Chief Mrs. Ajia Chinyere Ogugua is the founder and Executive Director of Centre for Health, Education, Economic Rehabilitation and Social Security (CHEERS), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) which was established in September 2006, with the aim of ensuring the marginalized and vulnerable categories of people in the rural communities which initially opened in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, but later scaled up its operations to cover Plateau, Enugu and Nasarawa States;
and whose projects areas are HIV/AIDS, poverty alleviation and human rights interventions. In this interview with Funmi Olasupo, She speaks on how the organization has been able to put smile on the faces of vulnerable people living with HIV/AIDs.
WHAT informed your decision to set up an NGO such as this?
I started this NGO because I believe in helping people. I saw that a lot of people are suffering and going through a lot of hardship in life and don’t have nobody to come to their aid whereas we have people who can afford to eat three square meals a day.
I know a lot of people are going through challenges and the main reason for this NGO is to touch lives, to make an impact and put smiles on the faces of the people who didn’t believe that they could get help and ensure that the marginalized and vulnerable categories of people in the rural communities gain access to the fundamental rights of life such as Health Care, Education, Economic Rehabilitation, Social Security & Safe Water.
In what way(s) have you put smiles on the faces of these people you are talking about?
In CHEERS, we realized that the humanitarian problems have to be addressed by means of Collaboration, Coordination and Comprehensive measures.
We also pay attention to livelihood transformation and improvement with a beneficiary centered approach. Through our community efforts, we try to restore hope and dignity to vulnerable groups.
We have done a lot of things, we have worked with the community, we have worked with the rural dwellers in the areas, I mean the grass root where they believe the big people, the well to do, the high and mighty do not have business with, but we go to these rural areas, the communities and give them a sense of belonging and make them know that some people have them at heart- we let them know that we are together that we are all equal before God and that is exactly why we set up this NGO.
Do you have any special interest for women and children, both the ones that are in the rural and urban areas?
Yes we do. We work with women and children and we also work with the youth. We are doing the girl child children, we work with pregnant women, and we work with children that their parents have died from HIV. Our focus really on children is based on health and education, on health we focus mainly on HIV programs, AVC and PMCT like I said before we are working in rural areas we have a HIV counselling and testing centre where people come into the office to test themselves free of charge and that is one thing we are very happy we have achieved.
We have a lot of people who come here to do test, people who haven’t known their status, couples who want to get married and we do their test and nobody from CHEERS collects any money and that is also one of the supports we have gotten from National Agency for the Control of AIDs (NACA), NACA has been of immense support to us, they give us test kits, technical support and with their support we are able to do HIV testing for everybody free of charge.
We also go round to the markets, Church, Mosque, Banks, mechanic villages. In fact everywhere people gather in numbers to do the test and it is still free of charge.
Presently if you are asked to rate this organization, on what level is CHEERS now?
We are still a local NGO but we have grown because our track records have also shown what we have done. We are based in Abuja and as we speak CHEERS is operating in 9 states. We are not an international NGO, it is a Nigerian based non-governmental organisation but we have partners that we work with internationally- we have immense support from USAID. USAID has been a great pillar to us and apart from them. We have MSH an American international NGO has also assisted us.
We have a lot of partners that we work with and I believe that together we can always create smiles on faces.
As the founder/owner of this NGO, what were your basic challenges when you were trying to put it together even at this stage it has reached today?
The basic challenge of setting up and NGO is funding. Funding is the major challenge; NGO is something that you can’t do without funding. CHEERS on our own have been able to have some support from some organisations and still at that we are still having challenges on funding so we can’t go to some certain areas or locations to render our services and without funding we won’t be able to do that.
Despite the challenge of fund as you rightly mentioned, what has been your strength to move on?
My main joy is creating smiles and it gives me that joy to see the lives CHEERS has been able to touch and to see that we have been able to make an impact in the lives of these people. As the Executive Director I still go out of my way to make sure that the basic things that we need to do are well accomplished.
We have done a lot of things, people we have been able to touch, the lives we have been able to save, gives me joy to see that we can do more. So no need to go back, no need to be where we are, we are moving forward to continue to create smiles on the faces of people basically Nigerian women and children.
The other time you mentioned funding as being the basic challenge so how do you generate funds?
In CHEERS we send out proposals, we check out for adverts, we do solicited proposal where we generate our own proposal and send to organisations and they do come to our aid, if they like what we have sent.
Then we do unsolicited proposal and more often, we send proposals to Embassies too and we are also working with Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, SURE-P for support and National Primary Health Care, National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS.
Some of these people whose lives you touched in one way or the other, in the rural areas- is there any kind of follow up to the treatment, support or assistance given to them?
Anybody that is HIV positive, we refer them to the hospitals and we don’t just stop at that we follow up and make sure they are well taken care of, we make sure they take their drugs but the issue is that we also engage them to be on our support group where we take care of our clients that are positive and they benefit from our support group.
In our support group we give them food, we send them raw food, we supply them provisions because they must eat before taking their medicine and because they are positive people run away from them and refuse to talk to them at times. Some of them have lost their jobs because they are positive we stay and look into that but we still provide essential needs for them.
Subsequently, what other plans or future plans does CHEERS have for Nigerians basically women and children?
In the coming years, CHEERS is looking forward to scaling up HIV/AIDS service delivery basically to give intensive care to women living with HIV. There are also plans to commence Gender mainstream programmes, including girl child education, women empowerment programmes and human rights interventions.