My vision. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” Isaiah 61:1 NLT Gozie Udemezue’s Vision!! This vision is the thread and fabric of what I am on earth for and I am focused on running with it. I seek validation and help for God in doing so. I came this far by God’s mercy and grace! We achieved so much through the goodwill and amazing support by family, friends and partners in the past 12 years. My name is Chigozie Christiana Chinyere Udemezue, Née Ikwuemesi. I am from Nkwelle village Ogidi and married to a man from Uruekwo village Enugwu Ukwu, both in Anambra state State. I was born on May 3rd, 1971. I lost my mother at the age of 8 and just barely 21 in 1992, I lost the woman who took the place of my mother, Mrs. Christiana Akueke Ikwuemesi, we called her ‘Mama ayi’. That death devastated me! I studied law as a first degree at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology. Prior to switching over to study law, I was a student of Political science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I hold a Master of Laws degree with a specialty in Human Rights Law from the University of London. I hold a certificate in international human rights from the International Institute for Human Rights, Strasbourg, France. I have attended several short term courses and trainings on Reproductive Health and Rights, Inheritance Rights, Community Paralegal systems among others.
Apart from being on the board of the foundation, I sit on the board of two non-profits based in United States of America and Uganda and also on the advisory council of 6 national non-profits. I had my first work experience in the non-profit sector working with a globally recognized non-profit organization with head office in Enugu, Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), first as a Corp member legal officer, then as a Program/Legal Officer and worked as the head of the Legal department before I left the organization in April 2006. I founded Healing Hearts Widows’ Foundation Inc. with my late husband, Chief Emeka Udemezue in May 2008 to provide support to widows and their children and provide a platform for them to have a voice in their own matters. This initiative was an offshoot of my participation in the US Department of state-funded International visitors leadership program (IVLP) in 2006. I was nominated by Ms Atim George, the Public Affairs Officer of US consulate in Lagos. I spent three weeks on an all-expenses-paid trip in the US and returned home a new person. The visit to Martin Luther King (Jnr.) (MLK) centre in Atlanta during the program was the turning point. Listening to MLK’s recorded speech, the statement “turning community concerns into citizens’ action” hit me like a thunderbolt. Widowhood and the negative stereotypes and treatment widows go through was a concern, non availability of structured and adequate personal development and leadership skills programs among young persons from tender ages and lack of standard grooming for young rural girls were also concerns.
I left the US determined to turn those concerns into citizens’ action. With the first seed funding of $100 by the State Department lead who was an instructor on the trip, Ms Cynthia Wilson, I launched out on the programs I designed for young children, rural girls and widows! One in-school club, one club for in and out of school girls and a widow’s organization were birthed as a result my participation and desire to bring about change: Martin Luther King Club, The Leadership Club for Girls and Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation Inc. I am silent on the first two on social media because of the ages of the beneficiaries and the structure of the programs and projects, the third is synonymous is with my name on social media. The foundation have run 40 medical missions and community outreaches from July 2008 till date. We provide free medical services in partnership with our partners, Hope Restoration Medical Mission Queens, New York; free legal services, group and one on one mentorship for widows and their children, educational funding support, job placements and microfinance for existing and new businesses among other services. I designed the ‘adopt a widow project’ to place indigent widows with beneficiaries who provide direct support to them based on the Widow’s needs and our recommendations. As of today, we have 87 widows under this scheme. We have 123 volunteers, 239 individual funders spread across the world who support our widows and our outreaches. Between 2008 and 2014, we received funding support from Annabel services owned by Prince Nicholas Okoye, as a matter of fact, they were our first corporate donor, their donation came when we were at the teething stage and we appreciate that support till date. The Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate Lagos, Mama Cash Netherlands and Virginia Gildersleeve International Funds New York provided support to us also within this time frame to simplify and translate the widowhood laws of Anambra and Enugu states and print 20,000 copies and distribute, run media campaigns, print IEC materials, run advocacy visits to traditional and religious leaders rulers in the states and support our free legal aid clinic. During festive periods, we run food distribution programs and provide non-perishable food items for a minimum of 50 widows at each of our food points in Anambra and Enugu states. From 2017, we started providing support to widowers who also suffer some form of a disadvantage as a result of their status.
We supported the existing business of a widower in 2017 and have supported two others regularly to pay the fees of their children. In our cash support scheme during this lockdown, we included widowers in our list of beneficiaries and since 2019, I speak out for them as the society moulded the men to often live in denial and some carry it into being widowers and die in silence. In December 2018, I launched a campaign aimed at redefining widowhood by the widows themselves and the campaign has been launched in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, New York and London with other cities on the list. In April 2019, I published a book which is part of the campaign and the book title is ‘Widowhood Redefined.” The book has gained global recognition and I have been featured three times by BBC to speak on the same book. In April 2020 I started an online book reading program to read the book out to my followers and draw life lessons from it. My first book was published in 2014, Miracle on the Hudson. In April 2020, I started an online mentorship program on Facebook to redefine widowhood by the widows themselves and the feedback I received after just one session spurred me to make it a weekly program. Prior to this, I run a one on one highly confidential coaching program for widows and widowers who can afford to pay for the services and need me to walk the path of early bereavement, grief and into the healing process. This is one of my most fulfilling programs. This job and tasks posed and still pose a lot of challenges. First is inadequate funding to provide for all we would desire to provide for. It is a major challenge when there are widows and widowers to be helped and the funds are limited or out-rightly unavailable. On the positive side, it has also come with rewards and awards. In 2016, my citation was read on the floor of the US Congress in Washington DC based on the recommendation by a congress woman from Michigan. In 2017, I was a guest of the US department of State as a gold star alumna. There are other awards and rewards locally and internationally and space would not permit me to list them all. Above all, the positive impact we have made on these widows is the best reward I can ever ask for. I am determined to drive the process to bring about change in the way widows perceive and treat themselves, when widows have positive mental attitude, it reflects on their entire being. Our husbands died but our skills and potentials did not die! After all, we are only widowed and not withered!