Senior Pastor of KICC, MATTHEW ASHIMOLOWO and his wife YEMISI have been touching many widows’ lives through their empowerment project reports ADEDOYIN JOHNSON.
The sun rose across the large landscape at Kings University in Ode Omu, Osun State. Teeming numbers of women dotted the expansive land, music booming from large speakers mounted on the podium. Piles of Ankara fabrics and other materials were arranged on tables under canopies and one wonders if these would be enough for women trooping into the school premises, many still struggling to find their way in.
Attending to the needs of these women is a cross that senior pastor of Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), Matthew Ashimolowo and his wife, Yemisi began to bear about twelve years ago. Yearly, in Ashimolowo’s hometown, Ode Omu, the couple bring succour and smiles to the lives and faces of women.
Initially, the event started in their family home in Ode Omu where widows from different compounds close to theirs were invited to receive clothing, food, cash donations for empowerment. The figure began to grow quickly, from 308 widows it has increased to 17, 000 widows in the last 12 years with the widow from Isoquant, Ikire, Apomu, Ikoyi, Osogbo, and Ode Omu benefitting from the programme.
Over the years, the Ashimolowos realised that proper structure must be put in place to accommodate more widows, so they called the programme The Ashimolowos Widow Empowerment Programme and expanded the scope to include widows from different parts of Osun state.
“Yoruba towns are organised in compounds, explains Ashimolowo at a media meeting to announce the 2018 edition. Ode Omu was my focus. We used to knock on all the 120 compounds and they will write the names of the widows and they must be acknowledged by the head of the family. We didn’t want a woman who wasn’t a widow to smuggle her name in since it is free clothing and free money. Modakeke which is about 20 miles from Ode Omu is a twin town because of their history so every compound in Modakeke was replicated in Ode Omu. Modakeke showed up in the first year with 600 widows, the next year, 1000, before long, it became like 4,000. The other towns next door began to hear about it.”
The charity for Ashimolowo started as a very simple desire. He has been in England for almost 34 years but when he travelled often to Nigeria about 15 years ago, he had a burden to do something in his hometown.
“We founded Kings University there, he recalls, but I felt I needed to be able to touch individual lives so, God laid it on my heart to do something for widows and this is based on the scripture which says that we should not neglect widows and the fatherless. The initiative is designed to celebrate the widows who are often castigated, segregated and subjected to inhuman conditions in the society instead of recognizing their potentials and helping them move on with life after the death of their spouse.
I started initially with about 308 widows who responded the first time we put a call out, and I saw how successful it was and was encouraged to continue. It continued to grow until last year, which we thought was a record breaker when we had 10,000 widows. I thought we might have 12,000 this year, only for us to be approached by various widows’ groups that came with 16,800 names which Modakeke alone have 4000.”
It has not been easy for the Ashimolowos to get the accurate data of all the widows in the area hence they had to rely on the names submitted by the kings of the different towns. “One may wonder how we are able to get the actual number of widows in the area. We knock at every door to write the name of widows and they have to be acknowledged by the head of the family but since we cannot be going about knocking people’s door and accrediting compounds in the town we don’t belong to. We insisted that the monarch in each town accredit widows, so, the king of Osogbo, Ikire and other towns we are reaching out to submit the names; we don’t want a woman who is not a widow to smuggle her name in since it is free clothing and cash.”
Annually, the Ashimolowos spend N55million and N57million on the empowerment programme. “I have asked myself the question on how I am going to continue to sustain it and I have said that I would need to do an honest appraisal after this one; there’s going to be a metamorphosis where I am going to focus on my primary calling which is Christ to the rural nation. To do things bigger than widows; to have more impact; the one that will not exclude gender, age groups and will still have as much impact as this one. I am challenging everyone to reach out to people, especially the widows. You can start with 200 people and others will do the same.”
The increase in the number of widows catered to shows that the empowerment programme needs more support from well-meaning Nigerians. Members of KICC flew in from different parts of the world to help the couple alongside other dignitaries including the Deputy Governor of Osun state, Grace Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, and Senator Iyiola Omisore. What the pastor and his team did was to give different time tickets to each of the villages to come to collect their gifts. For instance, the large batch of beneficiaries was from Osogbo and Ile-Ife. Only the expected batch is allowed inside to maintain decorum and until they are done, no other batch is allowed inside.
The philanthropy cuts across different age groups and religion. “About 60 percent of the widows are Muslims, says Ashimolowo, so this has not been targeted at Christians. However, that itself sent a message across in the state and to the widows and it changed certain perspectives. Secondly, the median age of widows in that part of the world is beginning to look like more on the younger generation. This is often because young men who do not have as much care for their lives as they should and slumbers with two or three wives. So instead of taking care of aged widows from 60 years which according to biblical injunction are those who should be taken care of, we find younger widows in need of help and solace. The statistics we did reveal that infant mortality is so high, the death rate for men is so high. A lot of men in Osun state do not hit 50. Things as basic as malaria is a high killer in that part. So, this has influenced and caused the increase in the number of widows.”
In addition, Ashimolowo has also contributed to the youth development. He gave a scholarship to students when the Kings University opened. He says Nigerian youths need to stop looking at the government for things they could do to create employment. “My tailor read statistics in the university but decided to look inward and started sowing. If you can’t anything from the top, go to the bottom because there are opportunities there.”