Loud whispers: Be better. Do better, By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

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Compliments of the season. In spite of the many hassles of putting the ‘logistics’ (money, food, gifts and so on) in place for Christmas in the community, I like being at home in Isan-Ekiti during the festive season.

Amongst other things, it gives me an opportunity to eat pounded yam at least twice in one week instead of once a month, with delicious Egusi soup and assorted meat. During the festive season in December 2017, something happened that worried me a great deal. About an hour after I arrived home from Abuja with my husband, in the midst of all the people milling around to welcome us, I saw an old man who must have been at least eighty, trying to push his way towards me. I asked him what I could do for him. He said, ‘My daughter, I wanted to go to the market to buy something to cook for Christmas but I don’t have any money. They told me you would be coming home today so I have been waiting since morning’. I asked him about his children or family members. He said they did not come home and the people around him don’t have money either. My heart sank.

During my husband’s first term in office as Governor of Ekiti State (2010-2014) there was a social security scheme in place to take care of the elderly who were paid N5,000 a month. Many people wondered how N5,000 can make any difference to someone living in dire poverty. For most of the elderly who received the monthly allowance, it was a lifeline. It was meant to take care of people like this old man who had no one to provide for him. In addition to the social security scheme, I raised money to fund a Food Bank project which was run by one of the local NGOs for those who were too old or vulnerable to fend for themselves. After a while we discovered that many of the elderly people who got raw foodstuff were unable to cook for themselves. The implementing NGO then mobilized teams of women, mostly widows or women who needed support, and we set up Soup Kitchens in some communities across the State. The Social Security Scheme was stopped after my husband left office. I had initially planned to continue the Food Bank and Soup Kitchens, but the political environment became so toxic, I decided to place my energies elsewhere. Listening to the old man that day, I wondered for a moment if I had done the right thing. I gave him money and some of the foodstuff we had brought to give out to people during the Christmas period. I also told our aides to watch out for the old man and let him in anytime he comes around, and I sent someone to find out where he lives so we can keep an eye on him. During my husband’s second term in office (October 2018-October 2022) the Food Bank project was revived and rebranded as ‘Oúnjẹ Arugbo’ (Food for the Elderly). My old man became one of the first beneficiaries of the project. I am pleased to report that the initiative will continue under the new administration in Ekiti State.

During the festive season, I like to go around to visit elderly relations and friends to personally drop off a Christmas gift. These are the old people who, like the Airtel advert, pray for you non-stop for twenty minutes when they get you on the phone. Some of the people I go to see do not need money or gifts, what they appreciate is simply being honoured with a visit. There are however an increasing number of lonely, poor and elderly people out there. What are we doing about the many elderly people who are poor, hungry and dying of neglect? I think of my own mother, who insists on maintaining the tradition established by my father when he was alive, of hosting a Christmas party and sending food round the neighborhood. Each year, with the rising cost of food items, this tradition gets more and more expensive to sustain, but I indulge my mother because it is very important to her. What if none of her children are able to feed themselves or her, not to talk of distributing food to the neighborhood? I give in to her yearly demands as a form of thanksgiving.

This year has been quite an interesting one. For me and my family, it has been one of mercy and grace. For God’s divine protection and favour, I am immensely grateful, and the only way I can show appreciation is to pay it forward. There is never enough money to satisfy everyone, that is not possible. All we can do is try our best and continue to strive to be the best versions of ourselves possible. I stopped making New Year resolutions a long time ago. Instead, I tell myself ‘Be better, do better’. We can all do better in the new year. There are many things we can do to change someone’s story. You do not need to have a large bank account. All you need is a large enough heart. Here are some examples:

  • Call a friend or associate who you have not heard from in a while and wish them a Happy New Year
  • ‘Adopt’ an elderly person who needs help
  • Pay the school fees of someone who is not one of your wards
  • Offer to cover the rent of someone where necessary
  • Visit or send a gift to the parents of a friend of yours who lives outside the country
  • Give someone capital to start a business
  • Sponsor someone to learn a trade
  • If you are a professional such as a Lawyer or Accountant, offer pro bono services to someone who needs your help or to a small NGO.
  • Buy up the merchandise of an old woman, pregnant woman or child who is hawking small items for example, locust beans, oranges, bananas, groundnuts, and so on.
  • Donate towards the campaign of a woman or young person contesting an election
  • If there is a Shelter for abused women and children in your State, or a facility for children with special needs, they can always do with clothing items or foodstuff.
  • Do something nice for your domestic staff
  • Do something nice and unexpected for someone who does not expect anything from you
  • Pay the medical bill of someone
  • Join your Alumni association if you have not already done so and be an active participant
  • Get involved in a development project in your community
  • Register to vote and keep your voter’s card safe
  • Remember even your ‘Enemies’ in your prayers
  • Forgive and seek forgiveness
  • If we all undertake to do at least three of these things next year, someone’s life will hopefully be made a lot better and easier, and whatever we do for others, we do for ourselves too. We cannot wait for the government to bail us out, the government itself, especially at State level is looking for ‘bail outs’. Governments come and go. The Office of the Citizen will remain. Be Better. Do Better.

-Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Above Whispers Foundation. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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