#Impact365: “We’re working to eliminate the myth that widowhood is a curse” – Hope Nwakwesi, founder of Almanah Hope Foundation

In this tell-all chat with YNaija’s Impact365, founder of Almanah Hope Foundation, Hope Ifeyinwa Nwakwesi reveals how she ended up a widow and how her personal struggles have helped her to inspire other widows.

Tell us about Almanah Hope Foundation
Almanah Hope Foundation (AHF). Almanah is a Hebrew word for widows, so in our official language we can be called a “Widow’s Hope Foundation” that came into existence in January 2017. Our mission is to bridge the gap between the cold sweat of stigmatization and the hot flashes of financial / economic hardship encountered in the average life of a widow; so that she can work to tackle her everyday challenges in boldness.

We are “a platform where widows can interact through Association, Relaxation and Recreational programs; as such aim at providing “resources” to deal with empowering the intrinsic and the extrinsic value of the vulnerable widows so that she can feel safe, happy and empowered both in her within and without.”

Our focus is aimed at the fulfillment of a widow’s life through her emotional being with recreation and relaxation as often as possible without undermining her financial responsibilities. We hope to support ourselves through a financial hub, where widows can assess funds.

What inspired you to set up a foundation that caters to widows?
When I opted to get married after my secondary school education, it was in a bid to avoid economic disempowerment and settle the silence girl child disparity problems of the society. I was expected to move on to the available opportunity based on the numerous suitors that were coming to ask my hand in marriage then, having not gotten admission into the university.

Getting married, being a mother and a student simultaneously, things were getting better as life processes itself. Just as I was about to understand and appreciate life itself came his death. Bam! My life was thrown apart as the issues and problems of widowhood came pilling like bricks round about my world, with no one to talk to or talk with.

I had only my God and the spiritual fathers who gave me the word of God. But like a sick patient goes to the doctor to complain and share the symptoms of her illness or an apprentice go to a master to learn or perfect a skill; as sick and unskilled as I was with the disease and duties of widowhood I had no one to talk, learn or compared my symptoms of what was happening around me with.

Many widows I’m sure must have died directly or indirectly from this disease and/or from misuse in the duties of the widowhood due to lack of information and assistance. Beyond the imagination of the world around me, I mourned secretly deep down even to the thought of suicide in my dark path. In my smiles lies an emptiness and confusion that I had to bottle up, as I have no one to share truly the depth of my problems.

Thank God for His grace, He really became and remained my strength and anchor. But the truth is that we are a three-part being, spirit, soul and body; the overfilling of one part can never flow to fill the others. As God filled my spirit and soul in His comfort, the body which even He, God know from creation that needed human support was malnourished. There was a great scarcity in the psychological needs; self-esteem and a sense of belonging. By this, I’m talking of the pure agape love support devoid of every sexual imaginations of the world; the natural God expectations from his creation thus; animal and human being differentiation. It is about communion, communication and counselling.

Based on my experiences from my early days of widowhood and combining it to what my life is now, came the birth of this idea and it’s action. When I realized how my life has directly and indirectly affected new widows as I find people calling me up to go visit and encourage a new widowed. The various comments and appreciations I have received. I have heard widows say to me “seeing you gave me hope, hearing your advice and words was a great amour, Hope you really mean you went through this? The hope on the faces” etc, I found my experience giving strength. Refreshingly I realized that’s mentoring is all about. It is the hope that is needed in despondency.
I saw right away what I truly needed in my early days that I could not get which I can give. I had an experience of a younger widowed calling me one late night in her despondency asking “ MA, how did you really survive this”? We had a great discussion that left both of us fulfilled. It is the true power of a mentor, as we enjoyed the “mentor and mentee” empowerment with each other thus; the AHF dream.

