Five years ago, Woman and Half, a recreational initiative, was born out of the modern, urban woman’s pressing need for relaxation and self expression; one which the male-dominated culture had hitherto not created allowance to accommodate.
The initiative’s founder, Chile Frank-Udemgba tells all to WO, including its charity arm, and the reason for its impending rebranding to WAH by Chile.
After 15 years working for a top financial institution, a husband and two children; Chile Frank-Udemgba found herself lost in her various roles and needed to do something about it. “I had a brainwave that my life was very boring. I was living through the motions and it just felt like I was lost in all of these roles. I didn’t want to wake up 20 years from now, an old woman and I have lived for everybody but myself. I was busy but not having any impact so I asked myself, what would be written on my obituary? The only thing would be, wife to…. mother to…
“I am pretty certain they wouldn’t have put my job description there. I was not alone but very lonely.”
Chile had a hunch there were very many women in her shoes who were living colourless lives. She reached out to them and this led to the birth of her platform, Woman and Half.
“I was not just a woman,” she tells WO. “I am balancing so many roles in my life. I am more than a woman; I am a woman and a half.”
It was almost like a cry for help, according to the seasoned banker. “It was my own earnest desire to break out from a particular life, to find that little girl within me.”
She started to search for like minds who wanted to simply drop all their cares, mingle and have fun regardless of marital status and was not surprised it was well received.
“I’ve attended so many women empowerment events. They tell you about motivation, empowerment, marriage and so on. I felt that all those programs were similar and tilted in a certain direction. They are pushing towards empowerment, feminism; such undertones. I wanted to be intentional about having fun with other women and pretending I don’t have those responsibilities. We can go back to our lives and continue the struggle. Men are able to do this very comfortably.”
Her ultimate goal to create what was hitherto a culturally inappropriate ethos finally became reality with the staging of annual events, such as last year’s women only boat trip to a popular resort in Lagos State.
“On the staycation, nobody was worried about their spouses, their kids, challenges at work; we just wanted to let our hair down.”
But how easy was it to convince the men?
“From my personal experience, there were things I had assumed. Over the years, I thought a woman is supposed to stay at home, cook.
Rightly so, that’s the way we were brought up. I realised I needed to speak up more about the way I felt.
“It was all about planning, ensuring I got the buy-in of my husband. I make sure to create that balance that is required.
“I make sure I give adequate notice and more importantly, I convey that this is something that will make me happy. It’s very important.”
Chile, however, slams the notion of rebellion, saying the craving for one’s own time and self care is not an excuse to take things by force.
“The culture expects things to be a certain way so you need to show this is just you wanting two or three days for yourself. Your life is not changing.”
It wasn’t too long afterwards that the charity arm of the initiative began, mostly by accident, so far raising and distributing in excess of N67 million to the sick.
“It occurred to me that every time I went to Gbagada General Hospital to jog, I saw people in need of small amounts and I realised I could help. It occurred to me that if I were to reach out to all my friends and ask for N1,000; if I reach a hundred friends, that is N100,000 .”
In December 2017, Chile sent a WhatsApp to her friends telling them she wanted to create a miracle. The response was overwhelming, birthing the so styled 1k Miracle Initiative.
1k Miracle first gave out about a N100,000 in the first year and has grown from two people to 700 people. The initiative was recently featured on Who Wants to be a Millionaire where they won N500,000, which was doubled by the organisers and given to the sick.
”We then started going to other hospitals like LUTH, LASUTH, Igbobi, Massey. Then the pandemic came and we couldn’t go physically anymore. But I think that presented a better opportunity to go outside Lagos. We could now spread our tentacles.“
Over time, the charity developed efficient systems for case reviews and accountability, assisting medical cases from cataracts, to cancer, to childbirth.
Beneficiaries then send their thank you videos as evidence.
“Those are things that have created that sense of identity and fulfillment for me,” she said.
“For Woman and Half, the plans are to have a launch party in 2022 and go to Ghana next year, or Mauritius. Every year, we have a conference type thing. It’s been an interesting journey. A lot of women connected because we wear masks.
I had a lady that said to me: “Please, I don’t want to come to all these women’s programmes. By the time you leave, you will feel inadequate.”
I said no, our programmes are not like that. We have people on the panels discussing light hearted issues, though important. Eighty per cent of what we are doing is dancing, fashion parade, singing competitions.
The last programme that we had, the person who won the fashion parade was the oldest woman in the room, a 65-year-old woman. She said she could not even remember the last time she had so much fun. When you are younger, you go to clubs. When you are married you will then find that all the places you are going to are like Mr Biggs where you take your children to and then as they grow and leave you, the only entertainment you have is church. When you get to club now, it’s these half dressed girls so you just feel old.
“You just find that there’s no place for the middle aged woman to lay her head and just chill. Men have viewing centres but there’s no place for women to go without spending so much.”
For Chile, Woman and Half is about reaching out to three groups of women; The Strivers, the Thrivers and the Achievers- women who have done it all, seen it all and are now ready to mentor the upcoming ones.
“It’s not marriage that will complete you. If you are a Thriver, how are you embracing the fact that your children are no longer babies and yet they are not adults either? So if you are not thriving, you will feel neglected. Suddenly, you are no longer relevant. Your husband will go out and the only thing you have is to channel your energy into this same work that you have done for so many years and you are tired of.
Our happiness is not dependent on our family members”.
In the immediate future, Woman and Half will be rebranded into WAH by Chile, for two reasons. One is to pull the men in.
”It’s not supposed to be an us against them but a complimentary thing. ‘Women are their worst enemies’ is a cliche, but I say, human beings are their own worst enemies. Gender is not what makes a wicked person, your wickedness is inside. WAH by Chile is not a feminist movement. We are trying to develop women who are strong and confident in their skin, trying to get better, committed to driving positive impact in our world. If we can give away more than N65 million to medically- challenged persons, it just tells you that if there are 10 groups, we won’t be seeing people die because they can’t afford a pint of blood
“Secondly, Chile might be my name but it’s representative of that man, that woman who is courageous, humble, doesn’t compromise on their integrity, lives their life with courage, being humble no matter what they have achieved.
Are you a Chile? Someone that is facing every day with courage, without losing yourself, showing love to everyone you come across and while at it, enjoying it? Enjoy your struggles. Whatever comes at you, take it without thinking, I want to be this tomorrow. What about today?
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.