My sister-in-law was going to travel to the UK and she expressed her desire to my husband – that she’d love to see their mother before travelling. Originally, we did not plan to travel because my husband had just returned from seeing his mother the previous month.
My husband, had just returned from the UK after being away for so many years felt guilty for being away from his mom for so long and so he, on a whim, decided that we’d all go visit mama together. On May 27, 2006, our driver – IK, my husband, myself, our 10-month old baby, my two sisters-in-law and a guy who worked for us, Richard, got into the station wagon and we hit the road. My husband sat with IK, the driver in front so as to keep an eye on him.
Our destination was for Igbokoda, Ondo state, somewhere in the waterside area of Ondo and we had come in through the Benin-Ore axis. I was asleep when I heard a loud sound. A tire burst. I heard my husband say, “Ik, má te brake!” That was the last thing I remembered. When I woke up, I was in a hospital, my head was heavily wrapped up and my right arm was badly swollen. I was lying down and couldn’t move any part of my body. It was at the hospital that they began to fill the gaps for me. The car somersaulted, I wouldn’t know how many times.
I was told that when I was brought out of the wreckage, my heart had stopped pumping blood so I wasn’t bleeding The corner of my mouth had torn out and you could see my dentition. I was laid out on the floor, people gathered round – some praying, others wailing. I was told that a good Samaritan held my wrist and felt a weak pulse. It was him who chartered a cab to rush me down to the teaching hospital in Ijebu Ode. He made a down payment of N20,000 for immediate commencement of my treatment and he promised to return to the hospital to foot whatever bill I had incurred if the N20,000 got exhausted. It was after I came around that I found out that even though my 10-month daughter survived with a fractured femur, my husband and his two sisters died in the accident.
I was still in that immoveable state, wrecked with unimaginable pain that pills couldn’t relieve when my husband’s relatives came asking for the key to the house in Ibadan. The key was in my bag and the bag was at the scene of the accident. I would eventually spend 2 full months in the hospital.
Before the accident, my husband and I jointly ran a poultry and business was doing great. I was in charge of the marketing and sales of the eggs and so it was my duty to find avenues to sell the eggs at. With the POP still slung around my neck, I was taken out of the hospital and driven round by my husband’s relatives to places we had supplied eggs so that they could collect the proceeds of the sales. For the money that we could not recover from the drive-rounds, his family members deducted those monies from the cash gifts I got during condolence visits paid by friends and neighbours.
When I was out of the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to take my things in the masters bedroom, only my things stored in a separate room and which were few. I was highly as I packed the few things. They took everything that was in the house and left me with nothing.
At the time, I was 26 years. My marriage was young and I just couldn’t bring myself to terms with what was reality – that my husband was really gone and that I had a daughter to care for all by myself now. We had had plans and dreams to raise a family, build businesses together, travel to the UK for holidays with our children and all. Suddenly, all that was gone. Not only that, my life was back to ground zero.
It was as if life lost its meaning.
“Life after my husband’s death was rough. I had nothing – no house, no money, no poultry business. When my daughter and I were finally discharged from the hospital, it was a church member who took us in since we had nowhere to go. The church member fed us and took care of us for the duration that we spent with her. From the rest of the condolence money with me, I rented a one room apartment at Olona, Ashi. We would stay in the house, my daughter and I, and we would just be looking at each other. The only thing I could do was play Barney & Friends for her. I would look at my baby girl and cry as she laid on the bed, sucking her thumb because there was no food. Sometimes, when I have N5, I will buy her biscuit and that was it. There’s this vegetable called “Iyan Ipaja” – we always plucked it around Ladoja’s house inside Bodija estate. Iyana Ipaja is a highly nutritious vegetable – it tastes like ugwu, only that when you pluck it, it itches. My daughter and I ate Iyana Ipaja and soya ehn! These were our major meals.
In order to get my life together again, I took a loan of N15,000 from a Microfinance bank and with the cash, I bought the things I needed and began to start a chinchin business. I called it Amazing Grace chinchin. As I was doing this, I was paying back the loan through the loan. I paid back through my nose but we were better off for us than when we had nothing at all. I needed to keep the productivity high – that was the only way I could pay the loan back. The chinchin business gained momentum and I employed two guys to help with the sales. They’d stay in front of UI and sell to passengers in cars. I just needed to sell as much chinchin as I could in order to make some money to survive.
