Ayo Yemisi Jaiyeola is the Founder of Serendipity House Nigeria God’s Wives Int’l Widows in Nigeria African Widows Organizations located at 350,Ikorodu Road. Entrance Thrfough Conoil Petrol Station. Maryland. Lagos. In this interview with GBENGA OSINAIKE she relates her experience as a widow running a widow’s organization. Below are excerpts:
You come across as somebody who is full of life. There seems to be no dull moment with you. How did you arrive at this kind of lifestyle?
I’ve always been a free person. I believe life is to be utilized for the purpose it was given. I like to be myself and not pretend about anything. I try to say things as they should be said. I don’t have any inhibition whatsoever. That is just who I am.
How was it growing up in the vicarage being the daughter of an Anglican priest?
Hmmmmn. Vicarage life is fun. It’s where God lives officially. Children of priests have a lot of opportunities to choose from. Living godly, walking right and pursue educational ambitions are perhaps what the children of priests are known for or should be known for. The advantages of living in the vicarage are numerous. When a priest is loved, his family gets blessed back by the congregation
What basically was your ambition as a young lady before you ever married? Are those ambition being fulfilled?
As a young lady, I had wished to rule my world. Be on the top of my career as a people person. I wanted to be rich enough to help the needy and also to be a good wife to any man who is lucky to marry me. Yes, the ambitions are being fulfilled, but I went through thick and thin(HELL).
You were married to a reverend gentleman. How did it happen?
My husband was first a medical doctor. We met at his church (St Jude ‘s Ang church,Odi Olowo)’Clinic. I was his patient. He treated me so nicely and I got well. Later, he told me he liked me. I was scared because he was too old to be my husband. But he was a very good friend I really liked to be with him. I didn’t know how I said “yes” to his request.. He then told me he wanted to be a priest. I didn’t want this at all.
Living in the vicarage made me to see how it wasn’t easy running the ministry. There were church crisis, misunderstandings, member rebellion against vicar, and general conflicts. My father Venerable Ayo Akinwale was a conflict manager though. But at the end of the day I can say confidently that I am happy to have married the doctor who eventually rose to the position of a Venerable in the Anglican Communion.
From my interactions with you, it seems to me that there was an inexplicable bond between you and your late husband. Looking back what would you say contributed to such strong affinity which I believe is not common among many couples?
Venerable (Dr) Babatunde Oluyemisi Jaiyeola was a friend. likable and lovable. We were so much into each other that we actually became ONE. Not the “they shall become one marriage thing” I’ve seen so many married people who look like one and are worse than enemies. My relationship with Doctor Jaiyeola was that of FRIENDSHIP. We started and concluded our marriage as FRIENDS.
You have been in the charity business for quite a while. You and your husband started before he passed on. Kindly give a run-down of your experience so far?
Charity is giving from what you have. We started our lives not as a very comfortable couple. We first learned to give ourselves to each other, by these we were able to give others who didn’t have what we had. 20 years back, all we wanted to do was just to show God that from the little we had, we could give to others in appreciation of God’s goodness to us. The first 5 years of our lives were trying times. My first school “Rufus and Esther School” in Victoria Island was run like a charity as 75% of pupils were Children of Maroko residents that were displaced by the then military governor of Lagos State. I had only about 10 of the students paying fees. My husband actively paid for the needs of the school. I couldn’t pay everything thing so I turned it into a CHARTER SCHOOL where parents took classes and served too. We started seminars to empower women and drew out a scheme to support churches and we shared tracts and hosted Bible breakfast events, etc.
The name of the organization was and is SERENDIPITY HOUSE. I studied the Bible under the SERENDIPITY INSTITUTE USA and I didn’t want to ever use another name. I chose SERENDIPITY. Here we are after 20 years. Serendipity was interested in the plight of widows and fatherless. We took them as our family members. Yemisi my husband, would pay fees of these children before meeting his family needs. I worked three jobs then, so I could cope. I washed clothes for workers and families, cooked food at building sites and I cleaned houses at weekends. I still do these on corporate levels now. Aren’t these what people live on now?
