By Karen Chalamilla
The Ashake Foundation was founded in 2013 with the aim to offer support to a forgotten population group in Nigeria: widows. They have since made an impact in a myriad of ways to about 2200 people in 14 different communities in Abuja. We sat down with the founder, Mayowa Adegbile for an insight into the day-to-day running of the Foundation, what she envisions for the future as well as the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had.
Why did you start the Ashake foundation?
The decision was based on data. There are about 3.5 million widows in Nigeria. With the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the horrible health care, it is estimated that we have about 500 men dying at least every week. When most charities hear about widows, its normal to visit them and give them food and do a photo-op, but its usually meager food that cannot last even more than 2 days. And these women usually do not have stable businesses and sometimes their children are not in school. I’ve had experience with a widow whose husband had died about 16years earlier and she had an 18year old and 15year old, both had never been to school and one had a health issue. When we heard about her, we took a food hamper, paid for the children’s school fees and helped her to start a new business. So for us the data, and the things we’ve read spurred us to try and create a change around this issue.
You talked about helping them with their businesses, how have you done that?
Through our business school, we have the Ashake foundation business school, where we invite a select number of widows three times a year along with trainers to come and teach them basic business management, financial and entrepreneurship skills.
And do the trainers volunteer to run these classes?
Yes its mostly volunteering, we would just give them a stipend. But most of them are willing to join us in making an impact; “women empowering other women”. They recognize that these women did not ask to become widows and poor. They usually want to help in developing these women’s skills to run their small businesses so they can sustain themselves and send their children to school. Another thing that we have also started to do is to teach widows how to make school bags because it’s much cheaper than having to buy them. Through this they learn a new skill that they can make money out of by selling the bags or training other widows on the craft. Sustainability is so important to us so we source local material like ankara fabric and a little leather. We try to make sure the material is re-used. It’s also a great way to promote our African culture while reducing waste.
How do you raise funds to support your foundation’s work?
Successful fundraising requires trust. We are working with donations families and friends as well as collaborate with other initiatives. Its very important for us to work with likeminded people and exchange services for each other without needing payment. We have not gotten a grant yet. But sometimes we struggle a lot with fundraising, which limits the kind of work we can do. That’s the reason why we are working on our sustainability plan to figure out other ways we can use to generate funds beyond fundraising.
Apart from fundraising, what are some of the other challenges you have encountered?
So because of our cultural and traditional beliefs, some people are kind of skeptical to engage with things that have to do with widows, sometimes people show their bias. Also, there are not a lot of people that advocate for widow’s support, let alone understand the loss that they go through. The shock of losing a loved one along with property or finances is huge. And then, trying to get people to buy into the vision of the Foundation and volunteer without thinking “what’s in it for me?”
What do you envision for the future of the Ashake foundation?
For Ashake foundation we envision our own training schools where we can train other women on proper business skills. There is also a need to promote the businesses we create as a way of celebrating Nigerian culture. And, just that no widow should be seen as a beggar; the ultimate agenda is “empower not pity” – at the end of the day our success factor is that no widow should resort to begging, her voice should be heard and if need be she should have legal representation. Policy makers should take this into consideration as well; far too many women lose assets and properties after their spouses die. We also envision trying to instill into people’s hearts the importance of writing a will, which is always a big reason why these women don’t get anything. Often times their husbands don’t write anything while they are alive.
Has the reception in communities where you have visited with the widows been mostly positive?
Yes because the first thing we do before we go into any community is a needs assessment, to understand what they need. And the easiest way to get through to somebody is through their stomach- it might sound cheeky but its true. Most people will tell you, you cannot come to my door and claim you want to help me if you have not met my immediate needs. So we also try to meet people’s immediate needs first to catch their attention. We identify and work with community champions- people who live in the communities, who are well respected and seen as role models or leaders. This way, we open the doors for talking about and looking beyond immediate needs.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how you run the foundation?
Most of our staff are volunteers so they have not been able to work offline because of the pandemic. We have had to maximize the use of technology, so we could operate online and use social media more, which has helped us focus on advocacy. We have also had to change our calendar for the year and the scope of work so as to match our beneficiaries’ needs during the Coronavirus. We have also been forced to think about more sustainable ways to raise funds as the effort has greatly slowed down right now. In the mean time, we have learnt to work with a smaller budget in making higher impact. And we’ve done this by interacting more with stakeholders for enhanced collaboration. We are beginning to adjust to the new norm, but its still a process for us.
The Ashake Foundation can be found on Facebook at “The Ashake Foundation” and Twitter at @AshakeFDN