A Pandemic Could Not Stop Us – By Ruth Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale (Nigeria)

My name is Ruth Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale. I am the founder of Star of Hope Transformation Center in Ibasa Riverside community, Lagos, Nigeria. I attended the TFT Diploma course in 2011. We work with women and girls only, and we organise continuous training in various skills acquisition projects. In addition, we have a scholarship programme for female orphans and a food bank. Our bank is called Otun Food Bank. Otun means Transformation in Yoruba Language. Our food bank is open every Sunday to women and girls in need. Fundraising for the food bank is spearheaded by my sister, Julie Zenterra.

In A Time Of Crisis

Covid-19 has become a global pandemic with a ready – made death certificate. Its name not just signals death, fear and uncertainty, but it also stigmatises, segregates and isolates the already isolated ones. The pandemic came with hunger as a tool of slow and steady death to the poor masses that are lucky enough not to be infected with the novel disease. But while the world was running around to stock unnecessary toilet rolls, mandated nose masks, hand sanitizers, exaggerated hand gloves, unavailable water to wash hands for twenty seconds under a running tap, (millions have never seen running taps in their villages before) I was rolling in bed, rummaging through my brain on how we could prevent hunger amongst the masses, especially the women and girls who we are working with in Lagos. My major challenge was funding for free foodstuffs for the 125 girls we work with during a total lockdown, since I knew it was imminent. In addition, our food bank can only cater for the needs of few families because we have only few friends who support the initiative.

Moreover, Lagos is an exceptionally large city with close to twenty million people, how would they survive during a total lockdown? How will I transport foodstuffs during no movement days and how would we transport foodstuffs daily through the high sea? There were many questions ravaging through my mind, but I was determined to stand by these women and girls. I do not trust our government to cater for them, but I do trust myself to do my bit during the lockdown and whenever I am needed. My intention was to ensure daily breakfast for our girls only, but I knew that any light breakfast provided by our organisation might be their main meal, so I decided to go on my Facebook page to ask for help. Obviously Otun Food Bank could not meet the daily demands by itself.

I posted my need for support and many of my friends supported us. We started providing girls with breakfast on March 23, 2020. Soon we realized that it would not be enough, and we already knew how to bake bread through our skills programme that we started in December 2019. We decided to start special loafs and added eggs and fish to make it more nutritious. We started with baking one hundred loafs of bread but moved to five hundred loafs when more girls in the community started reporting at our center for food. I have a personal poultry and we stopped selling our eggs and made it free for girls.

We discovered that older women and widows were also queuing at our entrance daily. We had to open our food bank daily and my online friends continued to support us. We were transporting foodstuffs through the sea every other day.

We decided to provide for four hundred families on May 5th. This required millions of Naira. It sounds insane in a period when many people were uncertain about the future and I had nothing in my savings account, but I trusted God. I posted the need on my Facebook page again and my friends threw their weight behind me. It was a miracle. We made the announcement in the communities. We were committed and we did it! With the support of my friends and Julie Zenterra we were able to bag four hundred and fourty five (445) bags filled with foodstuffs: Spaghetti, macaroni, noodles, beans, vegetable oil, wheat flour, semolina, tomato paste and maggi cubes.

On 4 May 2020 we had set the chairs ready, with observance to the two meters distance, and by 05:00 am we had already placed 400 bags of foodstuffs. Although we had planned to distribute foodstuffs to four hundred women, at 10:00 am, four hundred and fifty (450) women were already in the queue before 07:00 am. We had to start immediately. The smiles on the faces of the women and the prayers were satisfying for our team. After two months I was weak and well spent, but happy to return to my family. Our work is both life transforming and lifesaving during the threatening Covid-19.

Future Plans

We have progressed to the point of buying 11 acres of land to grow organic vegetables that will be supplied to women in need. The land has already been cleared. I am also building a house for us that will welcome our local TFT team in Owo. The opening is 16 April 2021.