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In 2010, my bookstore received an invitation from Chigozie “Gozie” Udemezue to participate in an event for widows in Enugu. I had not met her before then, neither did I meet her at the event but soon enough I got an introduction to this compassionate woman and subsequently we became friends.
At this point in my life, I was familiar with the famous admonition of Peter Marshall but had never seen it heeded as faithfully as Gozie did. “The world has enough women who know how to be smart”, Peter Marshall warns, “It needs women who are willing to be simple. The world has enough women who know how to be brilliant. It needs some who will be brave. The world has enough women who are popular. It needs more who are pure. We need women who would rather be morally right than socially correct.”
Gozie is the founder of the Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation (HHWSF). She has always been passionate about the poor and vulnerable, always showing keen interest in widows and their children. In 2001 after she was called to the bar, under the NYSC scheme, she served in an NGO – Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL) where she worked with other lawyers to provide free legal aid and other services to widows. She encountered widows facing maltreatment from the community in general and hostile in-laws, in particular. After the NYSC service year, she continued to work with WACOL, often providing support to widows from her personal resources, until 2008 when she founded HHWSF.
Since July 2008, HHWSF has organized fifteen outreaches in different communities in the South Eastern Region of Nigeria, impacting over 5000 widows and assisting some of their children to pursue formal education. During these outreaches, the widows get free medical check-ups, medications and a referral for treatment where needed, a six-yard fabric for the Igbo two-wrapper outfit, food items and other gifts. In addition, they get the much needed counselling from HHWSF and rest assured that they can contact Gozie Udemezue and her Foundation at anytime for counselling and assistance.
What is most amazing about these outreaches is that all who work to make them a success as partners and volunteers are people, both within and outside Nigeria, who have been challenged by and infused with Gozie’s passion to improve the lot of widows in South Eastern Nigeria. Many of these volunteers not only donate their time and resources, but have repeatedly included in their annual calendar the dates for these outreaches so that they are available to participate.
Altogether, 5,015 widows are now in HHWSF’s register. Forty-four of these widows have received interest free loans from funds which Gozie raised from her wide network of friends and partners. HHWSF also provides media advocacy for widowhood issues and free legal services for the widows in their register who require it. Enugu and Anambra State governments enacted Widowhood Laws in 2001 and 2005 respectively. In the course of her interaction with the widows, Gozie observed that they and the members of their communities were largely ignorant of these laws which were meant to affect and improve the lot of the widows.
Considering the language of the law, she recognized that there was need to get it translated into the local language and made accessible down to the grassroots so those concerned could know the rights they have and what to do when the rights are violated. Gozie, through HHWSF, sought and received funds from the Public Affairs Section, US Consulate; Virginia Gildersleeve International Funds, New York; and Mama Cash, Netherlands.
These funds were applied to translate the laws to Igbo and Pidgin English. The HHWSF has now distributed 13,000 copies of the law, so translated, to different communities. Gozie and HHWSF have visited traditional rulers to secure their support for the application of these laws in their communities. Through these efforts, local communities are receiving enlightenment and developing better attitudes to widows.
In 2013, Gozie became a widow herself. For a lesser woman, this would have brought her work with the widows to a standstill. This was not the case with this amazing Nigerian woman. Her personal experience of what she had previously heard from other women has only inspired her to do more. In addition to carrying on the regular activities of HHWSF, she has in 2014, using her personal Facebook presence, sought and obtained sponsorship for thirteen widows under the Adopt-a-Widow Scheme. These sponsorships allow regular funds for the widows to enable them pay school fees for their children and meet some basic needs. Such is her passion and commitment, such is the integrity that she has demonstrated in applying the funds she received, that once she announces a need for one of “her widows” as she calls them, her partners and friends respond to her call.
Her late husband’s birthday comes up on November 6, 2014. He would have been 60 and she would have thrown him a big party. She has chosen to mark that day by hosting an outreach for about 400 widows in Port Harcourt. This display of courage has provided encouragement for many widows, young and old who see that even in widowhood, they can have a positive impact on others around them. It is also inspiring others in the community to support her work.
Chigozie Christiana Udemezue is a truly Amazing Nigerian Woman!
Mrs. Modupe EHIRIM is the proprietress of Hidden Treasures Bookstore, a specialty retail bookstore in Enugu which opened for business in 2003. Although, she has lived in Lagos with her family since 2006, she has continued to operate the bookstore with five staff. She is a member of the Management Committee for Lady Ibiam Girls’ Secondary School, Enugu.
She is currently the President of Christian Booksellers Association Nigeria. She is also 2nd Vice-President of NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women NNEW and Vice-President of NNEW Cooperative Multipurpose Society Limited. In 2008, she benefited from the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women Initiative which provides business and management education for women entrepreneurs at the Pan African University, Lagos.
Mrs. Ehirim, an avid reader, is an ILO-trained business trainer using the Start & Improve Your Business (SIYB) modules. She works with small business owners to establish structures which enable them to separate the businesses from their owner/managers. She mentors young people, aiding them to chart their lives’ paths.
Mrs. Ehirim is happily to Boniface, her husband of 29 years, who hails from Imo State. Together, they have together four lovely children.