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Signing VAPP Bill into Law will ease our job

– HonourBirth Foundation appeals to Uzodimma

…Assures widows, less privileged of support

Mrs. Elizabeth Onyemaechi is the Founder/Executive Director of HonourBirth Foundation. An Itsekiri woman married in Obinze, Owerri West Local Government Area, Mrs. Onyemaechi is leveraging on her Foundation to put smiles on the faces of the downtrodden, the less privileged, the orphans and most importantly widows who are often times battered, humiliated and manhandled by their inlaws after denying them of any inheritance and other privileges.

In this interview with Nigerian Newsguide, the soft spoken humanitarian appealed to Governor Hope Uzodimma to consider signing VAPP Bill into law, insisting that doing so, will ease her job and ensure that perpetrators of violence against women and girls are made to regret their actions.
She also told of her roles in curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Imo State and restoring the confidence of those afflicted with the virus, among other humanitarian interventions she embarked upon.

Excerpts.

May we meet you Ma?

My name is Mrs. Elizabeth Onyemaechi.
I am the Executive Director of HonourBirth Foundation and also the Founder of the organization.

When did you start this foundation and what actually propelled you to setting up a foundation like this one?

One, in the year 2000/2001, there is this project that came to Imo State called Positive Project. It had to do with working with people living with HIV/AIDS. I was called by my community leaders via announcement in the church to assist in that project. I went for the training and became a volunteer, working with Center for Youth Development and Initiative (CYDI), a foundation owned by Mr. Benjamin Ekwueme. It was in the process of executing that project that I discovered that I have a lot of passion for the job. So after that project, I started going from one place to the other, I also wrote a book then, called ‘What My People Know About HIV/AIDS’. We started selling those books, and because of my effort as a volunteer, I had a support group called Chinwendu Support Group.

People living with HIV often times, came at Comprehensive Health Center to seek counseling, we addressed them and sometimes, I invited some experts like NACA Coordinator in Owerri West, Mrs. Chizor, she worked with me then and also Blessing Okoroafor from M.R.S, they joined me and made sure that these people living with HIV were comfortable and guided through their drugs.
I also worked with women in the community during August meetings. I did a lot of sensitization programmes and awareness campaigns even beyond Owerri West. That was how I started and after that, their children that were vulnerable because they had HIV, had no father, no mother, we started registering them and showed them love and the needed care and attention.

In 2014, I went to my LGA and told them what I do. With the help of the TC Chairman then, Hon. Obiyo of blessed memory and Mrs Bridget – HOD Health in Owerri West, they saw a lot of things I had put in place, and they wrote a letter to my community and I was given a 3-bedroom flat in the community health center in the old building where I have my office and render different services to people.
Later, I registered the organization with the Social Welfare Department in Owerri West, that was in 2009. And luckily for me, I got a project called Community Based Project for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. It was fully funded by USAID and implemented by Management for Science and Aids. I worked on the project for four years, after which I was given an award by USAID, one of which was Household Empowerment and the other award was Creativity Award. It was given to me in Abuja.

Since then, I have been working with people, creating awareness on gender based violence, though on my own capacity. Because since after that 2014 project, we have not received any other fund but I did not stop. It didn’t deter me from organizing yearly party with widows, orphans and vulnerable children, we do father Christmas show, offer supports including counseling. We usually gather them in Owerri West with the help of Madam Philo Igbokwe from Eziobodo. We also partnered with health centers.
In Owerri West today, I am the person representing all the Community Based Organizations (CBOs).
So in 2013, through the support of MSH I now registered the organization with Corporate Affairs as a non-governmental organization and I have been managing it with my husband until his death, and I am still working in the organization.

So far, how have you used HonourBirth Foundation to bring smiles on the faces of the indigents and widows especially those living in your community?

There is a lot to say concerning that. Because, I so much find joy in doing this job. As I am sitting here, what I do before is to fry Akara and sell to people, I don’t even know any benefit of setting up an NGO, it is through this job that I even went to school and got a degree.
In the past August meetings, I wrote to communities to create awareness, sometimes, we support them with fairly used clothes, the ones philanthropists donated to us, nutritional things like food, we still support them in their health services by organizing free HIV test, Malaria test and others. There are some organizations that support us with malaria drugs.
I also put smiles on the faces of women, who are being neglected and abandoned. Most young girls who lost their parents, we register them in skill acquisition, we encourage them, we go to schools to do school monitoring, we produce a lot of exercise books, biros, most of these items we got from philanthropists and churches, women leaders.

I partner with Ministry of Women Affairs, and National Human Rights Commission. So I have been in the job putting smiles in the faces of widows and orphans who we enrolled in schools. We counsel them, give them educational support, material support.
Most of our children are vulnerable because they don’t have the national birth certificate, which is been funded by UNICEF, that we learnt its free. Before, they used to pay, but because of our partnership and support form MSH, we have registered more than 5,000 children to assess national birth certificate through which they got enrolled in schools.