That was what I was lacking then, as a young widow. I was a wounded lion, as strong as a lion is when wounded will be glad to be tendered. I couldn’t find some tendering. To me,a mentor is someone who has fought hard through so many adversities that instead of being weakened she is turned stronger as others try to learn from her victory. She is a wounded lion whose scars has turned into wisdom, that witnesses hope to others. I was a protege but had no mentor, and mentorship we know is a double edged sword; if properly harnessed in widowhood by widows; the ripple effect will go a long way in our society in unveiling the hood around it in our culture.

Secondly, working, I started doing different kind of businesses in buying,selling and procurements; I had so many financial hiccups that exposed me to untold abuses, loses and exploitations. Through that I realized that an opportunity where widows can assess quick funds for ad-hoc responsibilities as well as empower the strong independent Will widows is very much needed. Remember she was running this her home prior his death with two sources so reduced to one will most often be in a temporal economic trap even with the financial empowered one.

Widows are often stigmatized and alienated in the Nigerian society, what are the causes of this?
The issue of widowhood in Nigeria is what the Loomba Foundation addressed as the “Invisible Calamity” (IC) in their agenda for setting up International Widow’s Day.

I, in my understanding based on experiences of this past 23 years have identify these IC which I have tried to explain it in two of my articles “The Invisible Calamity” (www.almanahhope.org) and “The Loneliness in the SEA (Vanguard newspaper 29/6/17 pg 30).

It is the suspicion, expectations and the assumptions of the society that must have generated from the cultural practices and beliefs or that has turned to belief in its practice. This belief whether formed out by practices or stated with the practices has culminated to the problems that are ravaging the paths of women in widowhood. The resultant effect are the segregation, alienation, victimization and exploitation that are a common feature in the average life of a widow in our society. The gender disparity is obvious in widowhood as the widow is faced with so many expectations as against the widower. An average assumption on the death of a woman’s husband goes from either she killed him or she’s happy he’s dead for his finances and or her freedom. There are more widows in our society because a new suitor will if he is not already in that opinion “will be gladly be informed surprisingly even by a fellow woman of how she has or may have killed her husband”; thus making you a victim, as you even as most often learn to alienate yourself before you are alienated. The system in its culture has empowered the society with silence thus; the persistent secret battle of survival in widowhood.

There are certain myths usually associated with widowhood as a result of ignorance, what are some of them?
The myth is the idea of “she’s accursed”, “she killed her husband”, thus besieged by in-laws as they chase her with everything within their possibilities. She is enjoying her freedom, thus seen as prostituting. She’s enjoying his wealth, thus must be driven away or have her wings cut by in-laws. Even in a case of Christians you can be seen to be never a strong Christian as you either did not pray hard enough or your sins have found you out. She’s a wicked witch and thus must not be remarried else she will kill you as she has done to her late husband. Do you know most widows dread remarriage for fear of the man dying again. The society has instilled these beliefs that are beyond your power, as a widow you’re afraid to marry again for fear of what will besiege you if something like that happens again. You do not want to imagine the story and life of a woman who remarries in our culture only for the husband to die again. Oh my God have mercy, with the thought truly I will never remarry. Yet, I have seen a man bury three wives, living with a fourth one was selecting from his collection for a 5th one; that will be 2nd counting only the living. A widow is a very good example of the saying “giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it”.

To be intimidated, exploited and abused, the culture has created so many reasons and names to be called. There is this silent approach to widowhood based on these assumptions. Like I said in my book “At his death, placed on me is a covering beyond the physical, as other hood work around without identification, so do our hood stand out with it’s segregations” (A Widow’s Window). The hood in widowhood started with the gender disparity as the assumptions must be proved with the practices in burial rites and attires. Today the attires are off and so are most practices being reduced or hidden in actions but a most dreadful doctrine have taken over our subconscious thus the mental culture that are so visible in our today. Widowhood is seen either as a curse or it is contagious thus the ostracism. Even in churches, programs of widows are treated with unnecessary secrecy and caution.

