Upright Wonders is an Akwa Ibom State-born evangelist and founder of the Eastern Star Care Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in Lagos. Now in her early 50s, she tells Eric Dumo how despite the loss of her sight, she has managed to radiate love
You were not born with visual impairment; so at what point in your life did you lose your sight?
I was working with AKTV, a government-owned station in Akwa Ibom, and I was one of the pioneer staff. One day, we went out to cover an event and were coming back to the office when I started feeling something in my left eye. Later I went to see an ophthalmologist who assessed the eye and told me that the damage was severe. Not too long afterwards, my right eye became affected as well. That was the beginning of my predicament. So, from that period, I have been to different places in search of a solution but to no avail. My hope now rests with God.
How did you cope with the new reality shortly after the loss of your sight?
My entire life took a different turn after that incident. I asked so many questions but couldn’t find answers. There was nothing I did not think about in life, including committing suicide. It was a very terrible period in my life.
But when I look back today, I can say I did all of that because I didn’t know God then. Today, I am closer to God and I am happy I did not do any of those nasty things that came to my head as a result of frustration.
Did your friends stand by you after the incident or they deserted you?
A lot of bad things happened around me after I lost my sight. For example, for two years after the problem started, somebody in the place where I used to work collected my salary but never gave it to me.
I lost contact with a lot of my colleagues and friends during that period. Many of them even thought that I was dead as a result of my situation. I was all alone.
Before this incident, what was life like for you especially childhood and growing up?
My parents were very devout Christians; they raised us in the fear of the Lord. I experienced love and care that anybody could have wished for. I had the privilege of attending some of the best schools, including a college of arts and culture. So, as a child and young lady, I experienced love.
At that period of your life, considering the love that you experienced, what dreams did you nurse?
My dream was to be a lawyer but unfortunately that didn’t materialise. I lost my sight the same year I was to proceed to the University of Uyo for studies. I wanted to be a lawyer so that I could have a chance to defend a lot of people.
After losing my sight, I learnt of the school for the blind and enrolled there. While there, my resolve to succeed in life was further strengthened. Today, by the grace of God, I sing and have released two albums. I am also running a non-governmental organisation for the physically challenged and vulnerable persons. The essence is to use it to encourage them and let them know that they can still fulfil their dreams.
You are into soap production and other items, how did you get into the trade?
After leaving the school for the blind, I had to undergo various trainings in soap making and the production of other home products like izal, insecticide and the rest. The knowledge gathered from this training has been very useful in giving me a new life and also helping others around me avoid becoming beggars. I am proud to say I can produce about 23 products.
So, what was the response like from people around when you started producing these items?
The feedback was indeed awesome. As a result of how well I produced these items, some people felt I was not blind, and that I was only pretending. Interestingly, there is no year that I travel to the United States that I don’t go with my products due to the demand for them. My sister lives there, so through her help, a lot of people have fallen in love with my products.
You had issues registering your products with the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, have you been able to resolve that?
We are still on the matter. I have been tossed from one place to another in trying to get registered with NAFDAC. Each time I go to their offices, I would be told to visit another branch, so I have stopped for now. I hope to resolve this soon, anyway.
It is common for people with disabilities to be looked down upon in our society, have you encountered this at all?
A lot of people have tried to talk me out of my business because they feel that a visually impaired person like me should be begging. In some cases, they try to scare me with the competition in the market just to dampen my spirit. But because I had made up my mind to succeed in life, I don’t pay attention to such people.
So, how many people have you trained since going into soap making and others?
Honestly, I cannot count but I can say at least 1000 people have passed through my training over these years.
Many state governments have invited me at various times to train people living with disabilities in this business and I get more of such invites by the day. God has been faithful I must say.
Before I went into the business, I had no doubt that I was going to succeed, so despite the competition, I wasn’t scared at all. Also, despite my visual impairment, I am able to identify each substance needed for the different items that I produce. This amazes people but I know and believe that it is God testifying to His power through me.
How do you source for raw materials considering your visual impairment?
There are markets around where I get the materials from but I am trusting God to get to a level where I can be importing them directly from China.
Do you have employees and how many are they?
At the moment, I have five employees. I hope to employ more as the business expands.
Beyond the business, my NGO is looking to build a sanctuary for people living with disabilities where they can learn all sorts of skills and be useful to themselves and society. The place would be called ‘Hilltop City’. It will be a place where people with disabilities can also go into farming and other economic activities.
At what point did you establish this NGO?
I was working with the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria when I finished from the school of the blind but somewhere along the line, God told me to go out and encourage other people living with disabilities. That was how the Eastern Star Care Foundation was formed on May 1, 2002. We are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
We also have a music school where we train people on how to play musical instruments. We have a lot of people training under us at the moment and it is a huge thing for us.
What are some of the major lessons disability has taught you?
It has taught me a lot. I have learnt how to mingle with the lowly and highly placed. I have seen the different sides of people and learnt how to deal with them.
I have also learnt patience, perseverance and sacrifice as a result of my disability. To be honest, I do not think that I would appreciate His works this much if God had not made me to lose my sight.
There are a number of times when people have tried to pull me down with their words and attitude but because I have learnt a lot of priceless lessons on how to handle such situations, I am able to put them in their place. My condition has taught me how to move closer to God and look up to Him for all my needs.
So, what are your major plans for the next few years?
My utmost desire is to get people with disabilities out of the road. It hurts to see many of them begging. I want them to be gainfully employed and be useful to themselves and the society. I am hopeful that with the place we are building, people in this category will find a lot of comfort and reason to shun begging and do something meaningful with their lives.
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