Madam, please brief us about the whole thing ?
I am the founder of Winnies Castle Orphanage Home. We are based in Ibadan presently in our temporary site but our permanent site is under construction and we have already spent huge amount of money to make the place provide a conducive environment for our kids because we don’t want a situation whereby we would do something that is not up to standard for these children. We want to build a home for the children not just an orphanage home. This organization is set up for children who are at risk or children whose parents are not capable in one way or the other to take care of their welfare. The organization will be responsible for their feeding, shelter and education.
This project is capital intensive; how are you able to raise funds?
Personal fund, support from family and friends, and we want to do a fund raising event. It has been very challenging. For example, all our children go to private schools, and getting sponsorship from people for them has been very challenging but we believe in God who gave us the vision to do this because it’s not about ourselves but to give succour to those who are in need .
Taking care of one’s children is a very big task, not to talk of taking care of other people’s children; how do you cope?
I will say I have a burden. I learnt this from my late mother who died young, at the age of 53. She was an hospitable person. I grew up in that environment with my mother. That was one of my motivations. And again, during the tsunami crisis, I think in 2004, so many children were made orphans, and in 2005 I came to Nigeria to do my investigation and visited some orphanage homes in Nigeria. I was not comfortable with the orphanage homes I went to because the environments were not okay. So I promised myself that I would do something better if I have the opportunity.
So in 2005 I came to Nigeria, I bought two acres of land in Ibadan, to build a home that will contain 100 children. And on the site we will have vocational training for both primary and secondary level; we will have a sport academy, musical academy; it’s going to be a big project. Already we have spent over N30 million and construction is still going on. At the moment we are operating in our temporary place, it is a bungalow. So if you say it is capital intensive, yes.
How challenging is it?
Its very challenging. I sold my car, gave up my job in the UK, and have done a lot of things, obviously with the help of my ambassador who happens to be my cousin, Rotimi Martins, who you all know as Alariwo of Africa.
Is it that nobody else is supporting the project presently?
Friends and family but not the government.
Alariwo: There is no response from the government and we are not bothered about it, in the sense that we are using our own fund to raise the project. I had been doing this before my cousin’s project, I remembered when we tried to raise fund for Steve Kadiri, somehow I was on the street for two weeks and I was able to raise N2.7million. Fund raising has not been easy, especially in a place like Ibadan. Like she said, all the children are going to private schools. What we are looking for is something interesting, like ‘I have a private school, let’s help these children’. My friends have been very supportive; we are moving things gradually. We spend up to N112,000 on just 8 children every week and you can imagine what we are going to spend if we have 100. Many don’t know this project is one of the reasons why my album is delayed. It is the time that we can give back to the public and I don’t mind if it affects my music because I see it as a worthy cause to give back to the society.
Comparing Lagos to Ibadan, what is the response like ?
Alariwo: With responses from you and some of my friends in the media, we get a lot of interviews and publicity. For example we went for an interview one day and before we came back an unknown person just donated a bag of rice; and some other people will just come and make donations without knowing them. Ibadan is not as broad as Lagos, but you know how people behave; they would rather prefer to do something that people will see, but we are getting there gradually.
There was a 6-month-old baby we saw at Ibadan on the expressway who had been on the spot for like four days; the baby was lying down there helplessly. People were skeptical about it, so we took the baby to a private hospital where we spent up to N200, 000 . like now we are going to Ibadan because a child is sick and in the hospital we need to attend to the bills, we need to pay staffs and some other things.
Apart from financial challenges, what other things do you face the in course of this project.
I think it is the mindset of people concerning charity project, the bible says in the last day people will withdraw from loving . I see Nigerians as given people , but Nigerians believe doing a project like this is because of a motive behind it. I left UK, I left my family and my job, I sacrifice everything I have just because of this project. People believe this project is all for money. We want people to come and visit our set up. People in Ibadan said we are the best in Ibadan. Because when you come there you will see the care, the attention and the love we give to this children. Taking these children from and to public school does not worth it because it is like bringing a child from a ghetto still exposing them to a ghetto life that is what we want to avoid.
Alariwo- like I said people have being supportive, Startime gave us a decoder with a one year subscription, but those that are supportive are people that are very close to us. We are still pleading on people to support. One of our challenges is that people think it is an avenue to extort money from them, am just trying to use the name that the Lord has given me to give back to the society. We have heard so many stories about some orphanage, there was a story I heard of a woman that she uses her children in the orphanage home to beg for money. The children hardly go to school. That we cannot do.
What do you have to say to those who sell baby?
There is hardly a week we don’t see people coming in for adoption, we always reject their offer. We refer them to welfare office that this is not an adoption place. We are here to help people and not to make money from and we are going to keep to it till the end our joy is to see our children grow to become something in life.
