“I place a mask on everyday showing I’m alright but am I?”
Globally, in recent times, the news of depression, increasing burden of mental health disorders and domestic violence has become a recurring decimal. Before any final meltdown in an individual, are there signs? Do they know? Those of us around them, do we “truly” see them? Do we not? If we do not see them for what they “truly” are, why? Are they wearing a “mask” or are we just not looking deep enough – or on the flip side, could it be a combination of both?
Questions, questions and yet more questions! Thankfully, on this motivational platform, we have found some people who are taking action. They are seeking answers. They are not only brave enough to unmask the many “masks” in our societies, but they are also creating interventions to bury these “masks”.
The “Words” Behind the “Mask”- Okwuí Mask Scheme
A lady walked into a party, she looked so beautiful. Her red stiletto shoes said it all; it radiated her societal status and wealth. Her face sparkled from her natural beauty intertwined with the expert output from the magical hands of an expensive makeup artist. As she smiled, I swore I saw pain in her eyes………. I could only see the pain because I looked a little harder.
Everyone walks around wearing a mask and unless you actually dig deep and release the word from within, you are unable to reveal what lies beneath. This is the story of Okwuí Mask Scheme. Okwuí is my mother’s name, Mrs Ann Okwuchukwu Menakaya. “Okwuchukwu” is from Igbo Land in South Eastern Nigeria, West Africa meaning “The word of God”. This charity was birthed because an extraordinary mother taught her daughter that with her voice, she could be the change she wanted to be and make a difference in life.
Orthopaedic Surgery to advocate for domestic violence……….
People often ask me, how I go from working in the Orthopaedic Surgical terrain to advocating in the domestic violence arena and vice-versa. They always wonder if I am a survivor myself. My answer as always is how can I not have made this journey? I don’t need to be a survivor to be an advocate for justice and our shared humanity. I know this because I grew up moulded by a hero. A hero, who as a female legal practitioner in South Eastern Nigeria and the United Kingdom, fought for justice in everything she did. In my eyes, I admired my mother’s strength and courage and hoped to tread that path one day. I was blessed by this mentor who told me that I could be anything I set my heart to. She taught me that with my voice I can change the world and so can anyone else who truly decides to use their voice for humanity.
The Birth of the Journey……..
When I was in medical school at the University of Ibadan, South West Nigeria, in collaboration with a few friends, we started what I would call “unofficial” counselling sessions. These sessions were for friends who for some odd reason stayed on in what one would call “emotionally abusive relationships” instead of claiming the love they truly deserved. I was nicknamed “Mummy Ayo” by my best friend. “Ayo” means joy in Yoruba Land of South Western Nigeria. Following these informal sessions, we started a small trail of women who realised the strength within them. These were refreshing sessions because we all benefited from each other’s experiences in the comfort of our rooms. At some point, this growing network began to reduce and almost fizzled out due to the demands of university education and career plans on each of us.
Vision becomes Reality……
On relocation to the United Kingdom and despite a hectic surgical career, I concentrated on supporting immediate friends who had become exposed to this grievous crime. For about 2 years, I was exposed constantly to friends, colleagues, patients and even strangers who had somewhat survived yet another predator. I never stopped listening and encouraging them to seek lasting solutions to get out of harm’s way.
One day, I was confronted by a colleague who had benefited from my informal one-to-one sessions that started from just chatting about life. Those who know me will tell you that I love to talk (remember how my mother taught me to use my voice for humanity?)
So this friend asked me a question, “Why can’t you help more people like you helped me?”
This was my turning point that sparked a new desire to do more and reach more women. I looked at women already in the programme, these women were not uneducated or unaccomplished, they had the best education, jobs and financial freedom but, still lived in this prison of violence. A majority of them walked around wearing a “mask” to hide their shame and I had to dig deep so many times, to get them to talk about their situations. If these women still continued to be in this prison, what about women who had no one to turn to? I became worried especially since many were ashamed of the societal judgment of their situation. In my eyes, there was no shame, these women only asked to be loved. They didn’t ask for their homes to be soiled by emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual abuse. Violence was destroying their existence. We had to take a stand, so women across the globe could understand that they were not alone.
The Momentum Erupts……….
My family birthed a luxury lifestyle business and agreed to sacrifice 20% of their profits, so I could open more doors and support more women. This meant that I had additional funds for the scheme rather than relying solely on my salary sacrifice every month.
Okwuí Mask Scheme www.okwuimaskscheme.com was then incorporated because we became tired of keeping quiet or hiding behind a “mask” that the 21st-century societies pretend would protect these women. We have no option but to act when we look at the everyday statistics:
- For every 3 victims of domestic abuse, 2 will be FEMALE and 1 MALE
- That is 2.2 million male victims and 4.5 million female victims…..
- Domestic violence kills 2 women a week in the UK……….
- 750,000 children witness domestic violence yearly…….
- Both women and men are AFFECTED……
From the Beginning……..
These facts drove us to do more, even if it was for one person. We started out with educating the populace about the faces of domestic violence because we realised that a lot of people did not even realise that they lived in violence just because there is no physical harm caused.
