Joy Nweke, Creators of Peace Nigeria, shares some recent actions in response to the disruptions of the coronavirus.
I run an NGO in Nigeria called A Little Sleep A Little Slumber (ALSALS), I am the Creators of Peace National Coordinator for Nigeria and a volunteer for Initiatives of Change Nigeria.
ALSAL is an outreach and empowerment organisation and we work mainly with women, all of them have been impacted by the pandemic in some way. When the pandemic hit most of them lost their livelihoods and some lost their loved ones - life was suddenly different. I am so thankful that we had some resources to be able to offer immediate help. This included finance, raw foods, sanitizer and facemasks. At times I have provided food from my own kitchen.
The empowerment arm of ALSALS work with many women who are artisans, they work with their hands and they make products. The group includes the elderly, single mothers, widows and some young women and girls that do not have any formal education. We have become advocates for these vulnerable women: we speak on their behalf, sharing their needs, as they do not have a voice in society. We give them space so they are able to tell us about their challenges and we then find pathways to help solve the issues they raise.
We began a training project three years ago which came directly from asking the women about their own interests and aspirations. We had women who wanted to be tailors, cooks, makeup artists and confectioners and the list went on. We found that these women had so much passion inside of them. The skills project we created helped give them economic stability and confidence. It has been an incredible journey for us all.
When the pandemic hit, the consumer market collapsed, there was no work for the women artisans. Everything stopped. One of the educational schemes under ALSALS was learning how to make sanitizer and facemasks. When the pandemic hit the women had a skill that was needed. We managed to introduce them to customers. The tailors asked for material to make masks so we had to go out and carefully source a breathable textile.
The other artisans, with no work prospects and no resources, got to the point where they could not buy food. I immediately got in touch with my founder, an incredible woman who is a Justice in Lagos state, and we decided to help bring some relief to these women. I remember we made 50 parcels and it was not an easy task. We knew we had to give them some respite. The packs we made would last about two weeks depending on the size of the family. Usually my phone would go off after two weeks after delivering the food parcels.
Some NGOs who shared the same vision pooled resources. We worked alongside organisations like the Bomarah Foundation. We have collaborated in the past and we work well together. During the lockdown we were able to distribute the workload and have continued to collaborate to care for communities. We also managed to help with much needed resources to the women's prison.
It’s been a busy time for us and I have been thankful for the collaborations.
I also volunteered with Initiatives of Change Nigeria. Chief Mrs Felicia Odetoyibo, Vice President Mr Abayomi Ogunye, General Secretary Barrister Abiodun Owoseni and the administrator Mr Julius Opara initiated a palliative care programme and were able to arrange a road pass. I was on the road most of the time visiting women, buying and delivering food and was ready to help in any way I could. We were also able to deliver sanitizer, masks, noodles and food to the police. Many of them were on the road working long hours away from their families. We prepared and packed meals with a drink. As we were driving from place to place, we would offer a nutritious meal to anyone we saw working on the front line. We were all thankful for that pass, without it we would have been arrested.
The Initiatives of Change centre has a kitchen so we were able to cook and pack food there. There is a dedicated young volunteer called Ceo, who looks after the property and lives on site, he was instrumental in getting the food cooked. On one occasion he cooked and packed over 200 potions of food for us to distribute. Those that got a meal were so grateful and happy. The whole idea was to help care for those on duty so they did not have to leave their posts to go and find a meal. We only managed to do this a few times. Food has been expensive so we did what we could and will continue to do what we can. Initiatives of Change Nigeria have a farm here called the Green House so we were very lucky to have been able to source some of the food we distributed from there. In Lagos we had to buy it from the local markets.
I was supposed to go and visit my family in the states when Covid-19 hit. This pandemic took that away from me. I felt so devastated at the time, so abandoned and felt really lonely. I was so fearful for my family more than for myself, for my children and my husband. If I had been with them it would have been easier, I think. Because I could not see or be with them, I did not know what to do. My children would call and tell me they were ok, but it was still difficult.
There are times when there is no money and it is a challenge. At the beginning of the pandemic it was hard, my phone rang all the time with people asking for help, it was too much. I just had to do the best I could with the resources I had. Working in collaboration with others has been the key to providing relief. I have volunteered with joy and am thankful for the care and support of the Creators of Peace global network.