By ESTHER ONYEGBULA
Efeturi Abayomi is the founder of Rehoboth Ministry, an NGO dedicated to the less privileged widows in the society. Several years before her husband passed on, she had developed an unflinching passion for widows, touching and impacting their lives in different ways. Recently, we met her at an event organized to celebrate International Widows Day in Lagos where she was the Chief Guest speaker.
Today Efeturi shares her experience as a widow, what led to the establishment of her NGO, the challenges the average Nigerian widow faces in the society, the root causes of the sufferings and impoverishment of widows and the way forward. Enjoy!!
How did your work with widows start?
Long before my husband died, I have always had interest and passion for caring for widows because I see them as a group of people that are neglected in the society. Widows are women that people don’t think about, and this was why my husband and I always reached out to them in our church, neighbourhood and community and periodically, we gave them clothing, food, and financial assistance.
I therefore continued to reach out to widows even after my husband passed on. Annually, apart from reaching out to individuals helping them to meet their needs, encouraging them and helping them discover their potential and nurture their children, we organize a Christmas get together for widows. We have a musical band at the event that provides entertainment; we have caterers who we pay to take care of food. Last year, with support from a few friends, we distributed clothes, bags of rice and funds to the widows.
So when actually did you establish Rehoboth?
Formally, I established the NGO in 2004. After my husband passed on, my passion for widows grew, because I was practically experiencing what the widows I had met before then were experiencing. I was experiencing the challenges of having to face life alone with my children. I faced the challenge of people not really thinking about you or how you are faring.
So how did you cope with both challenges?
The day my husband passed on, the Holy Spirit inspired my heart with Psalm 46, and when I keyed into that psalm, I was able to talk to and call myself to order. I encouraged myself that life must go on. I told myself that there are other widows who have excelled and so I must pull myself together and make the most of the situation. I told myself that if the widows in the Bible could make it, I can do more because Christ is there for me.
What do you think government can do to assist widows in our society?
The government can do a lot. They should have a vote for widows because they need money to send their children to school. Even some of them still desire to get educated. I myself am presently doing an online program! I thank God and I believe in education and I am able to because I have the funds to do that. But there are some widows who desire to go to school, to learn a trade or acquire a skill.
Widows have dreams; they want to be hair dressers, seamstresses but they need equipment after training to be able to do that. Some want to be caterers but they can’t because of funds. So the government can do a lot. They can provide scholarships for children of widows. They can provide housing scheme. Early this year, there was a widow who was thrown out of her residence and she needed fund to rent another apartment. With the help of my friends, we were able to raise money for her to get a new apartment.
Can traditional and cultural re-orientation make a difference in the lives of widows?
Yes! We can talk to families via Television, radio, and print media. You can tell them that widows are also children of other people and they should know that their wives can be widows. Widows should be taken care of and encouraged to motivate their children to excel in life like other children.
What are the greatest challenges you have faced?
The major challenge is fund because we really want to meet their needs. I have met young widows with several children that they have to cater for. We need help to be able to support such people!
What can be done to address how women are treated after their husbands’ death?
This can be addressed in several ways: The man while alive must give full support to his wife, respect her and solicit respect for her from his relatives. A woman should not be left at the mercies of her in-laws. In my case, that really helped.
My husband, while he was alive, gave me support and solicited respect for me from his relatives. So, they had no reason to ill-treat me after his death. I didn’t get financial support but at least we are communicating. Another way is that people need to be informed about how the world has changed. Widows shouldn’t be made to go through rituals; like having their hair cut, making them sit on the floor, or forcefully taking their late husbands’ estate.
What is your word for widows who send their children to beg on the street?
I would encourage them to work with their hands even if it’s working as a cleaner, rather than send their children to go begging on the streets. They should work in whatever capacity they can to earn income. As they work, they should save part of their income and use the remaining to meet the needs of their children.