It was a sight to behold on 29th November, 2012, at the NYSC camp in Surulere, Lagos, when no fewer than 1,000 widows were treated to free health screening, food and clothing materials during the Annual Widows Day programme hosted by Rose Ministry, a faith-based organisation.
The ministry, founded in January 2007 by Mrs Regina Ezenwa, a renowned Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), was aimed at showing God’s Love and Compassion to the hurting and vulnerable in practical ways.
To further focus more on the aged and vulnerable women among the lot, every last Thursday of November was set aside to celebrate widows. Parts of activities that make up such day includes fellowship and sharing of the Word of God, free medical screening by doctors on ground, free drug dispensary (mostly malaria, antibiotics, blood tonic, multivitamins and pain relievers) by volunteer pharmacists, drama presentation and free distribution of household items like bags of rice, Ankara textiles, toiletries and vegetable oil.
According to Ugochi Roland-Opara, coordinator of the widows’ department, where cases like high blood pressure, those who have elevated blood pressure or other complex health challenges are discovered, they are immediately referred to doctors for consultation and prescription.
“Rose Ministry represents so many things. You need to come on such Thursdays to listen to the women’s testimonies as to how they have been blessed. Many even call us on the phone to personally appreciate our efforts at giving them a new lease of life,” she said.
Roland-Opara also disclosed to Pharmanews how the not-for-profit ministry started empowerment programmes like soap liquid production, beads-making, fashion designing, fish smoking and hair dressing, to train the women.
“What we do, basically, is to bring in experts to train them. Once through, the ministry establishes them with the needed equipment and machinery. Today, many of them are doing quite well in their chosen fields,” she enthused.
When nudged to talk on the challenges encountered in running the foundation over the past five years, the coordinator remarked that the main hitch is funding. But more importantly, what spurs them on is the zeal to ensure that a meal is put on every widow’s table every Thursday.
“It could be quite stressful. But the joy of seeing these people doing well is enough to keep us going,” she disclosed.
Speaking on how she came up with the vision to start the foundation, the founder, Pharm Ezenwa, said Rose Ministry was a divine call she received.
“I kept asking God repeatedly, to understand what it means. But all I kept hearing was ‘Feed the Poor.’ However by December 2006, the vision became clearer. Today, Rose Ministry has come a long way. We have four children on scholarship and people collaborating with us to achieve our goals,” she said.
As part of its mission, the ministry presently visits Kirikiri prisons, orphanages and undertakes rehabilitation of the sexually abused and returnee ladies from abroad.
“We don’t want anybody to die from lack of drugs. You can even ask those around if anybody paid for her drugs. No! Besides, all the pharmacists you see dispensing drugs here today are volunteers, residing or running their stores in Surulere. They even came with free drugs, to show solidarity and identify with the programme,” she noted.
Ezenwa explained that they initially had less than 50 widows at inception, later 100, but today they have almost 500 registered members. She said the number keeps rising every week because virtually all the women come along with fellow widows who have not heard of the ministry before.
When asked about the funding of the 35-staffed organisation, the pharmacist smiled and said that it has been their major challenge.
“I must confess that the money spent so far was from donations of members and friends who are doing well. We actually budgeted N3.5 million for bags of rice, vegetable oil, drinks, drugs and textile materials, to cater to about 500 participants.
“But with what we are seeing today, we might have to further divide the bags, as well as give out 6 yards of wrapper to each widow. We are hoping next year will be different. But in all, God has always been there for us. We have never failed. He is a provider,” she chorused.
Pharm Ezenwa also made a clarion call for more volunteers and well-meaning donors, who are interested in standing up for the cause of the widows in society.