I put my girl in a school called Rosegate in Bodija. My husband and I had always talked about wanting our children to have quality top-notch education; and because I knew that was his desire, I wasn’t going to compromise. I approached the proprietress and explained my predicament to her. She accepted my daughter into the school and made the payment of school fees really flexible for me. So, on days when I have N500 they’ll take it, then I may pay N1000 the next time. Just like that, I was allowed to put my daughter in the school. In order to conserve money, I’ll back my daughter and then trek from Olona, walk through Inu Cocoa and connect with Ojurin and then walk from there to Old Bodija to drop her off at school and I’ll make that journey back in the afternoon to pick her up.
Just as the chinchin business was growing, the UI authorities chased away the people selling things around the gate and so sales dropped. Due to the drop, I had to let go of one of the two guys and eventually when everything went down, my chinchin business folded up. My husband and I had planned to start a school together and in order to make this happen, he had encouraged me to apply for a diploma in Education at the University of Ibadan which I did. It was after his death that I was offered admission for the diploma.
I had stubbornly refused to forfeit my admission so I was going to school, attending classes too. I was able to pay my school fees for the first year. Because I was mourning my husband in that first year, my classmates and my lecturers could tell that things were not alright with me. I cut my hair low and wore the only two clothes. My lecturers, upon hearing my story were supportive and always ensure that I was coping. Because I had nowhere to put my daughter, I was allowed to bring my daughter to class.
My third year was my final year and by then, it had become difficult to pay my school fees. I walked up to one of my lecturers and explained my condition to him. He explained to me that it was going to be difficult to let me write exams since I was in my final year. I made a promise to him that whenever I raised that money, I’ll pay my school fees but that I needed to write the exams so that all my efforts would not have been a waste. He made a rare exception for me – he stood in for me so that, whenever we wrote exams and defaulters were being screened out, he would speak for me and I would write my exams.
That was how I wrote my final exams and I passed my diploma in flying colours.
I passed my diploma just right about the time that my chinchin business collapsed. When the business collapsed, I applied to a Nursery and Primary school for the position of a teacher. Because I had no prior teaching experience, my salary was N4,000. On the face value, the salary was not enough to help me bear my responsibilities, in fact my transport per month was more than the salary but I took the job as me paying for the experience I never had. I moved my daughter from Rosegate to the school where I was then teaching. I augumented the N4000 by still making chinchin and supplying to people on demand. It was all me producing the chinchin and delivering them myself.
There’s a RCCG church in Bodija called Jesus Chancery, they used to do midday services where they would serve snacks and drinks. I never missed it, I dared not, because the snacks and drink was going to be my daughter’s meal for the day. I couldn’t cope with the N4000 job so, after a term, I resigned. Through it all, I was going to church for prayers and fellowship.
It was one day when I went to church that I heard that there was a school that had newly opened and they needed teachers. I wrote my CV and applied for the job. Because at the time I hadn’t paid my school fees still, I filled “awaiting result” in my CV and then, my OND in Mass Communication. I was called for the interview and as God will have it, I was picked. My first salary at the school was N15,000. That was when things began to change for my daughter and me positively.
Years after all these struggle, I met a widow who was begging for help and so I reached out to her. One widow at a time, my network of widows grew. An article was published about what I was doing with my widow-friends and an Anonymous donor started sending her N20,000 monthly. At Christmas, I’d buy bags of rice and vegetable oil and we’d share among ourselves. I did the things I did because, once, I was in their shoes and I walked the path they are walking on. This was what grew to become Hope Soars Foundation For Widows which was formally launched on December 18, 2016.
Presently, the NGO reaches out to over 400widows. Lots of widows at the NGO are in need of help and support. We want to do more but can only achieve little without the support of good people in the society. While many just want their immediate needs to be met – foods, gifts, there are a few serious ones who want more than just food or money, they want to learn skills so they can stand on their own too. We are not giving up on the ones that are not ready by holding programme and sensitizing them which we believe that someday they will understand and discover who they are to liberate them.
If we get more support we will be able to reach more widows, who will be able to transform their own lives and also contribute to their immediate community.
I will continue to assist widows in order to reduce the burden that they carry. Sometimes all that we want is a phone call, an ear to listen to our struggles. At other times, it is meeting physical needs, and linking them up with access to opportunities.
My daughter and I don’t have a rosy life yet but we have come a long way from where we began. Beyond any doubt, I am convinced that helping widows to rise up and giving them hope when the society has given up on them is one reason why I have been preserved.
📸: Amogunla Femi Kayode
The story you just read is the story of Johnson Folashade whose activities among widows in Ibadan who are having hard times getting on with life after the demise of their husbands through the Hope Soars Foundation For Widows.
You can support the activities of Hope Soars Foundation For Widows in whatever way you can and with whatever you can. Thank you!