‘No Responsible Society Will Leave Women In Poverty And Hardship’
AT a tender age, Abia State-born Country Director of Women for Women International Nigeria, Ngozi Uchenna Eze, began to develop deep concern for individuals of civil strife and other conflicts, especially the women.
Having witnessed and survived the civil war and its effects on other survivors, many of who were either rendered homeless or permanently injured, she told LAWRENCE NJOKU that she felt enamored to engage the rest of her life and service to helping others, especially those deprived of good living as a result of civil strife, culture, poverty and other negative circumstances of life.
In the over 20 years she spent working for both private and public institutions including Honey Well Group, Ibadan, Universal Investment and Development Company, Benin and Women’s Aid Collective, Chief Eze was waiting for the opportunity to realise the dreams of helping the down-trodden of the society.
These dreams came to fruition in 2003, when she resigned from Women’s Aid Collective to pick up appointment as Country Director for Women for Women International, a non governmental organization that provides for women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency.
” I see myself as a product of civil strife, having survived the Nigeria/Biafra War. The horror of the time is better imagined than experienced and anybody looking at it would know that though, it has been a long time, the scar of that era has not left our people as they are still being felt everywhere.
“Seeing innocent children die of starvation, life snuffed out of a man leaving his wife in penury, broken homes as a result of culture, illiteracy among the women, teenage pregnancy and the fact that women are made the scape-goats in difficult circumstances, I felt I should devote my time and energy working for their betterment”, she says.
Being a single parent, Ngozi should know how it is and what it takes to raise a child alone. “I know the pains of motherhood. I know what it means to have broken homes and marriages. I know that certain culture could make a woman live in the most obscure part of any community, where she is abandoned to die; where she is being subjected to rape and deprivations of all kinds”.
To her, most of the problems being encountered by women, especially when their husbands are no more, border on lack of self-confidence and illiteracy. This category of women, she says, have always played the second fiddle, thinking that without a man, they could not make anything of their lives.
Although she regards her 20 years of service in various institutions as a period of gathering experience to prosecute her present assignment, she explains she has always had a lot of passion for the needy, which was the main reason she resigned her appointment when it mattered to pursue her life dreams.
Beginning with an intervention rights awareness and leadership programmes with about 800 women in three communities of Ugwuogo, Owo and Umulumgbe, all in Enugu State in 2003, the organisation currently has expanded its horizon and is now working in 28 communities in both Enugu and Plateau States of Nigeria and has positively affected over 30,000 individuals and families.
“We took off in the three communities with the rights awareness programme on the women as our pilot scheme. The three communities were chosen based on what we saw on ground during our visits to the areas. At the early part of the programme, only about five percent of the women were given skills training such as soap making, carpentry, shoemaking, tie-die production and photography. However, after the creation of our income generating template in 2005, all our participants now receive skills training, especially in livestock production or farming for those who live in the rural areas,” she says.
She listed Ugwuogo-Nike, Neke Uno, Owo, Umulumgbe, Nachi, Aku, Idodo, Coal Camp, Abakpa-Nike, Akpuoga Nike, Agbogu, Edem, Ihe, Iwollo/Oghe, Ukehe, Ituku, Amokwe, Ogbaku, Opi, Umuoka, Ekoli-Okpanku, Oduma, Ndeabor, Umuode, Oruku, Ugene Ugbo, Nimbo, Ugbene Ajima and Ezza-Nkwubor, all in Enugu State as communities where the organisation is working presently.
In Plateau State, the organisation is working with both the Muslim and Christian Communities in Gwong and Sarki, Giring and Miango. Eze says that the organisation has facilitated the registration of over 300 cooperative groups, disclosing that one of the groups in Edem community in Nsukka local government area of Enugu State comprising over 300 women is involved in micro-lending within their group, owns a bus and has embarked on a piggery project.
“Another cooperative group, made up of smaller cooperative groups within the community in Ekoli-Okpanku community in Aninri local government area embarked on a rice mill factory because the community is a rice growing one. They now have a thresher, miller and de-stoner”, she explains.
“We worked with eight National Youth Service Doctors to provide basic health care for over 500 socially excluded women in Ihe, Edem, Iwollo/Oghe and Ukehe communities, and leading a partnership for the eradication of oncholfiliaris in Idodo community in collaboration with the State Ministry of health.
“We are also partnering with Annunciation Hospital, Enugu to conduct Voluntary counselling and testing on HIV and AIDS in eight communities; Ngene Ugbo, Oduma Nimbo, Ugbene Ajima, Ezza Nkwuba Oruku, Umudo, Ndeabor. We conducted training of trainers for counselors in three communities.
“We opened a daily clinic with laboratory services in Jos in 2008, partnering with Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria offering parental/ postpartum gynecological treatments, voluntary counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS, treatment of other diseases and family planning services.
“The organisation has been able to assist rural women to acquire lands for income generating projects legally in the following communities; Amokwe for piggery farming, Ogbaku for palm kernel cracker, garri-multiple processing machines and Nimbo for poultry house construction’.
But the activities of the organisation have not been limited to women alone as the men are also being included in some programmes, following the discovery that they men could be victims of ugly sides of life too.
Thus in 2001, the organisation held seminars for 32 traditional rulers of the chieftaincy council of Enugu State on such vital issues as female genital mutilation; widowhood practices and inclusion of women in decision-making processes. “Following the success of the seminar, men’s leadership training has been held for over 600 men in leadership position with the mandate to train other men in HIV/AIDS, family planning, community rebuilding and participation, violence against women in 20 communities in Enugu and Jos. The last training held this year was sponsored by Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Lagos.”
But how did it all begin? Chief Eze says it was borne out of the visit of the President of the Women for Women International, Zainab Salbi to Nigeria in 1999 on the invitation of the Executive Director of the Attainable Self Advancement ASA, Jean Bell.
“That visit took her to the South Eastern region of Nigeria. She met women who had been subjected to ethnic violence and observed the tenuous social, economic and political environment of that region. Many of the women were widowed at an early age, lived in remote regions of the country, and were mostly illiterate, factors which can contribute to an unstable and uncertain future.” With this discovery, the organisation began an intervention programme in the country in the late 2000.
Women for Women International is affiliated to Attainable Self Advancement and in 2001 and was formally registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja, which enabled her commence fullscale activities.
One of the challenges being faced by the organisation, Eze says, is funding. If provided with more funds, the organisation should be able to make more impact.
“What we usually do is to discover the poorest of the poor in the society, fetch them wherever they are, get them into cooperative society and begin to scout for sponsors that will help them realise their dreams and make ends meet. Usually, these sponsors are women, who have devoted their entire savings to helping the poor by identifying with their needs.
“Each beneficiary, who comes under the cooperative, will identify a project, which will help them raise revenue to take care of their family and better their lives. When the donor is identified and begins to make contribution on behalf of the beneficiary, we usually collect such money to put into the project. With whatever the women realise from their cooperative, it is put together in the execution of the project. When the job is completed, it is handed over to them to operate. Through this method, we have reached many Nigerians and improved on their lives.”
Eze says she simply detests any situation that could leave a woman in poverty and hardship, as this does not tell well of any responsible society.