and these are reflected in my writings. I express myself, as I want to always be me, I do not want to be somebody else. I am African and I am very proud of my roots, I have met people that would not want to discuss their roots and would change even their life styles to conceal the fact that they are African by origin.
Another area where I like to show off my roots is in the language, I speak my Igbo language and am very proud of it. I am always proud to trace where my journey began. If we fail to do so then we will end up unable to define ourselves and be real. I love Africa and I have travelled widely within Africa. I love the rural parts of Africa, the food, and the people.
How do you relate with these women in their pain? Be it widows or victims of domestic abuse.
My first experience working with abused women was in 2001 and it was difficult at the initial stage for me to adapt, having to sit down and listen to all the tales of woes, at times even being emotional and unable to hold back the tears. It initially did not make sense to me and some of the stories sounded like they were made up, but with time I came to realize that these women were actually living in hell in the name of marriage.
There are widows also that suffer abuse in the hands of their in -laws and or children, there are also cases we have handled whereby widows faced ejection from their rented homes by their landlords after the burial of their deceased husbands. No matter what the form of abuse and maltreatment is against any woman, one common factor is the desire of the woman to be free from such ill treatment, unfortunately some of our women and girls pretend that all is well and walk around telling lies about the injuries and wounds on their bodies.
I have even met with some women and girls who convinced themselves that they were the cause of such violence and believed that it was either because of their lifestyle or anything they do, they blame themselves, and go out of their way to please these batterers and abusers, yet the abuse continues. T. I have had cause to interview several widows and majority of them complained of accusations against them from their in laws of their responsibility of their husband's death, this is a very common trend; some widows find it difficult to adapt to the new status of being father and mother; some have financial problems, some also face disinheritance by their late husband's families, these are all forms of abuse a widow could go through. In some communities a widow undergoes some very negative traditional practices in order to prove her innocence in the death of her husband. In all these, we provide a soft landing for the widow, it is not always that a widow needs money.
How did your organization spend the last International day for widows which was held on June 23rd, 2011?
To commemorate the day, Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation hosted a one day medical outreach and crusade for widows from the Mbulujodo group of communities as well as the Umuode community all in Enugu State. The event was held at the Akpuoga Nike town hall on 25th June 2011. We ran a mini clinic manned by three doctors who provided free treatment, our volunteer nurses and support staff dispensed prescribed drugs and at no cost.
At the event also we had six lawyers from the International Federation of Women Lawyers Awka who provided free on the spot legal advice and the cases needing follow up we are currently looking into. You know the cost of seeking legal advice is not something indigent widows can easily afford and so these lawyers were there to listen to them, offer free advice and also refer cases that needed reference to specialized agencies and groups.
The outreach was also an opportunity to gather the widows together and teach them their rights; this was handled by the Foundation's legal officer, who made a presentation on the rights of widows. She enlightened them on the Enugu State Widowhood law and took time to explain each provision to them. This is very important in our events because many widows in rural areas are still unaware that there is such a law, which protects them.
This is the first time we invited widows' children, in all we had about a hundred children and the sick amongst them received free treatment and drugs; we went ahead to give them new kids clothes sent in by one of our partners, and also other gift items.
It was a fun day for them as well as for us because we had about 400 widows in attendance, from our registration records,We are currently working out modalities to set up a widows support group in Akpuoga Nike which was the host community, so that we could provide more direct forms of support to widows identified during our program to be in dire need of help and not just to them but to their children to reduce the burden they are carrying.
How has the support for your organization been? Finances?
We have never received any form of support from any foreign donor, or what we call international funders, though when you attend our programs you would tend to believe that the funds for such level of program must have come from Europe or America. The only funds we have gotten from outside the shores of Nigeria was money realized from a fund raiser organized by a personal friend of mine, a Pharmacist working with a Psychiatric hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, she gathered her friends on a Saturday morning sometime last year in a restaurant in St. Louis and hosted a Pancake breakfast to raise funds for our outreach.
Because of the nature of the services we provide, we have received numerous gifts and donations in kind from several persons and organizations. Since we started our free medical aid program,
Has the rights of women in Africa had any significant improvement? Or are the grassroots women been excluded, hence forgotten totally?
Rights of women in Africa have received enormous attention in the past years, at the regional level and at Country levels. There is also the Special Rapporteur (SR) on Rights of Women in Africa created by the African Commission on Women & Peoples' Rights to reinforce and promote the rights of women in Africa. It is the responsibility of the SR to address the challenges and obstacles standing in the way of women from the full realization of their rights, some of these obstacles are poverty, gender based violence, armed conflict, HIV and those laws and practices which discriminate against women.
At country levels as well, many countries in Africa have recognized the place and importance of women in governance. Women are in governance and decision making bodies in other countries of Africa and even in Nigeria the first lady has pushed and advocated for the inclusion of more women in the governance structure.
There are laws also enacted by State governments to protect and promote the rights of women, in States like Enugu and Anambra we have the law protecting widows. Apart from laws, the traditional and religious institutions have come to also recognize that women must have a say. Though there are still cultures that treat women as second class, but there is increased awareness even in local communities that women are human beings and should be respected. Some traditional rulers today have women as their cabinet Chiefs and involve them in decision-making.
The grassroots women are not totally forgotten though help might not reach all but there are several interventions in different areas going on to impact positively on the lives of these women. I know of different local and international organizations that provide services aimed at changing the grassroots women. The same way we host such programs, there are many other NGOs, government agencies and then faith based organizations reaching out to the women at the grassroots level, so I must say that they are not totally forgotten. There is need for more efforts to ensure that women at the grassroots levels are constantly included in budgeting and program designs.