In Ubakala, umuada are changing narrative on orphans
Though, Umuada in Igboland, are often christened scourge and terror of widows, in Ubakala, a relatively large town in Umuahia South Council of Abia State, they are creating a new narrative. No thanks to six women, who, out of love for their fatherland, started a ‘sisterly’ meeting for social reasons, but ended up impacting on lives.
Two months after their first meeting, Deaconess Josephine Anyanwu, the current president of the organisation, caught an inspiration for them to put funds together to support orphaned children in the town. “I didn’t like the idea of we just gathering without a focus,” Anyanwu told The Guardian.
All welcomed the idea, and they immediately started to enroll orphaned children. Their first set of children were three girls, a set of twin girls and one other girl.
WIC, which has been pursuing this vision since 1991, when it was established and registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, drives socio economic change in vulnerable communities through the adopt, educate and mother activities.
The story of Victor Ukagwu is landmarking in the organisation’s achievement. In fact, when Ukagwu, a lawyer, lost his parents at a young age, it seemed his world had ended. But today, his story is different, no thanks to Women in Charity (WIC).
One day, as a nanny, he followed his aunt to an event organised by Umuada Ubakala. In that programme, these women formed an organisation that would train orphans from Ubakala in school. “We will be their mothers,’’ the women chanted.
“It all started sometime in 1993 in Kaduna State. I have since arrived from village into my aunt’s home. There was no plan for me other than baby sit children and take care of the house, yet, I was a child that needed care in itself. Though, I was inexperienced, that was what fate had offered,” Ukagwu said.
“I was in that event, but no one except my aunt knew I was an orphan. Time past and it was as if all hopes were lost. Then, one day, a group of these women came, introduced themselves as Umuada Ubakala and interviewed me on what I wanted to do. In fact, they said to me ‘are you interested in schooling or you want to learn a trade? Whatever you decide, we will support you till the end. If you choose school, we will train you to any level you desired.’ There was pressure on me from my aunt’s husband to learn a trade. He had his reasons, but I wanted to go to school. So I insisted on schooling,” Ukagwu said.
Today, Ukagwu is a lawyer and the rest is history.With a membership of over 350 women and nine chapters across the 36 states of the country, the women are highly focused on their core mission of “building a solid foundation for our children through education and skill training.”
The organisation’s vision is to see a Nigerian nation where, the under-privileged orphans are given equal opportunities in terms of sound education, good health and good life. Also, to help in improving the quality of life of HIV/AIDS victims in the rural communities.
The organisation is composed of just daughters of Ubakala. “Women married to Ubakala sons are not allowed to join us. But our daughters, who to men from other places can join,” said Anyanwu, who is the chief executive of a tour and travels company. “We don’t want to be polluted by other ideas outside from Ubakala.”
Every year, each of the nine chapters of the organisation locates, enrolls and funds the education of orphans and the less privileged in good educational institutions and effectively mentors and coordinates their general development and well-being.
They also provide care and support for widows and people living with some terminal diseases including, HIV/AIDS. They also lead advocacy campaigns for their total support and general empowerment.
“Yearly, we spend huge amount of money for school fees, boarding fees and other school expenses to care for our orphaned children and to empower widows and vulnerable women with skills and fund for startups,” said Anyanwu.
She added, “we are governed by transparent integrity, and effectively and actively seek and create opportunities to muster resources for selfless service delivery to our beneficial community’s most vulnerable needy orphans and for sustainable environmental development.”
The organisation also works with the villages in developing sustainable organic agricultural projects to alleviate dependence on expensive chemical fertilisers bearing in mind that the basic existence of humanity is dependent on food. “We are open to partnerships especially with those involved in agro forestry and other initiatives to enrich the soil and improve crop yield organically. Majorly, all WIC’s agricultural programmes are geared towards training and sustaining the widows\vulnerable women. It is also in the agricultural project that we train the youths and other women on fish/snail farming, poultry.”
Anyanwu said, “in line with the UN MDGs and the recently adopted UN SDGs we strongly believe that these goals can be attained if everyone in their different levels can do the best they can and not just depending on government that is why our main focus is to locate, enroll and fund the education of orphans and the less privileged in good educational institutions and to effectively mentor and coordinate their general development and well-being.”
In its almost 26 years of existence, the organisation has embarked on transformative projects geared towards the empowerment of vulnerable women, orphaned children and widows.Anyanwu noted, “we provide essential life skill training and education for young people in the communities, especially, the under privileged. They are also taken through skill acquisition programmes, computer training and civil education for character building. We organise workshops to take them through effective leadership coaching, building lasting relationships, volunteerism, patriotism, sexuality, democracy and good governance.”
She continued, “we have graduates in law, computer science, business administration, biochemistry and more. Other young adults that do not want to further their education are sent to acquire skills of their choice or learn a trade of which is also doing well in their specialty. Women in Charity organizes sensitization and social change programme for rural women, as we have discovered that when a woman is empowered, the family would be and the society at large would be peaceful.”
The WIC president said, “our advocacy activities have led to the reduction of abuse of young widows by their relatives, in-laws and other family members. Currently, we have 65 orphans, whose ages range from six to 26. Our different chapters sponsor these orphans. Sixty per cent are in primary/secondary education, while 40 per cent are in various universities and polytechnics.”
According to the lady: “Our hope is to see a Nigeria where the under-privileged orphans are given equal opportunities in terms of s sound education, good health and a good life.”The women hold executive meetings in hotels, business seminars, and general conferences to get feedback of what each chapter is doing. These meetings often precede the yearly convention in August.
Each chapter of the organisation at their general meeting is empowered to choose its own leadership, set its own short and long-term goals that align with the national goal. In August 2016, the organisation celebrated its 25th anniversary with the theme: Catch them young and secure a peaceful society. It was a whole week of funfair at the national headquarters of the organization in Apumiri, Ubakala.
“Event started with a three days boot camp for the orphaned children, where they were taken through different forms of experiential learning and skill acquisition,” said Nneka Ukoha, who is a staff of the organisation.
“As part of the programmes, the organisation celebrated the United Nations International Youth Day celebration on August 12, 2016, with the Commissioner of Education, Abia State, present for the young ones to have a sense of belonging. The representative of the Commissioner of Women Affairs and Youths was also present,” Ukoha said.
Aside from Ukagwu, Ginikanwa Apugo, a registered nurse, Amarachi Iheanacho, a graduate of history and international relations, who is also skilled in ankaracraft, Regina Apugo, a graduate of computer science, Abali Chioma, graduate of education\accountancy and Esther Egbulonu, a graduate of computer science, have been trained by the organisation.
One of the children, Chinedu Chidi, is undergoing military training with the Army. There are 12 girls and boys in various secondary schools as boarders. Five of the children are awaiting admission, while three of them are learning various trades. They include, Felix Ogunwa, who has completed his trading in welding and has started his own. Ebenezer Elijah has completed secondary education and learning Alumaco fitting. Ijeoma Nwogbe is learning fashion designing. Junior Ogunwa learning leather works. Chinyeremaka Ibenye is trading on electronics business and she is doing well. Pastor Kingsley Madubuko went through school of Theology and has his own church.
At the last count, women in charity has to its credit nine graduates, 12 undergraduates, 23 secondary school students, five still awaiting admission to higher institutions, three primary school pupils and four artisans.
“We have three children in primary schools at LA Umuosu and Amibo primary schools,” Anyanwu said.While calling on well-meaning Nigerians and international organisations that are committed to this kind of vision to help adopt a child or support in any way they can, she said, “all these activities has always been borne by our members.”