You also started God’s Wives International. What informed the establishment of such body? What has been the response of people given the nature of our society?
Yes, I started God’s Wives International. I didn’t really plan it, but situation I found myself in made it happen. First, widows we have helped in the past came along to be with me when my husband died. But then I lost friends after my husband’s demise. The changes that I saw in the church? I didn’t see myself fitting into the position I was in the diocese as FAMILY MISSIONER. This I did for 9 years. After Yemisi died, I experienced some estrangement from married friends. I lost my position as a clergy wife and the solitaire in church, family settings. I lost recognition at places where I was respected after my huband’s death.
I will be sitting with other clergy wives and they would bypass me; even those who were like younger ones to me. I had to get used to living with widows as the stigma of widowhood became wild and wider. Well, the society we are in is not that which really likes to concern itself with widows and the needy. Churches should be the next home and cheerers of widows; but it’s not so, even with the Bible inscribed command to honor and care for them. James 1: 27. (Religion our God accepts as pure, to visit widows, fatherless in their distress)
Think of this; right from the marriage service in the church, the mention of DEATH was sounded loud in preparation of when the couple will be parted by death. ” Till death do us part”. Why would the church not be willing to follow up when a spouse dies? And again, at the funeral service, usually and most of the time there will be a spousal survival. This makes it more saddening how the widowed family is left to be alone. I’m used to working James 1: 27. It’s my life. Some are running from it because they are afraid. But, of what? Some say they can’t help so that it will not happen to them. Widowhood is inevitable. It’s either the man dies or the woman. My husband died before me. I could have been the one to go first.
No woman prays to be a widow. But somehow, one becomes a widow or widower at some point in life except for rare cases where both couples die same time. But what comes as a tragedy is when a woman becomes a widow too early in life. How will you describe your own experience? What lessons have you learnt these past years from family members and the society at large?
Some families are nice people while some are not. It depends on the widow herself. She will be confronted with crisis, conflicts and if she doesn’t know how to manage it, she will be badly hurt. I know about conflict management. This has made me to know where to stand at any warring time. An enemy today may be a friend tomorrow.
Is it your decision to stay unmarried because you run an organization that caters for widows? Would marriage have defeated the purpose?
Marrying is not my own problem. It is deciding to. It’s not yet on my mind. That I run a widow’s organization has made me to learn a lot from other women and also from widows who have remarried and have had to run out of the marriage. Widowers in my network are about 24 and they seem not to have been able gather or bring themselves to having to love a widow correctly. Some widows now wish they never tried it after the death of their husbands. Some widowers I met said “marriage again will be tough”.
Something to note again; widows and widowers still think they should hide their relationships from friends and families of their late spouses. This thinking is insane. Why would a happily married couple be annoyed with widows in love?
I don’t blame them. It’s an unfriendly spirit. And they are committing sin against God. I’m indifferent. If a godly man who will take care of my children, well-being, my heart comes on, I might consider a companionship. It’s nothing to do with running an organization. God is not against it.
Did you at any point make attempt to re-marry?
I have never made any attempt to remarry. I have only tried to find out if there is the possibility to move on. But it didn’t work.
What is your position on re-marriage for a widow?
God is not against remarriage. 1 Corinthians 7: 39. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at LIBERTY to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. My own experience is very complex. I really wish to be in a relationship. It is good and so to do. There is no woman or man who will not want a head, husband, companion and lover. If the widow wishes, let her do. At God’s Wives Int’l, we have a counseling department for widows who wish to move on with a partner.
You run a vast network on widows with over 3000 widows in your network. What has been the experience?
