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‘It’s the simple ‘God bless you’ that propels me’

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Why would any individual volunteer her time picking up destitute and rehabilitating the needy without any prospect of reward? That is the question many would like to ask Etiennette Ajoluje, who is fast making a name for herself for her humanitarian services. Gboyega Alaka had an encounter with her.

IT took roots four years ago with her mother-in-law who was down with breast cancer back in Warri, Delta State. Things had reached a climax and it was either win or burst for the old woman, yet she and her husband didn’t have enough money for her treatment and couldn’t raise enough. Still, they couldn’t just fold their arms and watch. Somehow, she reached made some contacts, got connected to a humanitarian foundation, Odumedume Foundation in the United Kingdom, run by a Nigerian Bioseh Chibuzor, and in no time, a whopping N450,000 was made available.

“That money took care of mother-in-law’s treatment, from mastectomy to chemotherapy and all. To God be the glory, today, she is fine, hale and hearty. It was an eye-opener for me. I never believed a stranger could send that much money for somebody’s treatment. So I thought; if that could happen for me and my mother-in-law, then it could happen for other people.”

Like a seed, an idea was sown in her. Not long after, precisely in 2018, another breast cancer case was brought to her knowledge. Again, she reached out to Odumedume Foundation, and pronto, she responded again, paying for the treatment. Years later, she relocated to Lagos with her husband and got a job at Redeemer’s Peace Assembly School, Magbon in Ibeju-Lekki. But that idea had started to germinate and it didn’t take long before she started introducing her pupils to charity works. She would gather the kids, get them to make donations, sometimes, as little as N50 each, and visit orphanages and sick people to give them succour. Unknown to her she was investing in trust, especially as some of the things she was doing made their way onto the social media.

It wasn’t therefore a surprise, when in the heat of the coronavirus pandemic in May this year, people started sending her money to dispense to people she deemed needy and deserving. Now, she says it has become a passion and she just can’t stop.

“It became a passion. There was a case in that happened and I was called upon to rescue the person. I did. After that people started calling me to rescue people in distress and I would respond and give them the little I had. However, when it dawned on me that what I could offer was not enough, I started bringing it to my page on Facebook for people to assist.

At about that time in Warri, she got a call in respect of a young deaf and mute girl, Favour, who slept in the open and was at the mercy of boys who routinely came to molest and rape her at night. Being in Warri at the time, she arrived the neighbourhood early around 6.30 am to catch Favour in her habitat. “I met her still sleeping. With the help of the woman who invited me, I was able to explain my intention to her. First, I took her into an apartment. Fortunately, an apartment was readily available. That room had been acquired for somebody else, who declined on the pretext that it was too far. I think the person actually wanted money; but I like to use money for whatever it was intended for, so that the donors can see. I noticed Favour could make hair, so I told her we were going to set her up in business. I posted her case on my Facebook page and two people responded. But it was not enough to set her up. Because of her condition, we thought to provide her a business she would be able to handle. The salon business looked apt; because she also said she could handle provision business, a foundation, last month, came up with start-up money for her to start a small kerosene retailing business. Another foundation assisted with tools for salon business; so gradually, she’s doing fine and becoming self-sufficient,” Ajoluje said.

Aside Favour, Ajoluje has also intervened in the case of three toddlers in Alegbo, Effurun, Delta State. She had gone to buy banga rice, a Niger-Delta delicacy, and came upon on three children; two of them crying ceaselessly. She asked if they were hungry and she could buy them rice and they nodded in assent. Moved to pity, she sought information about them and got to know that their parents had had a quarrel and the mother had left two nights before. She got her number, reached out to her and offered help, possibly in the area of accommodation.

“She said she bought a sack of oranges at N2,000 and retailed, so I referred her case to a humanitarian body. I also raised N13,000 with which I bought some food and provisions for her and children before departing for Lagos. Unfortunately, we were not able to get her an accommodation.

Another major case she handled was that of Blessing, a widow, whom she met at Delta Careers’ College, Airport Road, Effunrun, Delta State. She was on her way to buy bread in a bakery when she encountered her begging for alms with her twins. “I approached her to know what her issues were and that I would like to get her help; I told her I needed to know where she slept, so I could locate her whenever help came and she told me she slept at Obijo Market, also in Effurun. I put her matter on my Facebook page and people responded; so we got her an accommodation. I also noticed that she was bleeding; she explained that she gave birth in the open and it was native practitioners, who assisted her during delivery. It occurred to me that she didn’t get proper care, so I took her to a doctor. After examination, the doctor said she needed to undergo a surgery and that it would cost N250,000. I reached out to a foundation, ‘Help the Nigerian Child,’ owned by the trio of Tobore Anne, Chigozie Effe and Kate Keke and the money was made available. It was paid directly to the hospital. But there was a snag: Blessing vehemently refused to undergo surgery. She said she had never undergone surgery all her life; that I wanted to kill her and all sorts. So we had to let her be and the money was returned to the donors.

