We were introduced by a mutual friend and big Sister, Modupe Ehirim. I didn’t know what to expect but by the time her response to my email came, I realised that like most of the Sistas I have today, we may not have the same exact story, but we were children of the same Father and we all just want to make a difference in the world that we live in.
What have I personally learnt from Gozie Gozito as I call her? The resilience to continue pushing regardless of what the world says is impossible. The grace to be able to laugh at oneself even in the most embarrassing situations but more importantly, the audacity with which she keeps going not afraid of failure.
Join me today in celebrating an Amazon, one for whom the devil thought the music had stopped only for her to push and remix the song to suit herself without recourse to anyone. Celebrate with me a woman who understands selflessness beyond anyone else I know, and an activist for the good of others who is not afraid to ask others to help her birth destiny. Chigozie Udemezue is our God’s Leading Lady…not perfect but willing and available to be used. I am confident her story will be a blessing to you. Enjoy!
My names are Chigozie Christiana Udemezue, my friends and family call me Gozie or Goz. I am an Attorney with interest in Human Rights Law. I am currently rounding up a Master of Laws programme with the University of London on Human Rights Law. I practice law and run a nonprofit organization; Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation based in Enugu. It is also a registered charity in the state of Illinois. In January of 2015, I set up a soup kitchen; Nwachinemelu Igbotic Whole Foods and God has been kind, apart from the regular soup kitchen we delved into event catering and it has been a success story.
I also run leadership training programs for in and out of school children, teenagers and youth. I am an alumni of the US department of State International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) and I have used experiences from that programme to mentor and work with young people. I am a fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative of West Africa (ALIWA) under the Aspen Global Leadership Institute. These experiences have translated into making impact in the lives of several young people. I have a team of young people who volunteer at my programmes and are ever ready to learn and improve. I don’t want to call myself a writer yet since I have only written one book yet; “Miracle on the Hudson”, so I also am an aspiring writer.
I am from a family of six. My dear father is Chief Samuel Okagbue Ikwuemesi who lost his wife in 1979 and has been mother and father to us all, through these years. Now I realize what he went through raising us being a single parent as a result of widowhood. I have two brothers, and three sisters, I am the youngest of the children of my father.
I am from Nkwelle village, Ogidi and my late husband was from Uruekwo village, Enugu Ukwu both in Anambra State. I attended Girls Secondary School Ogidi and spent two and half years at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN) studying political science before I transferred to ESUT to study law. I was called to the Nigerian bar in the year 2001.
I was married to late Chief Emeka Udemezue of Uruekwo and the marriage produced three children. My husband was a successful businessman, a very kind, considerate, forthright and humane person. He was the wind beneath my wings and never tried to stifle my progress, he supported me to become that which the Lord designed me to be. He was part and parcel of my life and that of the children. Sadly he was killed by a drunk driver in Abuja and that has left me alone with three children, I was pregnant with our youngest child when this tragedy occurred. My first child Chisom, a girl is a third year Electronics Engineering student of UNN, my son, Chukwuemeka who is the second child is in class two in high school here in Enugu, he is the school’s head boy, I am so proud of that, and my youngest child, Chimamaka born fourteen years after my son and is in pre-nursery and two year old.
I was never comfortable with being just a wife and mother, or just someone’s daughter or sibling. I always yearned to make impact. As a teenager I didn’t know what the term purpose meant but I always knew I was not meant to just live and die. So the things I do today with widows and their children were pre destined from my childhood. Even if I had ended up as an engineer or teacher, I would still have reached out to the less privileged. My purpose is found in the book of Isaiah 61:1. Whenever I begin to lose focus or get discouraged, I receive strength and direction from Isaiah 61:1.
My marriage was part of my purpose; God blessed me with a secure man who allowed me to run the race set before me. I made several trips locally and internationally and he always supported me. He was my very first benefactor on the widows’ project. Some of my decisions he questioned but once convinced he supported all the way. If I had made a mistake in marriage, my ministry would have been negatively affected.
So I dare say, my life and path had been chosen from the foundation of the earth. Which means nothing changed despite what I have had to face, what I can say has happened however, experiencing widowhood at such an age in a manner most unexpected, is that my eyes have been opened even more to what widows and their children go through and that has strengthened my resolve to even do more than I was doing before it all happened to me.
In the face of the pain and adversity when I could have given up, I received strength to carry on for myself, the children and others who might never have a voice.
To ensure that I deliver on my mandate, I am working on building my capacity to do more. I started studying for a Master of laws in Human Rights Law so I get better equipped to deal with the several violations of the rights of widows and their children and even the violations in the society that I witness daily. I am about undergoing a professional training on Alternative Dispute Resolution with the Chartered Institute of Mediation and Conciliation in September to equip myself more in handling cases through Alternative Dispute Resolution to ensure that widows get their rights and have access to justice faster and cheaper. So I am still on same path and I trust God to lead me daily.
DNA, DESTINY, PURPOSE. When I hear these three words, what comes to my mind is who I am, who I am made to be, what I am here for. I know I am designed for a purpose and I do not struggle with being me, I often meet people especially women who wish they were other people, each person is designed and constructed and ‘wired’ by God and given the grace to carry out their task.
I have never wished to be anyone else, and I do not mentor young people to be like me, rather I mentor them to be Christ-like, and to bring out that which is inside of them to make them more effective.
I do not believe in the concept of self-made men and women. No man or woman is self-made. While we were still in our mothers’ wombs, God designed us for what we are to be and do on earth. He releases the grace and ability for us to function.
