Saturday, April 2, 2016 3:42 pm
Airtel, one of Nigeria’s leading telecommunication companies, takes humanitarian service to another level with the second season of its CSR programme, Airtel Touching Lives
By FUNSHO AROGUNDADE
David Anyaele was a moderately young successful businessman who was into exportation in the 1990s. He had a thriving export promotion across various central and southern African countries. But his decision to venture into nearby West African states, especially Sierra Leone was a great mistake which turned his life into a painful one. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group in Sierra Leone, amputated Anyaele hands in January 1999 during one of his business trip to Freetown.
The RUF rampage on non-Serra Leone indigenes, especially Nigerians had been because of ECOMOG occupation, a peace keeping Nigeria Military group. After the refusal of ECOMOG to leave RUF territory and for the Nigerian Government to take them seriously, they began capturing Nigerians and amputating them. Any Nigerian who resisted amputation was shot to death. Anyaele unfortunately walked into that trap.
When he finally found his way home, Anyaele had battled with the practicalities of having no hands, the loss of self-esteem and financial stability. He battled psychological trauma resulting from confusion amongst family members, stigmatization, marginalization and discrimination from the society because of his disability. He later set up the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities to help people in a similar situation to himself, working tirelessly to help others. He is married with three children aged 10, 7 and 3. They live in a rented apartment and are struggling to survive.
Stanley Okereke was dismissed from his work as a driver some years ago when he discovered his hands were shaking. Okereke, a driver with Verite, a contractor with an oil firm, noticed that his hand was shaking whenever he wanted to insert and turn on the ignition. He was later dismissed because of his condition after two years in active service and only received three months’ salary for the entire period. Lack of funds caused an inconsistency in taking his prescribed drugs and his condition worsened rapidly. His illness developed into stroke and he is now partially paralyzed and unable to do anything for himself, due to his poor health. And his life has not remained the same ever since.
The family finds it difficult to afford food and Okereke’s wife does all the chores for him from bathing to feeding and cleaning of his excrement, so she is unable to work. Favour, his seven- year old daughter has been withdrawn from school because of the growing outstanding fees. An eviction notice has already been served by his property owner, which took effect from December 2015.
Gbenga Adesida was denied the joy of parental love as a child because he was blind from birth and his parents abandoned him. In his physical disability, he found strength and ability by playing the piano.
He struggled against all odds to qualify as a music teacher. His piano was stolen from him nine years ago by someone who offered to help him carry it in the street and he descended into depression.
Adesida’s life improved when he met a woman who he married and had two children with (7 and 9 years old). But the father of his wife forced her to leave him because of his blindness and the children were sent to an orphanage. He is heartbroken that his children are also being denied the love of their parents as he was. He last met the kids about two years ago and does not have the means to look after them.
Adesida, 47, is a gentle natured man that is constantly abused by people that offer help and end up stealing his food and other goods he manages to gather from friends. He now lives with a friend that is struggling to support him and can no longer afford to do so.
These are just three of the personalities and their heart-touching stories featured in the second season of Airtel Touching Lives, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) intervention of the company focused on empowering, uplifting and creating opportunities for under-privileged people, community and groups in the Nigerian society. The programme, which captures stories of how the plight and despair of people are turned to optimism, are recorded and produced for national television with a view to promoting the spirit of giving, self-sacrifice and love among Nigerians.
“To be a great person, you must be a good person. By extrapolation, to be a great organisation, an organisation must first be a good one. And that’s what is driving our passion for and commitment to touching the lives of less privileged Nigerian,” said Segun Ogunsanya, Airtel Nigeria’s Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, of the company’s innovative social investment initiative eponymously called Touching Lives.
According to Ogunsanya, ‘Airtel Touching Lives’ captures the essence of the telco’s Corporate Social Responsibility philosophy, which derives essentially from the spirit of GIVING, a salient part of the DNA of Airtel people.
He noted that Airtel is very much committed to earning its social license which is the love and acceptance of the various communities and people they serve.
“If we all support just one programme in our immediate communities, it will make a huge difference in making our country a better place for all,” Ogunsanya added.
He called on Nigerians, including corporate organisations, government and NGOs, to join efforts in humanitarian causes to support the less privileged.
The maiden episode of the new season, which commenced weeks ago revealed how Airtel supported a mathematician/software writer, Essien Obong who became blind after an armed robbery attack. The telecom company provided him with a customized laptop, bespoke braille machine and other computer software to support him.
In another episode, it was revealed how Airtel provided support to some less privileged kids in the city of Ibadan, Oyo State. Also from same episode, viewers saw how Adesida, who was blind from birth, was empowered by Airtel to tackle the situation and other challenges he might be faced with.
Anyaele, who now runs Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, an NGO, also received donations from Airtel. His social support activism was aided with the donations of laptops, printers, furniture, photocopiers and other office equipment to enable Anyaele do his work of mercy and faith.
Speaking during the recent launch of the second season in Abuja, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the Vice President, urged other Nigerians to emulate Airtel in reaching out to the downtrodden, hard to reach, internally displaced persons and other Nigerians in need of help.
“Support for those suffering and underprivileged should not be left in the hands of Airtel alone. It is the responsibility of us all. I was particularly touched by the Season 1 story of the Chime family whose children suffered various forms of physical disabilities. It shows that more attention and concern need to be shown to the less privileged people who are part of the society. We are told that the colour of love is red. But the red of the heart needs to stop the river of red, the river of blood that flows in this land,” she said.
While explaining the inspiration behind the very touching programme, Emeka Oparah, Vice President, Corporate Communication & CSR, Airtel Nigeria, said the ‘Touching Lives’ series demonstrate that Airtel as a company cares for the people and not the numbers alone.
“Touching Lives is one of the philanthropic gestures of Airtel Nigeria designed to connect and alleviate the suffering of helpless people across the country. This initiative underscores our determination to enrich lives and contribute to humanity” Oparah told TheNEWS. .
He noted that the essence of the programme is for Airtel to serve as a bacon of light in the caring for the less privileged by highlighting these cases, invest some funds and so encourage other companies so that they can lend a helping hand to these class of people.
“Our Touching Lives stemmed out of the DNA of the Airtel staff, who give in cash and kind to worthy causes. It was the act of this gesture that motivated the business to do more even though we were doing CSR before,” Oparah emphasised.
He added that since Airtel Touching Lives hit the airwaves, the CSR desks receive between 30 and 40 calls for assistance every day. As at today, close to 60,000 people are said to be on the Airtel Touching Lives waiting list looking for one help or the other. This perhaps informed the company’s position to always encourage other well-meaning organisations to pick interest in such admirable gesture.
In the debut season, Airtel touched the lives of 24 families who were plagued with varying forms of afflictions ranging from health challenges to financial woes. The beneficiaries of the Airtel Touching Lives initiative are carefully selected from a pool of nominations by members of the public. Airtel, thereafter, offers support/empowerment to identified beneficiaries after relevant due diligence and verification exercises.
After provision of succour, Airtel followed it up a year after to see how the beneficiaries are coping. There is the case of a seven-year old girl who suffers from Cerebral Palsy and couldn’t sit, talk or do anything by herself. The grandmother and mother carry and do everything for her until Airtel intervened in her case in Touching Lives 1 Episode 7.
In the current season 2, her case was revisited to check on the appropriateness and efficacy of the intervention so far. Her caregivers and parents progress report so far suggest hope is being restored that the girl will get over the challenge.
The Season 2 is a 13-epidose programme, which features 24 emotion-evoking stories every Sunday. It is anchored by popular On-Air-Personality, Wana Udobang.