It was indeed a rainy day; children within her community were playing naked with protruded stomachs. They were cold and shivering after the rain and no one was there to take care of them. Their mothers had gone out in search of daily bread to feed the family. She felt touched for these children and their mothers and thought that if the mothers were well educated to empower themselves, they would give a better service to their children. She was afraid that these children might die of starvation and would not make their dream in the future. She was convinced that if only she could identify their mothers and empower them with vocational skills, there would certainly be a difference in their livelihood.
Angelista A. Esenwa is the Project Director and founder of Utmost Caring World. She is an Educationist who came to terms with the fact that poverty and ignorance are the major causes of the hardship that women, children and young people are going through within her community and country.
“I have passion for the vulnerable group - women, girls and children. It gives me an inner drive to leave them better than I met them by improving their health, economic and social status”.
She founded Utmost Caring World in 2000 with the intention of giving the utmost care to the world and that was the origin of her organization’s name.
What makes her work unique is her passion and desire for reaching out to women in the hard to reach communities of Lagos, Imo and Delta States of Nigeria. These communities are hard to reach because you have to go by boat on the water or by some type of tough road. They are off the development plan and government projects, with few educated ones living among them. She has empowered women within these communities through educative vocational skills programs like catering, computer skills, hairdressing, tailoring and hat and bead making. She also trains them in reproductive health and human rights issues, personal hygiene and other related health programs.
From UNICEF report, every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of morbidity and mortality of a large proportion of children under-5 in Nigeria. It accounts for more than 50 % of deaths of children in this age bracket.
For Esenwa, maternal and child mortality is a result of ignorance and poverty. She dedicated her life to motivating, educating, re-orientating and equipping women and their children with information, skills and opportunities necessary for healthy and productive lifestyles. People with low incomes, particularly those who live in poverty, face specific challenges in maintaining their health. They are more likely than those with higher incomes to become ill and to die at younger ages.
Professionally, she is a teacher and counselor and her work has led her to become a care giver. Angelista spends the greater percentage of her income towards education for girls who are orphans and vulnerable. She has succeeded to train 5 girls out of secondary school and they are now in a tertiary institution. More than 150 women trained within her working communities are now empowered with vocational skills and are economically empowered to take care of their families and siblings. She is overwhelmed when the girls and women speak positively about the impact of her work within their community. They embrace the programs enthusiastically.
One major challenge in some of her project communities is that the community leaders are yet to understand fully why they should give their support to women empowerment. To overcome this challenge, she involved more women stakeholders in her advocacy visit to stress the need for these training for women and its outcome to the development of the community.
Angelista, a mother of five girls says, "I want to see women standing together with men and not seen as second class citizens". She wants freedom for the girl- child development. “I want to see women raise their voices, have economic power to make their choices and happily to contributing developmental issues”.
The vast majority of the world's poor are women. Two-thirds of the world's illiterates are female. Of the millions of school age children not in school, the majority are girls. Because of this she engages women in adult education literacy classes teaching entrepreneurial skills to manage their businesses. Women are the hardest working class people and shoulder the burden of taking care of their families yet they are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfill this responsibility. They are most times not involved in decision-making issues for example in issues of water and sanitation which women in this part of the world bear the greatest burden, they are usually neglected in decision-making along this line.
In 2005, I met Esenwa as a trainer in Reproductive and Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS. We were deployed to different states to train Youth Corps Member by UNICEF/NYSC. After reading her organization’s handbook, I was inspired by her work and person. She has been on my contact list all these years until I relocated to a new community in Lagos, Nigeria, where she resides. My desire to start up my personal project to purse my vision for women and girls lead me to her for guidance.
Angelista is a good motivator and was pleased with my vision so enlisted me as a volunteer with her organization to get involved in her projects. Her journey is adventurous with passion and action. I have learned her real concern for gender development. Surely, her work can be replicated because it is an effective tool for women's empowerment in all ratifications.
"Study after study has taught us that there is no tool more effective for development than the empowerment of women." - UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Profiles