The loss of a spouse can be a devastating experience, particularly for women. This is because widows often face numerous challenges, including financial insecurity, social isolation, lack of support, and emotional distress. In many cultures, they are subjected to discrimination.
Mrs. Oyovwe Kigho recognises the unique challenges faced by widows in her community and decided to take action by creating a foundation that provides practical assistance, emotional support, and community engagement opportunities to help widows rebuild their lives.
In today’s Cover Story, she shares her amazing journey with our readers.
Mrs Oyovwe Kigho was born in Delta State over four decades ago. She grew up in a middle-class polygamous home. Her mother was a businesswoman, while her dad was a professional photographer. Oyovwe grew up in a Catholic family and was taught to be kind and compassionate to others.
in Nigeria, if a woman loses her husband, many people would come around to support her, but that’s not how it is in the United Kingdom
“I started lending a helping hand to others when I was 10 years old. Back then, after we might have closed from church, we would visit the elderly people in our community. We would fetch water, firewood, or do other chores for them, and that experience really helped me to build my empathy at a very tender age.”
According to the American human rights activist Malcolm X, education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. Consequently, Oyovwe says, her parents valued education greatly.
She started her primary education at Agbassa Primary School before proceeding to Ogbe Primary School, both in Warri, Delta State.
She describes herself as a very intelligent pupil, noting that, after completing her common entrance examination, she got admitted to the Our Lady’s High School, also in Warri, Delta State.
“I still remember the first day I walked into high school. I was filled with excitement and anticipation. Initially, I didn’t know anyone at the school, but in no time, I made new friends who shared the same interests and sense of humour. I had two best friends, and we used to do everything together.
“There was an incident that happened back then. A guy wrote a love letter to one of my girlfriends. After we read the letter, we tore it up and returned it to him. The guy reported the incident to my dad, and he even mentioned that he once took us to a restaurant. When my dad heard that I was hanging out with friends without his consent, he became furious and disciplined me. On that day, I vowed that I would never do anything that would hurt my parents again.”
Most widows in Africa grapple with poverty, inheritance disputes, etc. But in UK, widows are not always poor, but lonely and socially isolated
Growing up, Mrs. Kigho says, she dreamt of becoming a medical doctor. However, she obtained her first degree in Chemistry from Delta State University. After completing her NYSC in the year 2000, she worked in Nigeria for two years before relocating to the United Kingdom. Over there, she obtained her Master’s degree in Environmental Protection at Salford University and another degree in Health and Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University, still in the United Kingdom.
The Widows Empowerment Trust
Oyovwe, who lives in the UK, says she discovered that most widows around her were isolated and lonely. According to her, this contrasts with what obtains in Nigeria. She notes that in Nigeria, if a woman loses her husband, you would find many people coming around to support her, but that’s not how it is in the United Kingdom. After carrying out intensive research, Oyovwe decided to create an initiative that supports widows in the UK and beyond.
“When I started, I created leaflets and shared them from door to door to invite people to attend my workshop. Most of them didn’t show up because they didn’t believe in my vision. I spoke to one of my ward councillors, and she told me that many people have come up with great ideas but, at the end of the day, they failed to accomplish them. Some of my friends even tried to discourage me by saying that I should take my initiative to Nigeria because there are no widows in the UK. I didn’t listen to all that but kept pushing on.
“In the beginning, it was very challenging to get the trust of the people. So, I opted to share my ideas in schools. I was delivering excellent motivational speeches, and when people saw my passion and hard work, they began to get involved with my fundraising concept in key stores in the UK. Gradually, a few people started attending my well-being workshops, and that was how the Widows Empowerment Trust was founded in the United Kingdom.
“Most widows in Africa go through issues like poverty, inheritance disputes, domestic violence, etc. But the case is different in the United Kingdom. Their widows are not always poor, but lonely and socially isolated. So, we provide emotional, moral, and social support to them.
“We start by befriending them. As an organisation, we always send out words of encouragement, and sometimes, we take them to spas and other places. The goal is to make them feel loved and happy.”
In 2021, I built a two-bedroom apartment for a poor widow resident in Lagos
After the Widows Empowerment Trust became well known in the United Kingdom, Oyovwe decided to expand her reach to widows in Nigeria and Kenya. The foundation was registered in Nigeria to empower widows through skills acquisition, the provision of grants, and business capital.
“Since we started operating in Africa, we have donated food items to over 2,000 widows in Nigeria, and over 50 women have received capital to start a business of their choice. Also, in Kenya, we have supported over 500 widows with cash and food item donations.”
The initial challenge Oyovwe experienced was the issue of funding. In the beginning, some of her fundraising proposals were rejected. In life, no one achieves their highest goals without taking risks from time to time. In 2019, Oyovwe took the risk of skydiving just to raise funds for her organisation. This proves how passionate she is about helping others. Thankfully, she is now a highly celebrated figure, both in the UK and beyond.
If you are passionate about something, you will give it your best shot. Oyovwe says that although running the foundation is time-consuming and challenging, she has never felt like backing out.
“Why should I give up when I find fulfillment in what I do? Sometimes, I deny myself some luxury just to raise money for a charity project. The positive feedback I get from our beneficiaries fuels my desire to keep up the good work. I can’t express how much I cherish their prayers and good wishes.
“In 2021, my manager in Nigeria saw a widow who was living in a flooded and dilapidated house in Lagos. When he sent me a video of the place, I was very shocked. After interviewing her, I decided to build a two-bedroom apartment for her.
“On the day she received the key to her new house, she couldn’t believe that it was real. While she was shedding tears of joy, deep inside my heart, I was also very happy for being a tool of blessing.”
On your journey to the top, you will experience setbacks and failures, but don’t give up on your dreams
Awards and recognition
Mrs. Oyovwe Kigho is a remarkable individual who has received numerous awards and recognition for her exceptional contributions to the society. In 2019, she received the UK Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award and The Most Compassionate Person Award.
In 2020, she received the ITV Good Morning Britain Award (Special Recognition for Combating Loneliness). In 2021, she received the ‘British Citizen Award for Health’ honour (BCAh) from the British People’s Honours and Recognition Across Great Britain for Tackling Loneliness and Isolation. She was also honoured with a Bench Monument in Manchester for doing exceptional work. In 2022, she was spotlighted by a popular biscuit brand in the UK called Belvita.
Oyovwe says she is blessed with a family that supports her vision and mission. Her husband and children are also part of the WET, and, together, they’re touching the lives of people positively.
“Juggling the responsibilities of being a mom and a career woman can be challenging sometimes, but I’m grateful for the family I have. They assist me greatly. My daughters work as volunteers for the organisation. I also have wonderful employees who are contributing their best to keep the organisation running.
“When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my family. We have different family bonding activities that we do together, such as swimming, hanging out, watching movies, etc. Sometimes, we travel on holidays just to relax and catch some fun.”
Word of advice
After a long conversation with Oyovwe, I asked for a word of advice for women, and she said:
“On your journey to the top, you will experience setbacks and failures, but don’t ever give up on your dreams. The unbeatable recipe for success is hard work, determination, creativity, and perseverance.
Also, don’t assume that people will support your vision, especially when it is still very unclear. So whenever they tell you “no,” don’t be discouraged; instead, consider it an opportunity for something new.”