By Ishola Balogun
Dr Peace Okonkwo, wife of Mike Okonkwo. founding pastor of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), has been busy with her Peace Campaign, a humanitarian service initiative that provides support for women with cervical cancer, men with prostate cancer, eye diseases, women and children with different ailments.
As at the last count, over 8400 women have been tested and treated while another 15,750 persons have been tested and treated for different ailments free of charge under her Peace Campaign initiative. As she turns 65 today, the Proprietress of Word of Power Group of Schools, and founder Rehoboth Homes and Skill Acquisition Centre; a place for stranded ladies spoke with Saturday Vanguard on what life has taught her and why she wants to live for others
Why the Peace Campaign?
Peace Campaign is what came out of what I saw about the plight of women dying of cervical cancer and other treatable diseases. It was from that moment I told God, ‘I want to be a blessing to women undergoing this problem’. Five years ago, I said to myself, life is nothing without helping others. I thank God for everything in my life.
I still want to be a blessing to several others, particularly, those with treatable ailments, women and children. So, we started it on my 60th birthday and by the grace of God today, we have affected the lives of 8,000 people in this regard. We go to villages and carry out a test on them and ensure that they are tested and treated.
How do you raise fund to settle their bills?
If someone is tested and detected, we will connect such person to a general hospital for treatment immediately. We follow our patients through the process, where money is needed we pay. I commit my resources into it as well as the widow’s mite from other voluntary donors. Personally, this year’s campaign is huge; I don’t have to mention how much I have spent. That is what gives me joy.
Apart from cervical cancer and related disease, what other areas of support do you give to women and children?
We give general medicals. We have eye foundation and anyone with cataract also gets full service. We take them to where it will be done, the disease will be removed free of charge.
In your interaction with women, what is the predominant disease you have noticed and how can you advise against it?
It is basically poverty. You can imagine women in the village who can’t afford three meals or two a day. Such women are vulnerable to disease. But we also have Widows’ Empowerment Programme, which is done annually in villages. We alleviate their plight by giving them some money to start some trading including other gift items such as food and clothing. The first time we did it, they cried and prayed because they never believed somebody from Lagos could come and bless them.
How do you feel at 65 and what has life taught you?
I came from a humble background and life has taught me to be a blessing to humanity. Life is about what you can do to put a smile on somebody’s face. It is not easy, but God has been helping me through and I should also put myself in a position to help others.
Age is a number. A lot of people see me and say I do not look my age, but I usually reply “it’s the grace of God.” I do a lot of walk. I eat healthy and fresh foods and vegetables, not talking about can foods. Again, I don’t drink soda; I drink a lot of water.
With your busy schedule, do you still cook?
Two days ago, I cooked. I have trained my cook and my girls. They do the cooking but occasionally, I go to the kitchen especially, when it is native food. Bishop is not particular about food. He eats everything that every other person eats, such as rice, amala, and others, but he doesn’t eat all the time. He eats at least once a day.
This year’s Peace Campaign was fixed here to mark my 65 birthday. Beneficiaries of the programme are not only members of the church but people from different places.
While growing up, did you envisage you would be what you are today and who influenced you more, your dad or mum?
Like I said earlier, I grew up from humble background. My dad died when we were very young. So, I grew up under my mother and grandmother. They were very prayerful. My mother, still full of life at 87, we call her deaconess in the house. She does everything by herself. We were from the Anglican background. You couldn’t be in our house without going to church. So, my grandmother influenced me a lot.
Tell us about Rehoboth home?
Rehoboth home is a skill acquisition center, where we give abode to the stranded ladies. It started when I heard that a young lady died in a rest room. She was sick and did not have a house. At nights, she would look for rest room to sleep and one of the nights, she died there.
I felt I should do something and immediately, I put up a four-storey building, we printed flyers and spread the information and behold, and we have a lot of them staying there. At the home, we have a qualified matron and supervisor who takes care of them. That is not all, we ask them what they want to do in life, some say vocation while others would want to further their education and we are doing all that even to the university level.
Right now, we have been able to train about four of them in the university and others in different vocations. We also empower them after their vocational training to buy what they will need to be able to set up their businesses.
Again, we noticed that villagers don’t like going outside their homes for fear of being kidnapped or being robbed. So, what we do is to set up skill acquisition centre in Ogbunike, Anambra State. We dedicated it last year and we have 33 graduating students. But right now it is for both boys and girls with different types of vocations.
Happiest moment in life
It gives me great joy when I am able to help somebody especially to save a dying sick person through these humanitarian services. When I went to a refugee camp in Ghana recently, I saw a large number of people dying of different diseases. My token donation there gave me joy because; I knew that would have saved some souls. My happiest moment is when I see somebody better.