How can these myths be corrected?
We must demystify widowhood by replacing silence with a salient approach in issues of widowhood. It has to start first with us the women. The cultural practices are executed by the women, never the men. The power of women as daughters and wives in every family if positively channeled to this change will create the ripples of a positive change in our society. Imagine a woman telling a common friend in another friend’s husband burial “are you still friends with… can’t you see all her friends’ husbands are dying?” I was asked when one of my friend’s husband died, “are all your friends’ husbands dying?”. That is some of the attitudinal changes that must be addressed if we are to correct the issues and problems of widowhood.

I challenge pastors and religious leaders, like every of their other programs, to inculcate a program for widows. Make it open in publicity like other programs, possibly with widowers where women and men can come together in God’s presence to worship God, share experiences, learn and mentor each other. You see, subconsciously people don’t talk about widows and widowhood so you will not seem to be encouraging widows so that women will not go killing their husbands (laughing out loud indeed).

I remember in organizing my walk, one of the widows told me how another widow she tried to invite on hearing we have the column where I said “children come celebrate your mum” virtually screamed “tufia I don’t want to drag my daughter into widowhood”. With exclamation and to complete her rejection, she totally disassociated herself from the project completely. It is a mental culture subconsciously transferred downward generations in silence. It is the myth that widowhood is a curse and contagious. To clear this myth we must deal with issues on widowhood openly and cut this secrecy that has created the shade we have placed around it that breeds shame and fear. Life and death are the two sure components of life and every other thing in-between are as God decides no matter what we want, His Will; will always supersede. And as with death we only pray, wish and hope for the longest life but can not beat our chest when it will be.

As widows we too also need to stop the entitlement mentality by cutting off the sympathy strips around us. To me, a widow does not need sympathy cause she’s not diseased nor apathy because that is not the good attribute of cohabitation. What a widow needs is empathy. It is the spirit of common sense and common good principle where what is good for the geese is also good for the gander thus;

A widow’s creed
We beg not your sympathy
Only pray she thy empathy
I ask not her provisions
Only seek me, thou support
We demand not your acceptance
Solely thy understanding I solicit
I appreciate your distance
Make us not an outcast
Close thou thy eyes
Imagine I in you
as she in her.
How treat thee in both
Just that she ask
much too many you feel,
Do not exactly same
Just a similar
Little understanding
tiny support
Not too far a distance
Plays thy empathy
a welcome to show
Away then goes
thy reel of OUTCAST
(Culled: A Widow’s Window)

There should be no shame nor fear in talking about widowhood. I want to talk about widowhood until it saturates the ear and air waves for I know in that the fear and shame syndrome approach that builds the myth will disappear. I believe if it’s issues are addressed without the undue sacredness, but respect and dignity both to the dead and his living “wife”, widows will be liberated from the load of suspicions that has held them down. Even the society too will be freed from the over consciousness that limits even the good ones in attitudes. Our over carefulness attitudinal approach is born of (SEA) and it is a veil that must be unveiled to cut the cord of widowhood.

Does the Nigerian government – federal, state, local levels – have any provision in place for widows and their children in the country ?
I do not know of any financial structured government approach, in form of policies or actions except the usual political activities of empowerment by politicians often presented in political propaganda and philanthropic grandiosity. The meaning of that being unaware if there is; is that if any it is sure not doing much because without adequate information and publicity in society for widows on various facilities available to widow’s, those facilities are sure unuseful. I welcome to be educated but the various programs on widowhood are that championed by most governor’s wife on assumption of office with almost all going into extinction once out of office. But if you check they are so many financial grants facilities available in some states of US for example.

Even the so promulgated abolition of widowhood practices, how effective is it when information are not properly disseminated with no centers that enforces it. Today these practices are still prevalent in our various ethnic societies. I always ask where are these information disseminate. Radio, Television and internet? How many of our hinterland dwellers have access to this media. These information should be boldly placed at every local government headquarters, churches, community halls and the traditional rulers place in English and every local language with a section designated where widows can complain and actions taken.

