THIS IS MY STORY OF PAIN AND GLORY
In 1994, I was a young teenage girl out of secondary school but from a very poor home where the daily bread never seemed to go round. I finished my secondary school in 1994 but furthering my education looked like a tall dream.
My father had nine children and I was the first child. We were raised in abject poverty. I learnt early to struggle to survive. I knew money was never coming from home so I worked in people’s homes to survive. I washed clothes, plates, tidied up homes and got little to go by. As a result, seeing the four walls of secondary school and finishing well were nothing short of a miracle.
The poverty was so thick that it looked like I’d never get out of it. It made my future look so bleak and hopeless. There was no help from anywhere. If it was a struggle for me to go to school as the first child, what would happen to the eight other children behind me? With this resolve in place and a quiet determination to succeed, I travelled to Lagos to find help.
My parents were struggling to survive in Agbor, Delta State and I was in Lagos running helter-skelter, trying to look for means of going to school. The only family I had in Lagos was my uncle. But my uncle was living another kind of life so I was not his business.
In 1996, I had just gained admission that year to do a pre-degree program since the university system refused to admit me for law and I needed money desperately for my registration. I had lost two direct admissions due to paucity of funds. So I wasn’t going to let this slip away.
Before I came to Lagos, I was an ardent member of the Assemblies of God Church but as I got to Lagos, I was invited to Foursquare Gospel Church, Gbagada under the leadership of the late Reverend Olakulehin and Pastors Nasiru and Lawal. Right from the first day I attended the church, I fell in love with the choir. Music was an escape for my pain and deprivation.
Mr Domingo was a member of the Welfare Committee at the Foursquare Gospel Church where I worshipped at the time. I approached him one day and narrated my predicament to him. To my uttermost surprise, he just dipped his hand into his pocket and gave me wads of naira note that should be up to 20k that year.
It was a lot of money in those days which was enough to take to school for fees and registration and also take care of my needs. Mr Domingo assured me that he’d always render assistance towards my education and it looked like there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel for me being the first child among nine children (yet to understand to date, why poor people give birth to many children).
One day, after a Sunday service, I ran to greet the Father I knew in Lagos, and he said to me “let me introduce you to my wife so that she can also be of help to you whenever I’m not available. You’re a very intelligent and focused young girl. You need all the encouragement to pull through.”
I felt it was a good idea.
The day I was to meet his wife, I was so happy. I felt real joy because I felt that if the man was this nice, it inevitably meant I had a second mummy in the wife. The thought of being an adopted daughter to this beautiful family so engulfed me that i forgot it was 4 O’Clock in the morning on this fateful day when I started getting dressed to start the long trek to their house even though it was quite a distance.
The sun seemed brighter than usual that day and it looked like I was just one step away from my final breakthrough. I imagined how my life was going to take a turn for good, how I would be able to go to school and change the fortunes of my family. With some springs in my steps and excitement in my heart, I got to the gate in the early hours of the day and knocked. The gateman opened for me and confirmed that Madam was inside. After going inside to inform Madam while I waited outside the gate, he walked back and said he was told to tell me to wait.
I waited right there at the gate house but she didn’t show up. I was already getting tired because I had had a long trek before getting to their house.
I went to the gateman again and said “Please, help me remind madam again that the girl her husband told her about is here”
“She knows and she still insists that you wait”, he responded.
I had no choice despite the stress, the pain in my legs, the hunger pangs and the scorching sun. So I asked the gate man if I could sit at the backyard and the yard seemed cool. He obliged because I’d been sitting outside the gate house for hours and the sun was dealing with my skin.
At the back, I saw mounds of yam and onions in heaps and sizes. I was happy just watching the foodstuff because I thought that at least she would spare some food for me to take to school.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice she was already standing at the door.
Her voice brought me back to reality.
She walked out holding her half sipped red wine in a beautiful glass cup. She looked me over condescendingly from head to toe and said
“Hey, we are not a charity organization. The church welfare is there. If you need anything you can always go to them.”
Oh my God! Did i hear her right or was i day dreaming? I was so embarrassed. I cried from Gbagada estate to Oworonshoki where I lived. I had no money on me and I thought I was going to get at least some transport fare to go back home but I never imagined that I’d be treated as trash.