The “brokenness” of some of the survivors living in these situations led to the birth of “Amour Méritée – Love Deserved”, motivational seminars and workshops geared at rebuilding lives and claiming only the love you truly deserve. These workshops continue to be in high demand till date with old participants clamouring for the next event.
As part of our education scheme, we introduced “Work place Ambassadors” to support women living in the UK at their place of work by building colleague ambassadors who may be able to reach individuals more than family and friends.
In 2016, we launched “Kick start with Okwuí”; motivational starter packs for domestic violence refuges in the UK. These packs as the name suggest means that Okwuí walks alongside the survivor to restart their lives. It tells survivors that they are not alone. Today, over 500 people have benefited from the packs and the demand continues to grow. We have also been fortunate to receive various luxurious donations to help co-fund the packs.
“Foster A Woman Award” was designed for Nigerian grassroots women who have no help despite been displaced from their homes by domestic violence. This empowerment scheme starts businesses for these women. We believe that by empowering these women we can empower the nation.
New organisation or join existing ones……
Many people have asked, why start a new team, why not join one of the existing ones in the UK like victim support etc. I never thought about this – that’s the truth. I was driven by the belief that I needed to make a difference. I knew existing organisations were making great impact but still statistics continue to worsen. When we started, our target was the ethnic minority in diaspora because we knew that cultural beliefs and upbringing, influenced reporting theses cases and we wanted to create a platform where those affected could feel at home and comfortable to seek help. We wanted a cultural consideration in tackling gender-based violence. So, one of our greatest works is exposing unlawful cultures and traditions and making women understand that these are violations of their human rights while bearing in mind their love for their customs and traditions. We also continue to partner with existing organisations in order to reduce their workload in any way possible. The work for eliminating gender-based violence requires entire citizens’ involvement and unless we start making it everyone’s issue, we cannot win this war.
Surgeon and CEO of a charity………
Simple, I just do one chore at a time and I have an amazing volunteer base and team that run the scheme alongside myself because we all have one goal, we want a violence-free world. We believe that in collaboration with citizens we can build a stronger network to eliminate this grave crime. I am indeed indebted to my entire team as we continue this work for humanity because, without them, I cannot go it alone.
So how can you help?
There is so much you can offer as an individual or an association. First, you can stand up and say NO to all forms of violence and preach that mantra every day to those around you. You can also exemplify it in your lifestyle – in your interaction with your loved ones and other members of the society. How we raise our children and the example we set for them also matters. We need to raise them with love and beef their self-esteem, optimising their negotiation skills and imbibing in them the value of non-violence.
You can also decide to join us as a volunteer and offer as little as 3 hours a week or a month depending on your schedule. Furthermore, you can also sponsor an initiative or get your organisation to do so. We believe that every little does help and the baby steps we take today will help conquer all forms of violence tomorrow.
Our 2017 plan:
We have expanded our “Kickstart with Okwuí” network since January 2017, we are now providing packs outside London and have also included male refugees on our distribution list. We have also extended an arm of friendship to more donors in order to fund this scheme.
We continue to run the “Foster A Woman” award and would announce recipients for this year in June 2017. We have had a new coordinator join this team to mentor and monitor the progress of women in Abuja, Nigeria who have received this award.
On 14th of October 2017 during our annual charity ball, we will be launching “He for She Heroes” Award targeted at men who continue to work with women to ensure gender equality and female empowerment. This initiative is intended to encourage more men to become ambassadors of Gender Equality and Gender Based Violence.
On this remarkable day, we would also host our first ever couple communication seminar aimed at getting both males and females involved as a team in the work of ensuring better relationships and reducing the rates of domestic violence.
To you, our dear readers…
You can become the change you want to see happen. It is no longer okay to keep quiet and believe that this violence is not your problem. Everybody on earth is affected by the aftermath of domestic violence in one-way or the other and unless you take a bold step today to put an end to it, you or your loved ones could become a victim sooner than you think.
We have taken a step, you can too.
There is always a role for you because we believe that together we can!!!
Our LR Team members each had one unanimous thing to say during our research of this charity led by Dr Chichi Menakaya since they were first recommended to us by two different ladies last year. It is the fact that they have instituted interventions that are yielding solutions.
Unknown to Chichi Menakaya and her team, one of the beneficiaries of their work with domestic violence victims wrote to us about how much they have inspired her to “live again without her it-is-well-mask and God-is-good-façade.” She wanted us to help tell the world about the Okwuí Mask Scheme and inspire others. Another doctor in the United Kingdom also wrote to us with testimonials of their work she has seen. These people contacted LR Team because they also saw and felt the palpable solutions they were impacting in the lives of many.
Lets us all be motivated to act; to be a part of the solution that helps stem the tide of domestic violence at all levels. Let us all join hands to “unmask these masks” because a lot lies beneath each “mask”. Also, for those of us wearing a “mask”, let us not be ashamed to remove the “mask”. For more enquiries, more information or even help, please contact Okwuí Mask Scheme.
Let us all join hands to make our societies “mask” free.
*Banner image collage done courtesy of images from Pinterest, Wikipedia, Ukpuru.tumblr.com and dorotheum.com*
Many thanks to Erhyo Obodo and Loretta Ogboro-Okor for preparing this article