The mystery surrounding this project is that people don’t believe what we are doing, they believe it is a fund raising venture because of what some people had done in the past about selling babies
Recently we have to sack three of our staffs because one of them staff jokingly said she would take one of the children and run away because she like the baby. She is the one that takes the children to school; we just have to sack the other two staffs we don’t joke with such thing in our environment.
Alariwo, you as the only ambassador, what are your friends doing to support the project?
If I did not introduce it to Gbenga Adeyinka, Sola Fajemi, Sunny Neji and some of my other friends they would not support. All my friends have being supportive, but I don’t want to impose it on any of my friends, because they know what I am doing, but so far they have being supportive. My friends have their own responsibilities, we are even planning an event on 6th of May, 2012 in Ibadan. It is not a gate fee thing. We are doing this to raise funds. I will talk to all my friends. Spending N112,000 on 8 children every week, what if they are more than that? That means we need to raise more funds. The more I get from the event the better. Because we run generators, we pay staff salary and there are lots of things we need to raise at the orphanage, we need to buy airtime for internet modem and some other stuff. This is why we want people to support this worthy cause.
We went to a woman in Ibadan who sells turkey, she said no problem, that she will make a donation when she is ready, but the way she sees it she is not ready to support us with her product and till tomorrow she has not called. I tried to educate her on why she should donate a carton of turkey even if it is at least once in a month it will go a long way in the lives of these children and at the same time help us to focus on other things.
Even if I don’t get cash from people, if I can get food for these children from the public, it is a good thing. Okay, for instance, one of the children came to my cousin around 10 p.m. after eating dinner with other children around 7p.m. He said, ‘Mummy I am still hungry.’ But he does not know where the money is coming from. I was in London for three months, we had to pay extra 700 pounds for excess luggage because I needed to give them clothes and other things.
You need to go and see how the orphanage looks like. You will be shocked,. We made sure the place we are using does not look like an orphanage. What I do every last Friday of every month, myself and my family go their for visitation,cwe all stay there and children are always happy when they see my children. I don’t underestimate them because no one knows tomorrow .
Where do you want to see the orphanage in the next couple of months?
Alariwo: if a corporate organization gives us N25million, first thing we need to look for is a more comfortable and befitting environment as a temporary site. Then at the permanent site we will make sure we finish the site and make sure we put smiles on the faces of the children. Every thing is about money, once there is money all problems are solved. We also need a bus so that on holidays we can bring them to Lagos to the beach and make sure they are well dressed and people will say ‘this are beautiful children’.
I pretend not to, but the situation is that it is self determination; to do this kind of work you need to have passion for it, so that all the stumbling blocks will not stop you. Alariwo knows me. When I don’t have money, I get agitated and irritated, but we are passionate about what we are doing, that at the end of the day the end result is to make a difference in the lives of those children. The passion you have in what you are doing will keep you going. I used to tell people that it is not how long you spend your life but how well and the legacy you leave behind. And it is really what matters to me. God has really blessed me with a supportive and good husband, and my children. Apart from the challenge of missing my family, the fact that you are really making a big difference in some people is what really matters to me, and that is what gives me energy to always want to do more. People like you, Global News, who are ready to tell our story and what I want the media to help us do is to tell that at Winnies Castle we advocate in full. You know that there are a lot of people out that their situation could warrant them to dump babies in the bush. We want them to come to us and explain the problems to us; we will accept and take care of the child. Like the situation of a prostitute who went to the police and handed over a child to them, saying that she does not know the father of the child and that she cannot cater for the child. The police called us and brought the child to us and we accepted this child gladly. We also have some children in our care that their mother is temporally mad, whenever she is okay she comes to check on her children. We also do temporary care but we are still responsible for their education, shelter, medicals and every other thing. Our advice is that we should stop the dumping of children any how, go to the police or home to keep the child there so that they can be well taken care of. But the most important fact is that ‘The child deserves the right to live’
They stay with us they stay for a period of time. Like the case of the woman who is mentally ill, the care is temporary but we always make them to sign consent for at least two years because we want the child to be stable. Another situation of mummy coming today and mummy is not coming tomorrow; the child may not be stable in that environment. After two years, when they are well settled in school, when the parent comes they will be bold and mature enough to deal with the situation.
In a situation whereby you don’t know their parent or you don’t know anything about them, how do you go about them?
According to the government, there is a legal pattern that must be followed: advert will be made that a child has been found, that the parent of that child should show up, and 90% don’t show up because it is an illegal thing to dispose a child, and because they are likely to face the wrath of law most people will not show up. If the parent of the child does not turn up, the child becomes a government child and the child may be up for adoption.
After adoption do you go for check up on those children?
Before a child can be adopted the government has to do proper investigations