After her husband, Prince Kunle Somoye Tejuoso passed on over a decade ago, a delightful mother of three, Bunmi Tejuosho, co-founded a non-profit charity organisation, ‘Tree of Life’. She has since dedicated her life to helping widows survive. She speaks to ROTIMI IGE about her journey and why she is passionate about widows.
Not many women survive the troubles life throws at them, but you became a widow at a young age, and you not only weathered that storm but seemed to do it rather well. Where did you find the strength?
Prior to my husband’s death and even from childhood, I believe God had been preparing me for the life He would have me live till I draw my last breath. The Bible says ‘He rules in the affairs of men.’
I was a young bride and an even younger widow, as widowhood is associated with old women.
Oftentimes, to the outside world, things appear rosy and nice but whilst I can’t say all is as it should be, I can confidently say we are a work in progress and God is faithful. I don’t have it all figured out, but I believe that’s a miracle in itself. My faith in God and unshakable belief in His son Jesus Christ is my stability.
Society is not very accommodating of widows, what were the major challenges you faced in the beginning?
I will say for me and for most widows I know, the reality sets in as soon as the funeral rites are done with. People stop coming and long-time relationships become strained. Personally, and for most widows I know, my husband didn’t just die, a lot of relationships died with him.
The reality of the abandonment can be quite intense, it’s where one needs to be very strong. Guard your heart somewhat, it’s emotionally tasking, It’s a terrible place to be and I don’t wish it on an enemy.
Much prayer is needed to navigate this bend.
What is the most difficult part of raising children as a widow?
For me, the most difficult part is seeing my children relate closely with their friends and seeing firsthand how these fathers are involved in their daughters’ lives. It always made me emotional. I never fail to notice though I think my children handle it better than I. Particularly because my late husband was a loving father.
Raising three children in any currency in today’s world is not a walk in the park even for a financially healthy and stable couple, so how much more for any single parent?
Asides weathering the period, you managed to build a foundation, ‘Tree of Life’, to help other widows, why?
I started ‘Tree of Life’ foundation to make sure other women don’t walk through pain alone. It was to first provide the support I lacked at the time for others. Over time we built a structure, not just for emotional support but professional help and do referrals to service providers. I strongly believe it’s best to have someone explain the intricacies of the grief journey and possible emotional upheaval you will encounter along. It helps to cope better.
Grief is a terrible terrain to navigate alone, and support is crucial to a widow’s survival. I know there are a few foundations which claim to help widows with good intentions, but I don’t know how effective they are.
There are tons of science-backed studies that prove a very high mortality rate for widows. Some as close as three months after the death of a spouse. So, support at every stage is very crucial. The initial stage is more emotional, but beyond emotion, I always tell a new widow that talking about money with the freshness of demise is key. Businesses must be tidied up. Whilst the widow is still totally broken and confused at the outset, people are making financial decisions that can affect her life and those of her children for life, so beyond the tears, it’s important to ‘shine your eyes’ as we say.
Then you will receive so many emotional promises from family and friends of how supportive they will be of the new widow. Whilst most mean well, I will always whisper that it’s best to take the N100,000 of today than a N1million promissory note that will be worth nothing as soon as they depart. So put it this way…we act as the common sense for the widow when she is not emotionally strong to make decisions.
As one who has dedicated time and effort to the plight of widows for almost a decade now, what would you say is the biggest challenge these women face in a country like Nigeria?
I think first of, as a nation, a lot of our laws on widowhood are outdated, talking about laws enacted in conscience era so long ago.
We must work at reviewing and updating our laws in favour of widows and review the laws will help protect our widows. We are already working with the relevant bodies on some of these.
As a not for profit organisation, how do you source funding for the foundation’s activities?
A lot of our activities are self-funded by my partner and me plus a few other well-meaning people who prefer to work anonymously. We are, however, working with a few state governments to bring attention to the plight of widows in various states.
The Tejuoso name is a known and respected one all over the country. Has that helped or contributed in any positive way to your vision to empower widows in Nigeria?
A name is as good as the bearer preserves it. Whilst I’m extremely proud of my late husband’s name, I understand that I must work hard to add value still and preserve it for my children and generations unborn. To answer your question, no, I don’t think it has affected the foundation in any way. I could very well be a Mrs Jones, it’s the good that you do for others that may never know how much you helped them at the critical period that really matters.
Tell us of some of the more touching stories you’ve come across since you started working with widows?
The stories are plentiful, but they are very personal pain as well. While I’m not at liberty to divulge information about anyone except myself, I will say the stories are the same in Yorubaland as well as in Igboland. The northerners, because of Islamic religion actually treat their widows better. Widows are mostly protected in the north than any other part of Nigeria.
Looking back, would you say you are fulfilled?
To say one is fulfilled at such a young age is agreeing that I have reached the pinnacle of all there is to do. There is still so much more to do help young widows.
In my personal life, by God’s grace, I look forward to becoming a grandmother whilst I continue strongly in the work of the ministry and my work in the natural.
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