By Ebun Sessou
Olayiwola Oluwatosin is the founder of “Toosin Quota”, a foundation that caters for widows in its own little way. She was in Lagos recently when she spoke with WW on her passion for the “Unreached” (widows) and the fear she nursed because of the stigma placed on widows as witches.
Tell us why you embarked on empowering the widows?
It was a passion I developed as a child. I have feelings for people who are not happy. I have passion for giving no matter how little it is. Making unhappy people happy is what I enjoy doing.
The Bible tells us to give and in the process, we will receive in return. It further explains that we should give first before expecting to receive from him. It is scriptural. Give and it shall be given unto you. I do not think of collecting back from the same people I give. The fact is that once I give to them I get better things in return.
So, why did you choose widows?
I realized that widows are more neglected in the society. When I was about to start the foundation I told two of my mentors, Uncle Raheem Akingbolu and Akin Oludare that I would like to relate with the youths in the society in my hometown (Aramoko, Ekiti) but I realized that most of these youths have different ways of sourcing for money unlike the widows. They also have lots of strength to work; they are also exposed to lots of empowerment programmes. But, the widows do not have. The youths depend on many people for survival but widows are neglected. In my community, there is this notion that you do not help widows because they are witches and they could kill you if you help them. So, most of the widows in my community are farmers. They go to farm despite their age. The stigma is on the widows such that no one is ready to help them. But, I felt that helping the widows would break the breach.
When was the foundation established?
Three years ago.
How has the feedback been?
I started in my grandmother’s compound and they were thirty widows that started the foundation with me. At first, I gave them N500, drugs and food each in Aramoko, Ekiti. The feedback was good and the second year, the widows rose to 50 in number. And on the third year, the widows were 150 in number. After that, we decided to register the foundation and also get a record of the recipients on the platform. We are not empowering widows who have the capacity to remarry but, those who cannot marry again. We are dealing with the widows who cannot work again. We are considering widows from age 70 and above. The third year of the foundation gave me the morale that the future is great.
You have limited the foundation to your community, why is that?
There is a parable that says charity begins at home. I fell that my people need me the most. For me, it is better to start the foundation from the grassroots. I believe, it is better to start in my community, then the tentacles would spread across. The vision is actually outside my community but I have to start from the community first.
There are insinuations that NGOs are after the financial gains instead of concentrating on impacting on people’s lives.
I am an insurance marketer. I am an insurance agent. The truth is that, I have passion to help the down trodden and that is what I love to do. Most times, I do not earn my salary yet I help people. I believe that if those around are happy, then, I am happy.
Another thing is that NGOs are politically motivated, what is your take on this?
I am not doing this because of politics but if in the course of the foundation, my people want me to go and represent them in the government, then so be it.
How then do you get money to finance your foundation?
I use my commissions. God has been using my clients for me. Most times, I design envelopes for people to donate their widow’s mite. Although, I have people that support the project but I do not want it to be politically motivated. So, I resist any political moves towards the foundation. Right now, I am on red account but I am good.
What measure are you putting in place to ensure that politicians do not hijack this in future?
I avoided that last year. I have been resisting pressure from politicians and that is not a problem at all. Although the politicians are part of the community so, if they are invited to take an assignment, I make sure that they do not go beyond the assignment they are given. I ensure that they do not go aside the rules and regulations of the platform.
What are the challenges?
As a single lady, I do not have husband to support me. I also have siblings that I cater for in my little way. As an insurance marketer, it is not easy to get funds. Nobody is ready to help. Another is the fear of the unknown. Someone once told me that the widows would kill me and so, I was advised to halt the foundation but, I resisted the advice. The widows were tagged as witches. So, I went to the mountain to seek the face of God on the foundation. Although, I nursed the fear but with time, I overcame it.
Are there plans to extend the foundation beyond your community?
Next year, we are reaching out to six towns in Ekiti West local government. And we are going to empower more widows.
How do you generate the widows?
The first criteria is the age. I have people who go after this age range of widows we require. We are looking for widows who cannot afford to eat. There are some widows that have families that take care of them. My grandma is part of the platform but she has never been a beneficiary of the foundation because her children can take care of her.
Growing up, was there anything you noticed that propelled you to do this particular thing?
I believe that God deposited lots of virtues in me and I have tried all my best to ensure that I do not lose the focus. Growing up, I liked to give money to people. There was an event that was held in my hometown when I was small and I told someone that I wanted to give money to people and I was advised to give it in my family’s name which I did and I was happy. But, the next day, I had no money for transportation because I was to travel. At the same time, I was happy because when the names were rolled out, my family’s name was included.
How do you hope to sustain the foundation?
Aside my sources of income, I am looking at spreading the tentacles to the next level. I am already talking to a friend in the United Kingdom on how international organizations could help the foundation. I am open to international partnership. Here in Nigeria, I have spoken to some companies and they advised that I should register the foundation first. The registration is in progress.
Why did you attach glamour to it?
The widows do not understand the valentine language and my aim was to bring love back to them. The foundation is celebrated during valentine season and thus the slogan: “Bringing love back to the widow”.