She was completely grey with age; her entire head of hair didn't have a single strand of black in it. Even her eyebrows had flecks of white and her eyelashes were completely white. Yet, despite her noticeably advanced age, her smile was as infectious as a baby's; her dark skin, smooth and unbroken; enticing dimples appearing in both cheeks, while her eyes glowed like twin jewels as she grinned at me, brimming with joy. Happiness was written all over her as she ran to hug me, dragging me into an impromptu victory dance right there in the middle of a crowd of other widows and people milling about. It said a lot that for her seemingly advanced age, in that moment, she had more energy than me!
The woman with me in the picture is a widow, Mrs Florence. She and the other women depicted in the second picture are just a few of the widows registered with Rock of Ages Empowerment Foundation. I could show you a thousand more pictures, but let's leave that for Facebook.
You wouldn't know it to look at them, but most of these women have battled poverty, suffering, loneliness, depression, and all manner of unsavory conditions that would make lesser beings cave in and give up on life.
In case you didn't know, widowhood is NOT a walk in the park. I never really understood the strength of a woman until I met and interviewed some of these women.
Women all over Africa suffer all manner of abuses, trials, inhuman treatments and even degradation for the 'offense' of being widowed; Nigeria of course, with her vast array of traditions and cultures, is no exception. Widows are made to feel like outcasts; sometimes accused of murder; sometimes physically and/or sexually abused; and often divested of their possessions by greedy in-laws.
Yesterday, 19th June 2017, an amazing and highly unusual man, Evang IG Newman, under the auspices of his NGO, Rock of Ages Empowerment Foundation, did something I have never seen before.He took empowerment of widows a step further in a laudable and absolutely innovative manner that brought tears to my eyes and left me breathless.
The foundation had already empowered most of their over 1,000 widows for small and medium businesses including agriculture by training them and also assisting financially when necessary. Then as if that wasn't enough, the Crop/Agriculture Trade Fair was created as a medium for the widows to showcase and sell their crops and products.
When yours truly ventured out among these women, the air was alive with energy, hope and joy. They were dancing as they sold and generally enticing customers with happy shouts and dance steps that would put Michael Jackson to shame: I KID YOU NOT!
The thought of financial independence would do that to you. For some of these widows, feeding every day is pretty much 50/50 and this Trade Fair is an unusual opportunity for these women who have been forced into the role of bread winner to provide for their families. It is also an opportunity for us, ahead of the International Widows' Day celebration, to show them that they belong; that they are still important to society. Everyone knows at least one widow; whether our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, or even friends.
There's a streak of independence in every human being; and that's why we take more pride in a salary than a hand-out; that's why we take more pride in money earned from honest work than stolen funds; that's why we take more pride in the N10 derived from your business than the N20 given to you by a kind benefactor. Trust me; these women would appreciate your patronage now way more than your hand-outs later.
For these women, the Trade Fair was a whole lot more than a group of women gathering beneath the sun to display their wares. For some of them, it is an opportunity to take back their dignity that had been trampled beneath the feet of thoughtless in-laws when they lost their husbands; for others, it is an opportunity to teach their children about the dignity in labor; and for yet others, it is an opportunity to finally put food on the table and pay that school fees.
Nelson Mandela said something that has stayed with me for a very long time: when we fight poverty, it's not charity but justice because poverty is man-made.
I was personally very impressed with the rather festive atmosphere and also the rather cheap prices of their commodities. In case you're thinking it has passed, it hasn't: the Trade Fair runs from 19th-22nd June 2017. I don't know about you, but I would give almost anything to see that enchanting smile duplicated on the faces of all widows.
Just in case you're thinking of stopping by and making these women smile some more whilst getting good value for your money: the venue of the Trade Fair is Area 10, Old Parade Ground, Abuja.
You can thank me later. 😘😘😘😘😘😘
Learn the lesson and share the story