FEATURES – Dame Edith Okowa: Transparent care for the needy

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By Chukwudi Abiandu

“Whatever God allows you to suffer is what you are bound to solve.”

This is how the wife of Delta State Governor, Dame Edith Okowa summarized her selfless mission while speaking with a select group of journalists, on the impact of her 05 Initiative, an NGO, which she founded.

The statement,  was a product of the challenge she was confronted with when she gave birth to a set of twins as a mother. “My first babies were twins and  one of them was a sickler, and I lost her through sickle cell anaemia. So I have been running with that.”

She said that rather than sulk over the misfortune, she was filled with compassion as she encouraged herself and made the experience her strong point with a resolve to be of good assistance to others who may be faced with a similar challenge. Indeed, the opportunity came when her husband became Governor of the Delta State. She said: “By  the grace of God, my husband was sworn-in on the 29th of May 2015. Before then, and having won the election in early 2015, I kept asking God what He would have me to do, because I don’t want to run alone, I want God to guide me. And He gave me a scripture, Matthew 25:35-36. And in that scripture, the Lord said we should feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and visit the prisons.”

She continued: “If you get to that scripture, we have six commands that the Lord gave. But I chose to merge two to give me five.” Of course, that was where 05 Initiative took its name from. The organization stands on five legs – the sick, with special reference to sickle cell anaemia, the orphans, providing home for them and food including  for the indigent women.” This is not limited to only widows, but also to those women who may have husbands, but who are poorer than widows. “We specially went for these categories of women whether they are widows or they have husbands,” Mrs Okowa said.

The 05 Initiative also visited prisons where medications are provided quarterly. Boreholes that provided water for the inmates were put in place in all other correctional centres in Delta State except Warri, which already had one.

“With that scripture given to me, I began to ask God how He would want us to do it. That’s how we came with the name 05 – take care of the prisons, the orphans, the widows, the sick, feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty,” Dame Edith Okowa said.

She said that with a clear direction and the added advantage of having the numerous international event days, for instance, the International Orphans Day, the International Family Day, etc, what the 05 Initiatives is doing is to tap into international days in running the organisation’s events.

“That’s how we’ve been running this programme since June 1st, 2015 when we had our first outreach” she said.

Asked what  impact she has made running with the vision of the 05 Initiative, Mrs Okowa was a bit reticent at this point, saying that she would rather prefer that  journalists should go out there to find out from people about the activities of the group and form their independent opinion. She said she does not want to comment on what she has done with the 05 Initiative.

However, she said: “I will blow my trumpet a little. If you want to know how we have impacted on the people, I will want you to talk to the people whose life we have impacted. There’s a language I use that my report card is in heaven. God sees. And I know that this position that I am occupying, I must be very careful with it, because I know that I am occupying it, and God is going to ask me, what I did. So, everything I am speaking, I am careful that I am not adding and I am not subtracting.

‘So, if you talk about impact, let me talk about visiting the sick; the Lord said visit the sick and I am running with the scripture. I looked and said, ‘I am not a medical doctor. If you have to fend for all the sick, it will be like putting your 10 fingers in your mouth, you will throw up. I decided to pick just one, and that is the sickle cell anaemia, because I have a passion for it. I keep saying that whatever the Lord allows you to suffer is what you are bound to solve.

“My first babies were twins and one of them was a sickler and I lost her through sickle cell anaemia. And I have been running with that. So, having had a sickler as a child, I know that these are people who need prompt attention. And I know that the type of hospital environment we have, if patients go there, it’s first come first serve. There is no preferential treatment. So, I decided that we are going to establish sickle cell clinics in every government general hospital in Delta State. The reason for this is that these patients suffer anaemia, having pains here and there; so that when such patients come to the hospital, they will go straight to the sickle cell centre; it is meant for them. Establishing those clinics is about Deltans; it’s about the people who need to use them,” she said.

Continuing she said: “We have been able to establish 15 sickle cell centres with one referral centre in Asaba. In the whole of Nigeria, there are three referral centres, one in Idi-Araba, Lagos and one in Benin. By the grace of God the Asaba Sickle Cell Referral Centre was opened on June 1, 2019. That is the one I really want to thank God for, because since that centre was opened, it is serving not just Deltans, it is serving all the States in the South East even from the South West. There are equipment here that even the centre in Logos does not have.”