People stared at me as I walked back home, lamenting my cruel fate and wondered what could make a young girl cry helplessly and hopelessly on the road on a hot day as I continued to cry uncontrollably. I got home, removed my clothes, went under the shower and still cried a river. My tears lasted for days, weeks and months.
With the help of my friends Deborah and Hannah Akiri, who told their mum what happened, I was able to go back to school with foodstuffs. Oh those girls treated me like their own blood sister (still searching for these beautiful sisters to date)
I packed my bags and travelled back to Agbor. I explained all I was going through to my Dad in tears. He had always supported me because he believed i would bring succour to him and the entire family. Oh how i miss him. He suffered and suffered and died. My father never lived to see the salvation he hoped for through me. He died a broken man.
My Dad was able to borrow fifteen thousand naira from Papa Ajabor who lived at Mariere Street, Agbor. I learnt he’s late now (may his gentle and kind soul rest in perfect peace). Papa Ajabor always lent my Dad money each time he needed it. I remember he lent him my fee for waec too but he never collected the money back because according to him, I was very intelligent and focused. That was his personal gift to me. I never disappointed Papa Ajabor because I made all my papers in one sitting.
However, I went back to school and read like no man’s business. I studied round the clock. I was angry with the way the world treated me. I was angry that life was so unfair to me. I was angry that my Dad was not educated. I was angry that I was underprivileged. I made up my mind never to be poor in life. I hated poverty with so much passion. I made a promise to myself that I would be relevant in life. I was too focused to succeed that I never had a boyfriend throughout secondary school or as a university pre-degree undergraduate. I buried myself in God and my books.
I didn’t tell Mr Domingo anything again. When I got back to Lagos again and he asked if I met his wife, I said yes I did. But I never narrated what transpired. He still dipped his hands in his pocket and gave me some cash (He never count money) but that was the last time I ever collected money from him.
I met my husband shortly after I finished my pre-degree program. He proposed to me the very first day he met me when he came to visit his parents after NYSC in Taraba state and travelled back to Lagos immediately. Truly, he didn’t look like what I needed at that point in my life. I had prayed to God for a helper and husband but physically speaking, he didn’t look like the answer to that prayer. He didn’t look like the saviour and helper I craved. In fact, it took me a year and seven months before I said yes to him because God told me to go ahead.
I felt it was ‘poverty jam poverty’ but shortly after our miraculous meeting, he got a job with Diya Fatimilehin and Co. Then, he started paying my school fees from year one. Before I knew it, we were married and he took up the responsibility of everything concerning my schooling and my life generally.
I’m doing this in order to thank Mr Domingo wherever he is now, for all he did in my life and to let him know I’ve replicated the same kindness to many other young girls around me who are out of school.
I may not be a billonaire extraordinaire but, I’ve been using my NGO to bring smiles to the faces of people around the world.
Women of Purpose Development Foundation was birthed just to give back to the society. You, Mr Domingo is the story behind WOPDF which I registered to remember your kindness and give back to the society that gave to me.
To that man whom God sent to me as an answer to my prayer, my husband, you will forever be my hero. Good things don’t come in attractive packages. Thank God I never missed you. Thank you for being the messenger of God to my life, a caretaker and nurturer of my destiny.
Whatever position you find yourself in life, please help, show love and support.
I would like you all to please share this post because I’d love for it to get to Mr Domingo wherever he is. I want him to know that the little girl he helped years back is now bigger and better and hasn’t forgotten his kind deed.
As for Mrs Domingo, thank you for how you treated me as a young and helpless teenager who was powerless and hungry for change. You gave me the hunger for success. You gave me the unquenchable fire to succeed.
Was I angry before now? Yes, but not anymore. I am grateful to you because the anger I felt transformed me to what I am today. Thank you for everything. I love you still Big Mummy.
May life be kind to everyone of us.
To you reading this, who is about to throw in the towel, God always show up eventually and he will not let you get tested beyond what you can take.
Please, hold on still. Your story will be incomplete and regretful if you sleep with that married man so that he can assist you.
Your story will be regrettable if you start clubbing out of depression.
Your story will not be inspiring if you sleep with your boyfriend or a bank manager who promised to get you a job in exchange for your body.
DO NOT SETTLE.
Stop looking up to man. Allow God to be true to you.
I hope this inspires someone out there.
Throwing you some love and light,
Peace, Love & Raspberries
Onwuemele is Executive Director, WOPDF International