Do you accommodate widowers as well?
Not really, but because we are aimed at empowering widow’s by first building back social and emotional strength we will gladly welcome widowers to functions of recreation and relaxation often and if there is an organized widower program or widowers that are interested in getting to know our organization please go to our website, register and partner with us.

I need to state before it goes viral in their Assumption that we are not a dating site nor a matchmaking station or site. We want to support ourselves as WIDOWS and demystify widowhood through Association Recreation and Relaxation and that includes every interaction that will bridge the gap that has created the myth and through it we will have a financial support department too.

What parts of the country have you spread your campaign to?
I am a born and bred Anambra woman but have been in Lagos State for the greater part of my life. So I started with my book launch in this two states. Though I have in my little way supported widow’s along my part here in Lagos but the proceeds of my book I promised my God in appreciation of His mercy and grace to use a specified amount on support of widows which I started in Anambra.

Then in celebration of International Widows Day we organized a charity walk, which will be our BRAND #IWD/#AlmanahHopeCharityWalk as we plan it to be annual event. This charity is real to it’s name Love, as in human interaction; come let’s walk in exercise of body, spirit and soul as we free ourselves and gain our social and emotional freedom; while setting the bond free. The maiden edition took place this year 24th June 2017 in Victoria Island Lagos and we plan to go further down states through partnership and volunteers next year.

What are the major challenges your NGO faces?
I am really not in a good position to answer this because until I was advised by my lawyer to register and have structure, my dream was to use what I am a teacher and a survivor to mentor every widow I could based on my experiences as well as advice anyone that wants the truth on issues and problems of widowhood and how it can be helped. If you know me, I an open book and as such can honestly tell you my mistakes especially where it is needful so you don’t have to fall at my very spot of failure. I believe in life the two ways of learning are by conscious learning or experiences. The experience learning can be yours or learning from other people’s experiences, as such;
I am quick to tell my experiences in places demanding experience.

Embarking on this has exposed to so many things unknowingly, which am still learning to understand. But the one I have noticed is the mistrust from society which is born out of experience from a lot other NGO misuse of privileges and opportunities. People set up these to raise funds and divert to personal use, some use it for political publicity and others for self grandiosity. Am a widow and have been one since age 27. To raise four little kids I did not see hell, I passed through it but only refused to stop. I have been battered and bruised, falter, fallen and faulted and today emboldened as I rise to add hope that I almost lost if not that my mother unaware of my path was used by God to give me the name Hope. So I my darkest spot I could not agree to loss hope as I saw it as the only thing that is mine. Hope Ifeyinwa Nwakwesi.
The little I have done, is from my book sale which I am still appealing to people to pick one and give out two in support of this ministry. While praying and seeking for partners and sponsors, I am writing again. I want to get a best seller book this time that will be used for the foundation.

What campaigns/projects have you done for them?
Apart from so many unstructured projects and mentorship God has done through me years past but the organized one this past 6 months in our structure are:

1. My book “A Widow’s Window” like the widow that reviewed it said Hope you’ve open the secret. It is a brief chronicles of a widow’s average life and I tell you I have had widow’s call and say to me after reading it, thank you. Women and men go like, oh my God widow’s do suffer in our system. We most agree to this but what are we doing to avert it? That’s the mission; do, say and not do nothing.

2. The second is the launch of our brand #IWD/#AlmanahHopeCharityWalk. It is a social empowerment program that is aimed at lighting the spirit and truly spirits, souls and body were lifted up on 24th June were a group of widows, women, children and men defied the rain to take a 5 kilometers walk with Victoria Island Lagos. Like one widow said to me when I asked how she felt “ I enjoyed myself dear, I needed to be pulled out this secluded life of mine”. That statement made my day as it gave a conclusions to the objective of our foundation empowerment through a social circle. We have a financial empowerment plan that is undergoing a structural formulation and I look forward for mission partners in terms of those who wants in appreciation to our creator greatness in their lives wants to give back to the society. We aim to be accountable to all supporters to tiniest details.

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