We also partner with NOA, all in the bid to put smiles on the faces of the indigent in the community. We have touched so many lives, beyond Owerri West through awareness creation and partnership.

What had been your major challenges since you started?

There is this adage that says, a prophet is not known in his community. It’s a very big challenge to me. One, I am from Delta State and married in Obinze. When we opened this organization, we set out our vision and mission. We called it Honourbirth, some people were thinking that it was Elizabeth or Onochie – my husband’s name, but in the real translation and what we had in mind then was that any child that is been born in the world must be honoured, hence the name – HonourBirth.

In Igboland, when a new baby is born, the women sing and dance, same thing in some other places and tribes. But when they hear HonourBirth because my name is Elizabeth, people mistake it to mean a personal something. So when you try to access fund, especially from the rural heads, women leaders, churches, they will first think of the name, HonourBirth and conclude that it’s a private something. So the thing is really a big challenge to us, but because God does not reward man according to his ability, but with what is in his heart, and because of the passion that I have for this, coupled with my commitment and how I move about, people still find reasons to support especially Ministry of Gender and Vulnerable Groups, National Human Rights Commission and other partners, like IPAD, Alliances for Africa, All Associations for Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
Sometime in the past, we wrote to one NGO like that, Center for Development and Innovation, they are in United States, owned by one Mr Ifeanyi, we wrote to them and they sent wheel chair to us to support our people.

We don’t have money we are not politicians, but we create awareness and get support from politicians, and philanthropists to support what we are doing.
Fund has been a major challenge but God is still making a way for us to accomplish the mission of the organization.

What has been your driving force? Are there sister NGOs or International NGOS supporting you, because we know in Nigeria today, to set up an establishment as this one is not easy, so tell us, what has been the secret behind your success story?

The secret behind the success we are making now is the fund we are getting from Action Aid. It is a foreign agency but they have their branches all over the world. So, ActionAid Nigeria has been so good to us. They have done a lot in HonourBirth, they give us fund and we go into the communities to change the mindset of our people, especially on those harmful traditional norms that suppress the rights of women and girls in so many ways. They have invested their money and time.
Currently, we are executing a project that is being funded by ActionAid. This is the second year of the project and the focus of the project is to change the mindset of our people, educate them on those traditional norms that are harmful to women – a woman has no position in his husband’s house, where he is married to or where he is been born. So it is to change the mindset of our people on harmful traditional norms, so they call it SLOC project – Strengthening Local Community Organizations, so the success of our story today is the funding Action Aid gave us to work for two years.

Can you mention a case in particular you have treated in Imo State – may be a widow you assisted to get justice or somebody you helped to reclaim his or her land?

I want to use this opportunity to thank the Regent of Oforola, when this project started, there is a woman from Umuagubiam in Oforola Owerri West LGA. She is a widow, the husband’s brother took her land, beat her up with injured face. And the report got to me, I made sure that I did the needful thing I needed to do by reporting to the police and the police gave her a police report and she was treated.

With the support of my Foundation and Action Aid, she got her land back, and had cause to smile again. The husband’s brother that collected the land documents, after we looked into the case with the policy and reformed byelaw that is working now in Owerri West, the land was returned to her, not just that, the man paid for her treatment and other damages that he has caused that woman since he forcefully took the land from her.

Tell us more about yourself, may be, who knows, your story may inspire other women out there?

I was born in Delta State, am an Itsekiri woman from Warri, Ajamuha, Okere and by His grace, I am married to Mr. Onochie Onyemaechi from Obinze Umueje, Owerri West LGA. When I got married to my husband, I was just an ordinary school cert, O’level… There were challenges that I could not meet up with my set goals for my children, so I started trading on frying akara in our streets, all of a sudden, I saw myself working as a civil society person. When I got the first project and they invited me for a training, I saw educated people, professors, doctors, lawyers. What surprised me most, is whenever I make contribution to issues, it was as if my own idea was even more important to the organizers. Sometimes, I would ask myself, how did I find myself in this environment. So I now found reasons to go to school. In the year 2014, I enrolled in Imo Poly, as God may have it, I have gotten my National Diploma in Public Administration. For now, that is where I want to stop.

What message of hope do you have for Nigerians, especially the vulnerable ones living among us?

Let the poor, the indigent, the widow not despair. There is hope as long as there is life. Having said that, I want to use this opportunity to thank God who made ActionAid Nigeria to remember us, I want to thank ActionAid for what they have done for us. Also, the regent of Oforola and Olaukwu, I want to thank them too. I know they are happy now because their women are happy too. There is a reformed byelaw, saying no more female genital mutilation, wife battering, Osu/Ohu/Diala dichotomy, all are now things of the past. I also thank the OPI committee a special committee set up to work as whistle blowers. They have done wonderfully well so far and I urge them to continue with their good works.

Am also appealing to our Governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma to sign the VAPP Bill, many states have signed it, I am begging him to also sign it to make our job easier for us. Because the VAPP Bill is very Important to us, a lot will be better when signed into law.

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