A UNITED Kingdom based Zimbabwean philanthropic nurse has in the past five years paid school fees for more than 500 children in Umguza, Matabeleland North.
Mrs Patience Ndebele-Omijie (45) the founder of Inspire Women, Men and Children says her upbringing, made her realise that even those that are not close relatives need her help.
She says growing up in an extended family set up prompted her to conduct charity work leading to her setting up a humanitarian organisation in Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom to assist her countrymen.
Married to a Nigerian and blessed with two children, Mrs Omijie says, she grew up in Bulawayo’s North End suburb and moved to the UK at the age of 23 where she met several influential people who positioned her to set up the charity organisation.
She said even in the diaspora, she helps struggling Zimbabweans to make ends meet as being in the UK does not guarantee immunity to society’s up and downs.
In the country, Mrs Omijie has set herself a target that no girl child should miss out of schooling due to monthly menstrual cycles while paying fees for more than 500 children in Umguza District, Matabeleland North over a five year period.
Her organisation operates from Bulawayo and Matabeleland North. In the City of Kings, she runs a vocational training centre in Pelandaba suburb to equip vulnerable women with skills so that they cope with societal demands.
The centre trains vulnerable women in skills such as baking and catering among other life skills to capacitate them.
The training centre has also closed due to Covid-19 threat.
She also runs an advocacy project: “No More Whispering Period – Let’s Talk Period” to encourage the society not to make menstrual issues a taboo subject. She empowers vulnerable women and girls to produce reusable pads as some of them cannot afford disposables.
Speaking through her United Kingdom base, Mrs Omijie says it gives her great satisfaction knowing that she has touched so many people, some she would never meet.
Her organisation has also been donating food handouts to vulnerable communities in several wards in Umguza.
“I grew up in an extended family which consisted of both our close relatives, cousins and distant relatives. The extended family concept provided me a personal and corporal identity. As the eldest child, I was assigned clearly defined roles in various stages of my life, to lead by example and that helped me grow into a productive, selfless individual, which became a blue print of my life in leadership.
As a family, we were united, we supported each other and our parents taught us the spirit of Ubuntu. We shared all we had. My parents inspired me by teaching us to be there for each other,” says Mrs Omijie.
“When I came to England, I would hear how some families I knew had fallen on hard times and thought of how I could help them. Sometimes I would send money. I also met Zimbabweans in the UK who had fallen on hard times and I would offer them accommodation or food.”
She says growing up she saw many downtrodden women and girls and believes that charity work becomes an engine to solving some of the challenges they face.
Mrs Omijie says the United Kingdom has positioned her to meet other women with similar goals of transforming communities.
She believes all children deserve a fair chance to formal education.
“When I started Inspire Women and Children in 2014, we conducted a baseline survey in Umguza District and we discovered that there were a lot of primary school kids that had dropped out of school because their parents couldn’t afford to pay their fees. Some of the pupils were attending school on empty stomachs.
To alleviate these challenges, we introduced a fees programme and the feeding scheme. School authorities started recording high levels of attendance among pupils.
Since 2014, my organisation has paid fees for more 500 primary school children. This is important for me because I believe every child should be given a chance to go to school. Seeing children successfully complete their primary education touches my heart because they would have finished an important phase of their lives.
I would love to have fees programs for secondary and tertiary education as the organisation grows in future,” she said.
“It is a good feeling to see someone happy because of the good things I would have done for them. I wanted to extend the spirit of Ubuntu beyond my generation and the only way to do so was to establish an organisation to improve the lives of others. I believe we all have a role to play in leadership and transforming communities for the world to be a better place.”
Mrs Omijie says funding remains a challenge as demands for humanitarian work outweigh the funding capacity.
“The biggest challenge was on securing funding to grow and sustain the organisation. Funding is a big challenge especially for community based organisations but I am grateful to have partners and volunteers who’ve been supportive in ensuring continuity in our work.
Running an organisation in two countries is also not easy considering my full time job that has night shifts. Time management is hard but I am glad to be surrounded by very supportive people that I can delegate for certain tasks. We have also remained resilient despite the challenges we encountered,” said Mrs Omijie.
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