By Adebayo Oladejo –
About 1,000 widows benefitted from a free health screening and donations of food items, clothing materials and drugs at the annual Widows Day programme hosted by the Roses Ministry, a faith-based organisation.
The programme was held last December at the secretariat of the Nigeria Population Commission (NPC), Surulere, Lagos.
Founded in January 2007 by Mrs Regina Ezenwa, a renowned Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN), Roses Ministry focuses on showing God’s love to the hurting and vulnerable in practical ways.
Speaking on how she came up with the vision to start the foundation, Pharm Ezenwa said the ministry was the result of a divine call she received, adding that, since inception it had indeed come a long way. “We have five children on scholarship and people are collaborating with us to achieve our goals,” she said.
On the reason for giving out free drugs to those who needed them, she said, “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 further explained that at the commencement of the Widows Day some years back, only about 50 widows were in attendance. In subsequent years, however, the number grew to about 100; but by 2012, the number had increased to 500, which eventually was doubled by the last edition of the programme.
She said the number keeps rising because virtually all the women were coming along with fellow widows who had not heard of the ministry through ‘word of mouth.’
When asked about the major challenge of the ministry, the pharmacist emphasised funding. She said, “I must confess that the money spent so far were donations from members and friends who are doing well. We actually budgeted for about 700 bags of rice, drugs and textile materials to cater for 700 participants, but as you can see, the people out there are surging towards a thousand and we don’t know how many more that will still come. We might have to further divide the bags of rice, as well as wrappers among the participants. 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 also seized the opportunity to make a clarion call to potential volunteers and well-meaning donors who were interested in standing up for the cause of the widows in society.
Also speaking on the annual event, MrsUgochi Roland-Opara, coordinator of the widows’ department, said that in order to focus more on the aged and vulnerable women among the lot, every last Thursday of November was set aside to celebrate widows and that parts of activities that make up the event include fellowship and sharing of the Word of God, free medical screening by doctors on ground, free drug dispensing (mostly malaria, antibiotics, blood tonic, multivitamins and pain relievers) by volunteer pharmacists and free distribution of household items like bags of rice, textiles, toiletries and vegetable oil.
According to her, where cases like elevated blood pressure or other complex health challenges were discovered, they were immediately referred to doctors for consultation and prescription.
“Roses Ministry represents so many things. You need to come on such Thursdays to listen to the women’s testimonies on how they have been blessed. Many even call us on 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 an empowerment programme, which features practical sessions 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 machine. Today, many of them are doing quite well in their chosen field,” she said on what keeps the ministry going, despite obvious challenges, Opara intoned: “It could be quite stressful. But the joy of seeing these people doing well is enough to keep us going. Meanwhile, my advice to other widows who are not able to avail themselves of this opportunity is to keep trusting God, as he never fails those who truly serve him,” adding that the “divine hand that touched these ones [2013 participants] will also touch them one day.”
In her appreciation to the Roses Ministry, one of the beneficiary widows, MrsEuchariaOkereke, said she heard about the ministry three years ago and, since then, her life had changed for the better. “The ministry is truly God sent and it has changed my life for good. I have four children and the ministry, apart from feeding and catering for us, are also sponsoring my son at the university,” she enthused.
Also speaking in the same vein, another beneficiary, Mrs Alice Elikwu, said, “My husband died in 2003 and life became hell for me and my three children; but when I joined the ministry, they turned my life around and they have been taking good care of my children, as well.”