Widowhood is a minute, hourly and daily thing. According to world records and especially in Africa, about 5000 women become widowed daily. Daily we get reports of deaths. Where ten women lose their husbands in a community, a man loses his wife. The demography is large. It’s like an epidemic. We have in the past 8 years recorded over 6,500 name lists. They come and go. Widows remarry. A small percentage of them die, leaving the children orphaned.
People are so bothered about widows but nobody gives a damn about widowers. How will you react to this?
Yes, people know widows and show pity to them. They are not so bothered as you put it as regards widowers, a man can always find his way on. Not so easy for a woman to showcase her moves. She tries to cope and likes to make her children secure. The widower has his way. People may now think that he can manage or cope better. From experiences relayed at our meetings, the widowers need more help. Some were not nice to their deceased spouses so, they will continue not to be nice to any widow they meet. Some loved their wives so much and wouldn’t want to be involved with loving again. This applies to widows too. What we know as a group is that moving on is something people want to keep secret.
What are the downsides of running an organization like yours? How do you cope with cases of women who probably tell lies that they are widows just to get stuffs…Do you have such instances?
Very often, this happens at some of our events. Some women come with fake death certificates. Some are still married, some divorced and they all come for the goodies. They always confess that it’s because of hardships.
There are a lot of cultural practices that run against women especially when they become widowed. How will you react to these cultural practices. Can you give instances? What best counsel do you give for women in this regard?
Hmmmm. The misconception, ordeals! The widow is seen and judged to have killed her husband. She must observe 40 days sitting on the floor. She should be shaven and flogged. And so on. Her house must be taken and she must be sent away. All the money belonging to her husband belongs to the family. Well, my counsel is that the widow should at the onset of the event get in touch with a lawyer, the church and her family and friends who can give her help of any useful kind. She should read books and put her trust in God.
You earlier referred to yourself as a grief consultant. What is the implication of this…what is it about grief and how best could it be managed?
I have gone far in the work of caring for widows. It came easy for me because I am into it. Consulting full time on grief is very tough. I experience so many strange feelings. Sometimes I want to refer my clients to the psychiatric hospital so they can get treated. Sometimes depression makes us misbehave, say horrible things, do things we didn’t like. Any widow(er) in front of me knows I know what they are talking about. Our cases are the same, only the sex or gender difference. But no matter the case none is beyond God.
An organization like yours will surely need funds to run with. How do you go about funding and what has been the experience sourcing for funds?
Funding is the big thing. Tough. We use and need money daily. I didn’t beg for money when my husband was here. Since he died, we have increased in number and the need for asking for funds increased. I have met with kind hearted men and women who give once yearly, and seasonally. I now have women who help ask their family and friends to express their love for our organization. We have helpers who bring foods, people who transfer funds for office administration. We have organisations who share gifts too. We need regular monthly financial support and counselors. We intend to build a home now to house the homeless widows and their children. It costs us a lot of money monthly to run the office.
The project “ ADOPT A WIDOW” is now on. We will be starting a monthly fundraising in aid of ” Zarephath House”. We need to get accommodation. We need help from churches, families and through companies as a form of “CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY”.
What has been the response of the church in this business of helping widows?
The church hasn’t really woken to the core participation in this mission. Though it is the major project they should uphold. It’s shameful that I have written to so many churches and leaders for help, but the response has been at the level of 10%. So sad. We will continue to pray that they see reasons to support us. So many widows tell us at the office of the pathetic response of their churches at meeting their needs. NGOs are not money givers. We should be working with government and the church. Recently we were able to gain the support of ministers of God who have joined the funding of the projects. They are called “ The Venerables Men”.
What are the testimonies from running an organization fully devoted to widowhood, women and girls?
We thank God for impacting joy and peace on their minds. Laughter is now a way of life. Standing out for them and making money moves, learning skills and meeting widows like themselves makes the world go round around us. Working with girls too is very much on our agenda.
Kindly visit www.godswivesinternational.org, Facebook: Gods Wives or call 08033285737