“In the end, all we could provide for her was an accommodation; we thought of setting her up in business, but she asked that we gave her time to go treat herself the local way.”

To corroborate Blessing’s story, Ajoluje said she had earlier reached out to her relative in Epoloko Market, who confirmed everything she told her. She has made it a point of duty to at least meet a relative of her prospects before proceeding to offer them help –except in rare cases, like that of the elderly lady she is presently handling in Ijale, a suburb of Ogun, where the relatives could not be immediately located.

The case of Mama, as she calls her, is a bit peculiar, as she had been seen languishing on the street without help for days. When her matter was first brought to Ajoluje’s notice via a call on October 3, she was not feeling too strong, so she appealed to anyone reading via her Facebook post to step in and save mama’s life. But when, after 48 hours, news reached her that she was still there; she said she had to dust up herself and proceed to locate her.

“The day I was going, it was raining heavily; a lady was making a live video of her, appealing for help; I responded, telling her I was about 30 minutes away. It did not matter to me that it was quite a distance between my house in Ibeju-Lekki and Ijale in Ogun State. By the time I got there, Mama was lying in the muddy water of the downpour. I asked for water, bathed her and put her in some new clothes volunteered by some persons nearby. She could not stand; very likely she had been knocked down by a motorbike; she had a very big injury on her leg, occasioned by the accident. I got a nurse to clean her wound, called a barrister, Tejo, and together, we took her to a hospital. We also found that her injury was bandaged and she had some ampiclox capsules with her, meaning whoever knocked her down made an effort to give her first aid. The first hospital declined her but a second, Overcomers Specialist Hospital admitted her. They billed us N30,000 and we immediately paid a deposit of N20,000, so they could immediately commence her treatment.

“Right now, she is getting better. She later told us her name is Grace and that she was on her way to her brother’s place in Ikorodu when the accident happened. But she can’t remember his name or address. She was having problems remembering things.”

At the moment, mama is on admission at Overcomers Specialist Hospital and responding to treatment. A call actually came in the course of this interview, informing Ajoluje of the cheery news that mama could now walk. This brought a visible shine and a smile to her face, akin to that of one who just accomplished a great feat.

Asked what would be her greatest challenge, as she trudges on in this desolate field of humanitarian works, Ajoluje, without hesitation said, “Accessing fund.”

Particularly, she said “Mama’s case has further underlined this. Having been incontinent because of her situation and immobility, the doctor advised that we got somebody to take care of her in the hospital, so I had to employ a lady whom I pay N4,000 daily. She’s been at it for almost nine days now. It’s not like I cannot do it myself but I have three children to take care of in far away Ibeju-Lekki. I even made an update on my page, calling for a nanny with an offer of N5,000 per week, but nobody has come forward. They said the money is small.”

So she maintained that funding is a big issue that can be very discouraging. What pains her more, she stressed, is the fact that, “There are so many foundations that can sponsor this kind of humanitarian cases but that are not coming forward. I’ve sent messages to them, I’ve reached out even to bloggers, regarding this woman’s predicament but none has responded. If it is credit they want, I will always comply. I already mentioned some names in the course of this interview.”

So what does she get in return for this whole effort, we asked?

“The simple ‘God Bless You.’ It means a lot and goes a long way for me. There are sometimes I don’t even know where I am going – I really don’t know anywhere in Lagos yet – and I just venture once I hear that there is a case of somebody that needs help. In fact, when I was relocating to Lagos, people told me so many discouraging things, like: ‘Lagos is dangerous’, ‘there is one-chance buses’ and so on.”

At the last count, she said she has rescued about 10 persons in need or destitute situations. That is in addition to those she had affected in Warri, her former base. From a homeless pregnant woman who sleeps in an abandoned bus in a mechanic workshop to, to a mother of two who sleeps on a damaged fridge in Idasho, not too far from Dangote Refinery in Ibeju-Lekki, to 12-year-old boy working as conductor to assist his indigent mother; Ajoluje has seen them all.

Nonetheless, she maintains that she is not into what she does because she is comfortable but because she perceives that this group of people need help. “They are not like you and I who can reach out to friends and get N10,000 transferred into our account. Some of them don’t even have phones, not to talk of social media handles.”

She has also made personal sacrifices, one of which was suffering a miscarriage, which she ascribed to waking up at 4 to prepare breakfast and lunch for her hubby, and working as a teacher. At the moment, she has resigned her teaching job and Redeemers Peace Assembly School and now concentrates on the home-front and her humanitarian works.

Recently, she registered her own organisation, Harriett Majemite Foundation, a combination of her daughter’s and her husband’s names. She also works with other foundations, like Jennchi Foundation, owned by Jennifer Chioma; Black Diamond Foundation by Defunke Adewunmi, and other supporters who don’t have registered foundations but support what she’s doing based on their trust in her.

A graduate of Sociology from Delta State University, Abraka, Ajoluje said her father is one of her inspirations, citing how he regularly took pity on his rent defaulting tenants, even when he also needed money to take care of his family.

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