It takes a lot of pains to part with what one owns because it is a human’s nature that makes him or her give out or hide it. And anyone who would not give when he or she had only a little will not give out even if he or she had a full body of an elephant meat to share. The quality of item given also distinguishes between those who give gifts that make impact and the ones whose gifts worth nothing. The full worth of a gift can only be appraised by knowing its relevance to the receiver. The naming of the Wife of Anambra State Governor, Ebelechukwu V. Obiano, for a second time as the best woman in all of Nigeria’s 36 Government Houses prompted a walk into town to learn more about her and her award-winning interventions. Here is the finding:
SINGLE mother Chisom Edochie, was relatively a girl at 19 when a ‘hit and run’ randy man impregnated her and fled.
She refused all efforts to make her discard the pregnancy and bore all the social stigma about it. Eventually, she put to bed in a public health care centre, and it was a girl. But immediately her beautiful baby arrived, everyone around her fled.
In the frenzy, expressions such as, “what is this?”; “Is this a human being?” among others rented the air.
The young mother was abandoned. The fragile confidence she put up all through the nine tortuous months of her pregnancy was deflated.
She beheld her pretty, frail tot for the first time. She was lovely but something was wrong. She looked odd and scary. Much like an ogre, the infant cried with a horrifying face, through badly disfigured mouth and nose.
Chisom’s agony, worsened by her confusion, poverty and lack of even basic education set her on a nasty verge.
Indeed, she was doomed. The fate of her innocent infant was worse because if as a harmless day-old-child, everyone around fled at the sight of her, what would happen when she grows older, is only left to imagination.
As a mother and lone parent who had already had a good taste of social stigmatisation and the indignation of being poor, scorned, uneducated and living in a very rural area, she knew how bitter and harsh life could be. As she looked again and again at the naturally mangled face of her daughter, she could clearly foresee a future blotted in bad ink by fate, and she threw her hands up in submission to providence and divine solution. The baby was eventually named ‘Chinecherem’ (God thinks for me), capturing her family’s fears and resignation to divine intervention in one punchline.
By happenstance, fate brought a basic school teacher who has had of a body named CAFÉ in Awka. CAFÉ , the Caring Family Enhancement Initiative, was established in August 2014 by the wife of the Governor of Anambra State, to advance a natural passion she has for charity programs well before being the Number One woman of the state.
“They told me to go there and try to see whether there was anything that can be done to Chinemerem”, Chisom who spoke in Igbo language, said.
Armed with only her transportation fare, the harried mother took her baby to CAFÉ office in Awka. Without a kobo, she got her daughter booked. Last September, Chinecherem became one of the beneficiaries of one of the foundation’s cleft lip surgery for children.
When contacted yesterday, the elated Chisom said this of the current state of her 11-month-old Chinecherem in her native Omabala dialect:
“O dichawo ya mma… Chinecherem na-enwezi nnukwu anuli” (she is now in perfect condition… Chinecherem is now full of joy).
A major plank of Chisom’s joy is that the people who hitherto fled from her baby are now hobbling towards her, proudly carrying her and savoring her beauty.
She poured encomiums and prayed for Mrs. Ebelechukwu V. Obiano, the wife of the Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Willie M. Obiano, calling her among other things, “a rare and ever available succour and shoulder for helpless people.”
“I makwa na fa anaro m ego obuna… bulu kobo… Negodi Chinecherem kitaa” (do you know that they did not take any money from me… even one kobo… You need to behold Chinecherem now).
In Amanuke, Awka North local council, Anambra State, another mother, Augustina Okolo, 45, told her story with more enthusiasm.
Mrs. Okolo’s 11-year-old daughter, Chioma, is now a primary 4 pupil of Amanuke Central School. She could only enlist into school after a successful cleft lip surgery financed by CAFÉ.
Because of Chisom’s naturally disfigured face and the social constraints with it she was restrained and out of public. She could not enlist in school. Four years after CAFÉ’s vital intervention in her life, she is now in her fourth year in basic school, and doing very well.
Mrs. Okolo said her daughter now interacts freely with other children and society, and enjoys her personality with confidence.
She prayed for more incentive and encouragement to Mrs. Obiano (fondly called, Osodieme, meaning, hands-on partner of her husband) and her foundation in order that they would extend to the largesse of generosity to more people thusly:
“So ekene ka m na-ekene o! Ka Chineke gbaa ha ume o!” (I only have gratitude to give. May God strengthen them to do more).
Chinecherem’s and Chioma’s cases are just two in hundreds of cases.
Beyond giving indigent and not-so-well-to-do people life-transforming health services such as cleft lip correction surgery CAFÉ gives prosthetic legs and hands to people freely.
Through the free alternate limbs, the body has made many lives turn around for good. After losing one of her legs in a motorcycle crash in 2005, the life of Felicia Okwesili of Uruogbo, Enugwu-Ukwu in Njikoka local council, Anambra State, plunged. She lived from hand to mouth and moved, literally nowhere but within her home for 13 years. Upon inquiry about artificial legs, it became clear to her that she cannot afford one. She resigned to fate. In 2018, she learnt of the foundation and tried her luck, and her life changed at no cost.
