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RITA NTEKIM

How a homeless widow survived with her two kids

For Rita Ntekim and her two teenage children, every day begins with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise. And why not, after the agonizing trials they survived.

Born more than forty years ago in Abakaliki in the south east of Nigeria, Rita lost her father when she was just two, and was brought to Lagos by her widowed mother who struggled to put her three children through public schools.

Rita grew up in a neighborhood that was full of shops and markets and her dream had been to be a “big business woman” This didn’t go well with her strict and reticent mother who wished her daughter to be a doctor or in some other profession “befitting a woman”.

Rita married at 29, an age she considers late. Her spouse was Okon Ntekim – a young pastor from Akwa Ibom in Nigeria’s so-called south – south region.

Unfortunately, the marriage was just in its third year when her husband died.

“He was sick almost throughout the marriage, and his illness was mysterious. No definite diagnosis could be made. He tested negative to everything including HIV. And yet, he was obviously going down”

Many friends and family members advised Rita to seek unorthodox treatment for her ailing husband. But the man was a pastor.

“My husband gave strict instructions that he should not be taken to a native doctor. I complied”

Rita was heavy with a child when her husband finally died.

“My husband died on August 14 2008, and I gave birth to my son on August 22, just one week after. He had a strong faith in God, and I am sure he is resting in the Lord’s bosom”

But for Rita, there was no rest after her husband’s death. Her woes indeed began about a week before his death. Her beauty salon was burgled and practically everything removed. It was at the peak of her husband’s illness and all her funds were applied to medical bills. The salon was the family’s only source of income and it was completely looted.

One week later, Rita’s husband died and in another one week, her baby arrived.

“It was the most difficult period of my life. I didn’t know what to feel.”

It was harrowing for Rita and all around her, but it was particularly bad for the new baby – a boy.

“There was just nothing for the new born baby. No clothes, no diapers. He had to be dressed in his sister’s clothes.  I always used pieces of cloth as napkins for him while at home, and used the sister’s old diapers when going to church. There was nothing like baby food for him so I was forced to do exclusive breast feeding. It was tough in the real sense of the word”

Fourteen days after the baby’s arrival, Rita’s husband was buried in a cemetery in Badagry Lagos. His family members had traveled from the south to join his relatives in Lagos for the funeral. After the burial rites, a family meeting was convened in Rita’s apartment. Rita’s brother – in law, a lawyer who traveled from the village, presided.

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Rita was told to surrender her two children to the family and leave. She was told to find a new man and start a new life. Rita was speechless.

“I told them it was impossible to give up my daughter who was twenty months and my son who was just fourteen days old. They were angered by this and then ordered me to leave the apartment with the children. They added that I must bring back the children to the family after raising them”

Rita moved in with her mother and struggled to nurse her two kids. She had no money to revive her salon after the theft, but happily the thieves had left a small fridge. Rita started selling bottled water and cold soft drinks with the fridge. In a short while she was able to rent a room of her own.

Rita gradually introduced cold beer in the shop and food. In about a year, the shop had become a restaurant. She had saved enough to put the kids in day care, but her routine was still absolutely killing. She picked her kids and returned to the shop where she would bathe, feed and put them to sleep. It was only when she closed at about 10pm that she would wake them up and take them home. It was a grueling schedule, but it guaranteed much needed income.

The years passed and the children grew. And then, disaster happened. Rita came to work one morning to watch a government task force demolish her restaurant. It was a nightmare for her. But she was undaunted.

“I decided the best option was to learn a skill. And so I went round learning what I could, and that was how Amazing Grace Fashion came to life. And whatever skilled I learned my two children also learned, that’s why you see them among my other workers today”

Rita’s husband died fourteen years ago.

“From that time till now, I have run a restaurant business as well as trading. But for the past five years I have been doing this fashion business; making hats, fascinators, clothes, handbags, hand fans and so on.

Today, Rita has two shops. She uses one for training and the other at Iyana-ipaja market where she sells some of the stuff she makes

“So far, I have trained more than thirty – five people in my shop, and I am talking about those that come to me for apprenticeship. Apart from that I have trained more than two hundred people going round churches for their workshops and empowerment programs whenever I am invited and I am still having invitations. Once I was invited to come to my home state for skill acquisition training on beads making. So, in my own little way, I have been making some impact and touching lives”

Rita’s struggle on her children is paying off.

“My children are doing well; the girl is 16 and has finished secondary school. She has written the university entrance examination and is waiting to go into a university. The boy is 14 and will be completing high school next year.”

In vacation time, Rita’s children join her in the business. “Their skills are incredible. They can make anything, from clothes, hat, to beads.

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With her hands full in business and child rearing, Rita has no immediate plans to remarry.

“Seeing my children everyday reminds me of my loving husband, so I am satisfied. My husband was a very sincere man who loved the God that he served till his death. I miss him every day. He was my ordained life partner; I don’t know yet the man God has chosen to take his place and until God shows  me that man , I will wait.

Rita is fully living her dream of being a big business woman.

“I don’t know if I would have achieved it if my husband was alive because I am very sure he wouldn’t have allowed me to stress myself the way I have done. The way he cared about me I don’t think he would have allowed me to struggle so much, but I know God has a way of bringing ones dream to pass”

Rita is fulfilled, but still has her challenges, both at home and at work. With the children in their teen, there are new experiences every day. Guiding and mentoring them is a constant challenge.

“The work I am doing gives me joy. It is very lucrative but is capital intensive. If I have more capital and support, I can take it to another level. And the other challenge is that this work needs you to be there at all times, it is not something you do and walk away and this is not a job you can do with your phone” she said while laughing.

Rita advises all women to be strong and find some work.

“Work with your hands, hard work does not kill anybody. It is only laziness that kills, it breeds poverty and poverty brings shame and death. If you are hardworking, you will be able to feed and defend yourself and your family an everyone will respect you. You must also have a strong faith in God”

Rita’s big regret is that she hardly has time for leisure. She is eagerly looking forward to when her children can stand on their own.

It will then be time for this supermom to take a break!

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