Besides, Dame Edith Okowa also spoke about how God led her team into helping out with eye treatment for those with sight challenge. “When we started, I knew that was the heart beat of God at that time, because at the end of it all, we visited all the 25 local government areas of the State, taking care of people with eye problems. In all, we attended to 26,304 patients, distributed 15,811 eye glasses; dispensed 9,386 eye drops, performed eye surgeries on 2,241 patients.” she said, adding: “It was a case of I was blind, now I can see. My joy knew no bounds, going to the local governments and we saw people dancing. I remember when we came to Asaba for the grand finale, at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, one man who had been blind for I don’t know how long, when the blindfold after surgery was removed, this man wept, he cried because in my Ika language it is said that ‘ishi kpume oria’, meaning it is blindness that covers illness.”

Dame Edith also recalled how the 05 Initiative goes to the Federal Medical Centre every year. On the annual visit to the FMC, she said the reason was that they have a system whereby patients are treated and some don’t have money to pay their hospital bills after treatment. “I asked the MD how he is going about this, he said ‘I could not see somebody come into the hospital with so much pain and tell that person to go away because they don’t have money to pay for their treatment. We leave them. Some of them can spend three months, six months till they get somebody to get them out.’  Mrs Okowa recalled.

This was how 05 Initiative began to partner with the FMC management by helping to offset bills of patients who are stuck in hospitals for inability to pay their bills. “That’s how I have been partnering with FMC every 5th of December. We visit there on the International Day of Charity. This is added to the fact that every first day of the year, I visit any hospital of my choice to get the baby of the year and then use the opportunity to offset the medical bills of any person that has been there  for them to be free,” she said.

On clothing the needy, and recalling the injunction in the Bible, which says cloth the naked, she said that as a classroom teacher, she usually observed that some children come to school in tattered uniform, because their parents can’t afford to buy them new uniforms. “I have focal persons attached to each of these projects.  The focal person in charge is Mrs. Onwordi. She goes to schools, identifies the children that need such things, and using their schools, makes uniforms and distributes them as the needs arise.”

Also on the International Day of Charity, Dame Edith Okowa said knowing that as women, “we sow clothes a lot and most of them we don’t even wear in one year. I keep telling my sisters, aunties, I mean Deltans that any dress or wrapper in your wardrobe that you have not worn for two years, you don’t need it. Somehow, we were able to gather a lot on that day. We go to camps, settlements, to people who cannot afford clothings, we give and you see a lot of joy in them. Many scrambling for blouses and there are wrappers to tie. That is how we have been carrying out the assignment given to us by the Lord.”

Speaking on what they did at the correctional centres, which they visit every year since the first visit on June 1, 2015, Dame Edith Okowa said: “I started with Ogwashi-Uku prisons on June 1, 2015. We took along with us food and toiletries, and then the rod of God, which is the word of God. I have been doing that even before my husband became governor. Then one of the head warders told us that the inmates needed water and toilets. I asked to know whether they don’t have water and toilet. An inmate said ‘No’, that what they do was three or five or six persons will go to the toilet to ease themselves before they can flush the waste, because they don’t have water. It is better imagined what they go through. Ask yourself if on entering any public toilet and you see something there, will you want to seat? But these ones had no option; they had to use the toilet that way.”

What the 05 Initiative saw spurred them right there, with all the women on the trip making contributions, and with it a bore hole was put in place and tap water was channeled to the different cells. “So you can go to toilet comfortably and flush before another person goes in. With that in mind, we had to address various other situations in Agbor, Sapele, Ogwashi-Uku and Kwale correctional centres. Concerning water, the only place we didn’t go to was Warri Correctional Centre because they already had bore holes,” Mrs Okowa said.

She told another moving story of one being humbled at the sight of seeing inmates looking helpless, and very sick. Mrs Okowa said 05 Initiative was able to intervene with a rescue mission when she made contact with the officials of the Drug Revolving Fund. Mrs Ndobu through which pharmaceutical companies donated medications quarterly, which are then distributed to the correctional centres. “This we’ve been doing quarterly every year. Even the eye treatment, we  extended to the centres. Most importantly, we were able to talk to them about the word of God. Our desire is that they will come out to be who and what God wants them to be,” she said.

She also told the story of the impact of 05 Initiative’s operations in the area of providing shelter for the homeless. Mrs Okowa said: “While we were going about the campaign before the elections in 2015, I sighted an orphanage home and the terrible state of the home. And I told God, I said ‘God if I am so comfortable in my home, at the end of this journey, that if my husband is elected, the first place I will visit is this place to change their lives’. That was how through a public spirited humanitarian individual, He provided us an apartment which was renovated and the City of David Orphanage home relocated.”

City of David Orphanage Home from being the first orphanage home visited, 05 Initiative was able to visit other homes, providing them with their needs within the limit of available resources. “Remember, the government does not fund these projects. When God sends you on an errand, He will make provisions. And because Deltans see with their own eyes what we are doing, when we write to them that we are going again for such a thing, they are very willing to give.” Dame  Edith Okowa said.

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