After becoming one of the CAFÉ prosthetic legs beneficiaries that year, the beadmaker waltzed in exhilaration.
“Many amputees”, she appraised, “cannot afford this prosthetic fitting because it is expensive… since I got this, it has improved my movement and I do things for myself. The most surprising thing is that I received it free from Osodieme and her husband. They even gave us food and transport to go home that day. Let me tell you, there may never be another governor like Obiano in Anambra because he and Osodieme are touching people’s lives positively and either directly or indirectly….
“When I first heard that the Governor and his wife are giving the physically-challenged artificial legs and feet, free of charge, I didn’t believe it. Before now, we got crutches which didn’t go around, and some of us couldn’t even use crutches… so when I got the text message to come and get this artificial limb I cried out of joy… I don’t know how Willie Obiano and his wife, Ebelechukwu got the inspiration to help us but God will continue to reward them all days of their lives.”
Inquiry revealed that currently, a new batch of candidates for prosthetic limbs are being measured for artificial fittings. Soon their legs and hands will arrive.
But cleft lips and prosthetic limbs are only bits of what CAFÉ offers. Through the non-governmental organisation, established with the mission “to be the beacon for sustainable empowerment for women and indigent widows as well as the uplifting… the privileged, physically-challenged persons and pursuit of the well-being of the whole family” thousands of lives have been touched in very impactful ways. The body has also been engaged in free cleft palate surgeries. In almost all parts of Anambra State, widows and impoverished persons who CAFÉ has built houses for (often, two-bedroom bungalows with conveniences and water) are in good number.
Over 30 of such houses have been built by CAFÉ in such areas as Nnewi, Idemili, Aguata, Oyi, Aguleri, Ogbaru among others. One still retains a comment by Mrs. Obiano’s while handling the keys of one of those houses to a surprised owner, Mrs. Regina Maduka, in Umuru, Nnobi, Idemili South local council. Her words: “It gives me joy to see poor widows smile because they now own decent bungalows.” She promised to build more.
Osodieme has boldly and zealously driven CAFÉ to become a big bastion of concrete support that “galvanizes support and resources for the uplift(ment) of orphans and vulnerable children.” She has used the initiative to build modern toilets in many rural markets across Anambra State. In Nteje, Oyi local council there is the 77-bed Home for Mentally Challenged in which several psychiatric cases, most of whom were abandoned on the streets, were salvaged and rehabilitated.
Widows as well as industrious young women and indigent youths have been undergoing trainings on such areas as tailoring, repair of computers, mobile telephone sets, hairdressing, baking among others.
CAFÉ, though an NGO, also serves as a potent instrument of smart diplomacy, hands-on governance tool and social-machination platform. This establishes Osodieme’s dexterity in utilising vital knowledge from her academic field of study, History and International Studies.
Even in the early days of CAFÉ the first lady would reason that “wherever and whenever lives are touched, government has succeeded.” Hence, the webbed network of charity projects is an active philanthropy with very dynamic social tendencies.
Born in Onitsha, Anambra State, to parents from Ogbunike in Oyi local council, Mrs. Obiano attended Lagos Premier Day School, Lagos State and Okija Community Secondary School in Ihiala, Anambra State. She earned Diploma in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos, and Bachelor’s Degree in History and International Studies from Lagos State University (LASU). She equally obtained Associate Degree in Real Estate from Lone Star College, Houston, Texas, United State of America as well as studies in Human and Material Management in Nigeria, Europe and then USA.
The first lady, who was awarded a honorary Doctor of Letters (DDL) by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam, Anambra State, on November 17, 2018, for her outstanding social services, has trained and empowered over 5,000 indigent widows, women and youths in various skills through CAFÉ s Skills Acquisitions Training Programs. Upon completion of the trainings, beneficiaries were provided with equipment and start-up money.
Inquiries show that long before her husband became governor in 2014, Osodieme, has been deeply engaged in charity. The governor too, has been a man of passionate generosity. During the quest, tales of how the First Lady regularly feted beggars and indigent people in Ebute Meta and Gbagada areas of Lagos to the extent that they know her well, emerged often from people who knew her then.
There is therefore no doubt that the haul of local and international honours she has received came right, to fit the right cap. From her recognition, in 2019 as Woman of Excellence by AgroBiz, organisers of Top-Ten African Awards in New York, United States of America to the Zik Prize for Leadership in Humanitarian Services 2017; Primetime Reporters First Lady of the Year Award 2016; Irish Red Cross Award for Humanitarian Work 2017; the Most Valuable Governors’ Wife Award 2016 and 2017; Excellence Award 2016 by Nigerian Women of Atlanta Georgia, United States; UNICEF/EU Water Health and Sanitation (WASH) Ambassador for South-East, Nigeria; the Eminent Peace Ambassador of the United Nations to the two honours in The Sun Awards of the The Sun newspapers, Lagos, there are clear records to buttress the honours. Last Saturday in Lagos, the jury of The Sun Awards adjudged the Most Supportive First Lady in Nigeria, 2019. Her records, clearly distinguish her from all contenders in the contests.
Mrs. Obiano’s words: “there is something in me that abhors seeing people in anguish. That is why I do what I do,” establish her as genuinely what she is, a natural giver and benevolent sharer from her means.