Christmas is seen by many people differently. To some, it is the annual Christian festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on 25th December in the Manger inside today’s Church of Nativity.
As it is well known, the significance of Christmas is the reason for the season. As it is succinctly captures in the Bible Book of Isaiah 9:6: “To us, a child is born, to us, a son is given…” Indeed, Christmas is further regarded as a season for sober reflection on Christ’s coming, which also rekindles hope of resurrection of the dead. It brings with it a sense of joy, and reboots the importance of love and peace in the hearts of mankind. This is why it is usually set aside by people of good will to show love by visiting the needy and underprivileged ones, including the elderly and aged, motherless babies’ homes, preaching the message of hope and bringing succour to prisoners, giving a sense of belonging to widows, among others. But most ironically, some others also see Christmas as a period for merry making and jollification.
This last assumption has been widely criticised by many. This is why, as part of efforts to give colour to this year’s Christmas celebrations, a non-profit organisation under the aegis of Ikwerre Community Association of California (ICAC), simply known as Ogbakor Ikwerre California (OIC), gave boost to this criticism that Christmas epitomises merry making, by doing extraordinary things to raise the bar in meaningful livelihood for some.
Some pertinent questions remain: Why did Jesus come to save humanity? What were Jesus’ attributes while on Earth? Why were most of His teachings centred on love, reaching out to the poor and needy, as well as forgiving sinners, among others?
The Ogbakor Ikwerre California tried to provide clear answers to these frequently asked questions around the spirit of forgiving, love, care and giving that are characteristic of Christmas when it undertook a special outreach project to more than 200 widows in Omademe and Isiokpo in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State a few weeks ago. The idea behind the outreach was to put smiles on the faces of widows in these two key Ikwerre communities during the 2018 Yuletide season. And members of the association did the groundbreaking event with unbelievable pomp and astonishing pageantry to the ecstasy and excitement of many. The transformation and new beginnings that followed naturally inspired not just the widows but others who witnessed the amazing spirit of giving, convivial brotherhood and selflessness exhibited by members of the association.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Tide, in the sideline of the event, Chairperson of OIC, Dr Christiana Chukwumati explained that the ICAC in the United States of America has continued to support several Ikwerre causes, noting that one of those causes was the “Ikwerre Widows Project”. Chukwumati further said that project’s core focus was to give hope to disadvantaged and less-privileged Ikwerre widows.
Chukwumati noted that the project was a proof that distance was never a barrier, if anyone wished to help loved ones. She called on the widows to pray for the peace and safety of their fatherland while asking God to touch those perpetrating evil so they could change and embrace God.
Similarly, another representative of the association, Pastor Constance Walker noted that the widows’ project was intended to bring together all the less-privileged widows in Omademe and Isiokpo together to have fun, show love to each other as well as expand their network of friends and contacts. Walker explained that the visit was to felicitate with the widows with a view to putting smiles on their faces during the Christmas season in furtherance of Christ’s admonition to mankind while on Earth.
She said: “Christmas is all about love; and a good way to bring widows from the over 20 different communities in the two LGAs together. Celebrating with these widows is one of the best ways to celebrate the birth of Christ by putting smiles on the faces of the less-privileged and down-trodden in our society”.
Walker disclosed that the OIC widows’ project started some years back, and has positively impacted the widows from Ikwerre since inception. She listed some of the communities that had benefitted from the project to include: Rumuodumaya and Rumuokoro in Obio/Akpor LGA, Oro-Abali and Oro-Ogbum in Port Harcourt City Council Area, and Ibaa and Omudioga in Emohua LGA. She stressed that the impact of the project in Omademe and Isiokpo was only but the icing in the cake.
She recalled that the spirit of Christmas was that of giving and sharing just as the Three Wise Men did on hearing about the birth of Jesus Christ by visiting and giving Jesus Gold, Incense and Myrrh. Walker said that the inspiration got from the biblical visit enabled them to give gifts such as bags of Beans, Rice; and cooking condiments to the widows. She emphasized that with the visit, they let love prevail over bitterness, anger, hatred and sadness, violence and killings.
Walker said, “When we are imbued with God’s love, we will all be willing at all times to also give a helping hand to other vulnerable ones around us in the society”. In addition, she promised to talk with other women in California to think of giving scholarship to children of the widows willing to go to school, but can’t go due to the huge financial implications.
In his remarks, the Traditional Ruler of Omademe, His Royal Majesty, Stephen Ogundu-Wali, said that he was overwhelmed by the association’s kind gestures in supporting Ikwerre widows. “Like you rightly tagged the project, it is real gift of hope which immensely and immeasurably helps the disadvantaged and less-privileged ones in the society,” Ogundu-Wali noted.
He thanked members of the association for remembering Omademe in their impactful project, and prayed God to grant them the wisdom to forge ahead in their endeavours. While appealing to the Rivers State Government and the security agencies to deploy adequate police personnel to the area, the monarch emphasized that people of the community now live in fear due to the high spate of killings and kidnapping in the area.
Also speaking, the Paramount Ruler of Isiokpo, His Royal Majesty, Eze Blessing Wagor said he was doubtful at first when members of the association approached him to gather the widows in the 10 Isiokpo communities so as to donate some food items to them. Wagor noted that he was now convinced that what they came for was real and clearly designed to impact lives of Ikwerre widows positively. He prayed God to continue to bless members of the association, so that they could continue to touch more lives in the society.
The Isiokpo monarch used the opportunity to appeal to the Rivers State Government to decentralize projects to other parts of the state in order to curb crimes and criminality. He noted that the people of Isiokpo were known for farming, and appealed for the establishment of a garri processing industry by the Rivers State Government to create jobs, drive economic and social development, thereby combating youth restiveness, cult-related violence, militancy, and criminality in the area.
In their testimonies, some the beneficiaries in Omademe and Isiokpo expressed their joy for being showered with love, and catered for by the Ogbakor Ikwerre California. Among the beneficiaries is Florence Nwegima, who thanked the association for remembering them. She prayed God to continue to remember members of the association in all their endeavours, while appealing to them to include free scholarship for those with many children and cannot train them in school due to the huge financial burden.
Another beneficiary, Hope Chinedu, said that when she heard about the people coming, she thought they were officials of the state government. She, however, that with the donation of items, she now realized it was a non-profit association with the interest of the down-trodden at heart. She urged other well-meaning Nigerians to emulate the kind gestures displayed by the Ogbakor Ikwerre California.
Mrs Grace Ikuga also expressed joy that the OIC has turned her sorrow into joy since the death of her husband, explaining this was the first time she was receiving such surprising package from anyone outside her family, and prayed God to bless members of the association. Patience Ebenezer urged members of the association to include scholarship in their next plan so as not only to feed the children with food at home, but also encourage them to go to school as a means of preparing them to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities and the state.
For Helen Peters, all she could muster was prayers for God to bless and keep members of the association alive to continue to do more for the widows. The same sentiment was expressed by Mercy Oworgi, who thanked the OIC for blessing them with food items, saying it would go a long way in checking hunger and starvation among widows in the area. Also, Elizabeth Peters prayed God to remember every member of the association, just as they remembered the widows.