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Giving love, hope to our aged, widows

Giving love, hope to the aged, widows in our midst

By Grace Alegba of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

75-year-old Christiana Oloko had to leave a particular Home for the aged because of the inhuman treatment by the proprietor, who she says, enjoys making loud publicity about her activities and lack of respect from the Home staff.

Oloko said that what she got as benefit was taken away by the inhuman treatment of not enjoying respects or care befiting the aged.

Recently, the National Assembly passed for second reading a bill seeking to cater for poor, aged and vulnerable Nigerians. Tagged, “A bill for an act to establish the National Social Security Commission for the Regulation, Management and Administration of Social Security Benefits and Services, and other Related Matters, 2022 (SB.899)”.

The sponsor of the bill, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, said the bill seeks to provide a comprehensive legal and governance framework for the proper administration of an inclusive national social security protection system in Nigeria.

The National Social Security Commission when established, is expected to provide the needed structure that offers adjustable periodic benefits to eligible Nigerians who face improvidence arising from old age (above 70 years), sickness, unemployment, and morbid conditions requiring medical care.

The woes of the aged and disadvantaged in the society has not received much attention because it’s a thing felt by those concerned at a particular period in time. Becoming old or being disadvantaged is not a matter of choice for anybody.

A 2020 study shows the aged ‘’ in Nigeria face tremendous challenges in coping with health and psychosocial well-being particularly in three major areas including, changes in family structure, absence of social support and health service utilization’’.

The study, by a numbers of academics, recommended a number of ways to tackled these challenges faced by the aged: The implementation of government policy particularly in health and social service sectors; recruitment of skill based medical social workers with other health personnel to coordinate coping strategies including skill acquisition, intervention, follow up treatment, counselling and inculcating health education programmes to (the aged)  and their caregivers.’’ 

Various private concerns have taken It up to provide succour to the aged in the society as a novel idea or to complement what the government is expected to provide as a right to its citizens.

The Touch of Love and Lifting Hands Foundation is a response to such needs of the aged in the society which came about from a personal experience of a young woman who took it on herself to cater for the aged and disadvantaged women in the society after the death of a mother due to boredom while the children are abroad led to the establishment of the foundation by Engr Atinuke Wuraola Owolabi in Lagos State, Nigeria.

‘’We provide a place of succour and a last resort of hope for vulnerable widows and aged people in the society where they can interact, play games, watch television, relax and eat. We also provide entrepreneurial training and grants to active widows to start up their businesses. In more than 5 different occasions, we have provided social interventions/relief programmes for more than 2000 beneficiaries as palliatives over the years and much more during the COVID-19 lockdown.

‘’The foundation also provides loan/grant support, games competition, free health checks and emergency food relief/social intervention programs. This we believe, take away the boredom and loneliness and make their lives much longer.

Driven by passion, Owolabi established a home where people could drop off their elderly parents and relatives in the mornings and go about their busy schedules and reunite with the old people after a hard day’s job in the evenings.

At the home, old people were treated to three free meals, free health checks and medications, light exercises, indoor games and take away food stuff while having the opportunity to share jokes and discussions to beat boredom and loneliness.

Old people who could not come on their own and had no one to convey them to the home were usually picked by the support and volunteer staff using the foundation’s official car to the home located on a detached two bedroom apartment at No. 1, Popoola Close, off Badru Street, Balogun Bus Stop, Iju-Ishaga.

Soon, through words of mouth, distribution of fliers and referrals, more old people thronged the home. Canopies were rented for special occasions and quarterly health checks supported by the community medical doctors sponsored by a pharmacist and husband of the founder of the foundation, Mr Paul Owolabi.

A recent visit to the home in April 2022 however revealed things were no longer as rosy as widows took turns to share their plights demanding more financial assistance to better their lot.

Mrs Christiana Oloko narrated how they were expelled from another foundation where they were treated harshly and disrespected.

“I had to move about 20 widows from that NGO down here because we are treated with dignity here. The little gifts that came from this place are given in love and we appreciate it but the burden is too much on just one person that is why government and other spirited Nigerians must come in to help Atinuke,’’ she said.

Oloko said that the Touch of Love and Lifting Hands Foundation equipped her with skills and also gave her a sewing machine which she uses for business as well as her volunteer work to help another subsidiary of the foundation in its on-going “No more tattered uniform project’’.

She explained that she joined in the mending of school uniforms as well as sewing new ones free as part of her contribution to show appreciation for what the foundation is doing to uplift the less privileged, widows and old people in Ifako Ijaye and its environs.

“Power supply to the house I inherited from my parents has been disconnected since December 2021 and the fumes and noise from generators of tenants and neighbours is killing me gradually. My ice block business has collapsed and Atinuke’s support is helping me with feeding but I am really suffering, government should step in to help widows and old people,’’ she said.

An 83 years old widow, who simply identified herself as Olufunke, told NAN that she enjoyed playing games and being cared for while at the foundation but usually returned home to boredom.

Mrs Felicia Ajibode who said she was above 80 years and could not remember her current age, said she was always the Ludo champion in the home but was always sad on returning to her house due to total power outage.

“We play Ayo, Ludo and dance here, if anyone has ever defeated me, it is in Ayo and not Ludo. I am happy here. Atinuke treats us well but we still need more help because we are poor,’’ she said.

Mrs Eniola Olagoke, 65 years widow said the foundation always distributes Ankara Fabrics and prayed that the children of the founder would grow up to take care of her also.

“I was a caterer but I was taught how to make liquid soap here which I have started producing and selling,’’ she said.

The widows clustered the sitting area due to inadequate space while being treated to light refreshment.

A widow, Mrs Christiana Olojede, has her name, address, phone number and date of birth written on a piece of paper by her children to always carry in her handbag.

She said that the level of poverty among widows and old people was high and has left several of them hungry, sick and dejected.

“The foundation brings in doctors and carries out health checks on us, gives us food items and organises social events for us.

“I need help to start a trade in front of my house because I do not have strength for hard work again. On the alternative, I would appreciate if I can be placed on monthly allowance so that I can buy food,’’ she said.

Miss Oyindamola Animashaun, Manager of the Foundation, who is a 20-year-old part time student of University of Ibadan, told NAN that the foundation has initiated a number of strategies to cater for the need of beneficiaries in spite of some hiccups.

“We allow them come in the evenings now that the fasting for the month of Ramadan is on. We usually call them on phones to check on their welfare and health. We call to also remind them of our programmes because most of them forget things easily,’’ she said.

She said the males among the elderly were usually more difficult to assembly at short notices because “most of them still manage to put some of the skills we gave them to work’’.

“Unlike the women who are weak, the old men and widowers still manage to go to work,’’ she said.

The founder of Touch of Love and Lifting Hands Foundation, Owolabi, who has been in the forefront of fighting for legislation for protection of widows and old people’s right, told NAN that challenges of the COVID-19 also affected the foundation’s operations.

She explained that during the lockdown and restriction of movements, she had to suspend physical meetings and distributes food stuff and toiletries to the beneficiaries in their houses but called them out for medical checks and other short programmes while observing the COVID-19 protocols.

She called for support of government and well to do Nigerians, noting that the foundation relied on drugs from her husband’s pharmacy, personal funds and a few support from family friends to run its operations.

The establishment of the National Social Security Commission by the Federal Government would add impetus to the care of the aged in the society as well as assist NGOs like the Touch of Love and Lifting Hands Foundation in complementing whatever necessary care the aged are supposed to get.(NAN)

***If used, please credit the writer and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)