God’s breath is the help and the oxygen we need to become who we were designed to become. Without that, we will struggle and die without achieving our purpose. The Scripture said that the “Lord formed a man from the dust of the ground ad breathed into His nostril…” (Genesis 2:7) I marvel when people think they can live without God, He formed you, He knows how to fix you when you are faulty, so why not just stay in Him and live out your purpose
The question on how I cope with the many things I do and I am involved in is one I often ask myself question, I have asked it even more since my husband died two years ago, I took up the sole responsibility of playing the role of a father, and then I play my role as mother, I am a student and run the organization and other businesses as well. That is why I always tell people; when God breathes on you and breathes into you, you can function and run without being weary. And even when you are weary, He renews your strength like that of an eagle. When I wake up every morning I ask the Lord for wisdom and for direction and grace for the day, on my own I will never be able to do what I do.
I am an early riser so my peculiar work day begins quite early. I am an early morning riser, I often pray at 3.00 am; return to sleep briefly and wake up by 5.00 am to prepare the day’s soup orders for my clients or, write (I am currently writing my second book), study either my text books or my Bible, or read books. When I am unable to study my Bible in the morning, I do so just before I sleep at night. But on a good day, after my study, I go out to work out and I do between three and six kilometres of combination of walk and jog Mondays to Saturdays. After this, I return home to prepare my daughter for school, and also prepare myself for the office. In some cases, I drop off my daughter at school before I work out, and after the work out I return home.
My day could be to be in court, or work at the foundation’s office or work with my team in the soup kitchen. I pick up my daughter from school and because I have no nanny taking care of her, that’s another job for me. There are days I attend fellowship, there are also other engagements that I keep but my weekends are busier. I work hard and when it is time to rest, I shut down and do so. I try to maintain a balance.
Widowhood, what do I even say and where do I start? It is a whole new kind of journey and life. But I often tell myself that God knew I could handle it and He allowed it. But honestly, it is challenging. A widow needs God’s breath more than any other person. A widow suddenly finds herself all by herself with huge responsibilities. Some cope well, some are not able to cope at all.
Why didn’t I just curl up and die? Maybe I could have, but I remember that moment I was told he had died, I remember the Lord spoke to me right inside my bathtub as I showered that early morning, He said “Mind how you mourn, how you mourn will either draw people to me or chase people away from me”. At first it was mind boggling that God was only interested in how I mourned, but yes that was all it seemed He was concerned about and now I can see why and I glorify Him always.
My work. I am a fan of meaningful work, so I will discuss my work with widows as I am most proud of this work. I run a non-profit and we provide services and support to widows, some widows are endangered species and need to be supported and shielded. I oversee the day to day running of the organization. Our programs include free legal services, provision of interest free loans, provision of scholarship to support widows in training their children, free medical outreaches. We are blessed with a team of dedicated volunteers who work round the clock with me. I am at my best when am at work on widows related issues. On Facebook too, we have created awareness on the plight of widows and my ever dependable Facebook friends rally round to provide support when I post on a widow in need. Did I chose this? I did but at some point nine years ago, I walked away but the Lord brought me back and there is no going back.
Just about anyone can be a genius as long as they discover their area of calling. When people dabble into other people’s areas they are never at their best. In the work I do, I must be creative, I cannot handle all the widows’ issues alike. With creativity I am able to achieve results through different avenues. However, it is my soup kitchen that I exercise my greatest creativity, I decided to cook and sell soups using our grandmother’s recipes. I have had people question why I use certain ingredients rather than modern spices, why not? I ask. So daily I try to modify and be more creative. Between January and now, I have been so creative with the soup business and the way I present it got friends curious. Most of the people I supply food to have never met me. Majority order from Facebook, I have a few clients in US, New Zealand, London, and Australia who place orders and make payments while we prepare and deliver to their folks in Nigeria. In May we made our first delivery to Kano, if not for God we would not have been able to be creative enough to send the soup without it going bad while in transit.
Yes, I honestly believe that all creative genius comes from God but I am also not naïve to expect that everyone will use their genius well. The reason for this is simple; because the Lord gives us freewill to choose, some of us use our gifts and talents to hurt others. To be honest with you, those who engage in armed robbery and even internet scammers are genius in their chosen field. Do you know what it takes to strategize to do what they do? But when God comes into their lives, they use their talents better. So all creativity is from God but we choose how we will deploy that which we have been given.
If I had the opportunity to do my life over, one thing I would do differently would be to accept Christ earlier than I did, I am confident that Christ makes all the difference in the life of a believer. This has informed my push to ensure that my children encounter Him for themselves early enough. My life is pretty simple and straight forward in you ask me. The principles I live by are; Contentment; I will don’t need to be like the next person or have what they have to be satisfied and fulfilled. Integrity; beyond what I say to people, I want my acts to count and speak the loudest and Honesty; I want to be able to say at the end of my life that I lived and my nay was nay and my yes was yes.
In ten years, if Jesus tarries, Gozie would have built the foundation to reach out to more widows in other parts of Africa. It is my prayer and hope that in ten years I will be a happy grandmother and working at a global level towards poverty alleviation. Hopefully, in 10 years I will be known for the drive to make life better for those to whom I have been assigned.
My counsel for other women who may find themselves in a similar Number one is to be yourself and do not struggle to be someone else. Hold unto God. Cut down on friends and walk away from negative people who drain your energy. Ask the Lord daily for wisdom and grace. Be firm with your children and raise them to be testimonies of God’s goodness. Then take good care of yourself and do not live to draw sympathy from people. Widowhood isn’t a curse; you can support others who are not as privileged as you are. Live within your means; if you cannot afford an Asoebi (Festive Uniforms) then do not buy it. Spend on necessities and not to please anyone.
Finally, I am grateful to God for sustaining me since my husband’s death. I do not know what I would have done without God.