BY CHUKS NWANNE
Initially, she was introduced to me as a gospel artiste, but from our discussion, there’s more to Ebele Nwuzor than just singing on stage.
“Music is a cut away from what I do,” she says smiling. “I run a Foundation that discourages prostitution. We also have some other sections of the Foundation that is into childcare…basically for the less privileged. But the one closer to my heart, is the prostitution thing.”
For Ebele, the mission is to take prostitutes off the streets and make them useful to themselves and the country in general, through her Sympathy Worldwide Foundation.
“We have a lot of beautiful girls on the street, and we are depending on God to help us pull them out of the street, rehabilitate them and probably give them back to the society; I believe they have a lot to offer,” she says.
But why is the Anambra State native so much interested in sex hawkers, who seem to be having the fun of their lives?
“It was God’s inspiration coupled with my passion to save the girls because I grew up in a home that almost exposed me to prostitution,” she quips.
BELMON, as she’s popularly known, lost her father at the age of two, and the burden of training the six children of the family fell on the mother. “He left a young lady of about 23 to cater for six children; I’m the fifth and the last girl. As a young girl growing up, a lot of people will tell you, ‘oh, you are a fine girl.’ And if you have limited resources to bring out what you believe is inside of you, you will be wooed by men into prostitution.”
Are you saying you’ve been in such situation before?
“Of course I have,” she says. “I’ve been in the middle many times and it was like, ‘where do I go from here?’ And the only option was prostitution. But if you are somebody that places value… if you have value for yourself, that’s the first thing that will discourage you from prostitution.”
According to the History and Humanities graduate from the University of Calabar, a good number of the girls go into prostitution as a result of poor value system.
“Of course they don’t have value for themselves,” she says. “You first of all need to understand that you are a woman. From that point, you ask yourself, ‘whom do I give my body to?’ I’m not saying don’t have a boyfriend — it’s a different thing. But your body should go to somebody you adore, and somebody that adores you in return. From there, anything can spark up,” she notes. “But to stand on the street and say, ‘I’m ready for Charlie; I’m ready for Peter; I’m ready for Paul, I’m ready for James… that’s not placing value on you.”
DESPITE all the challenges, Ebele was able to hold herself throughout the university, to the extent of having a foundation for other ladies, who unfortunately fell out of the way due to hardship.
“One of the hardest foundations to run is the one that deals with commercial sex hawkers because they are addicted to what they do,” she says ruefully. “Pulling someone out of the addiction takes a whole lot of resources; they don’t even believe they could come out of it; even when they do, the other side of life seems to be very boring to them. As I said earlier, with passion and perseverance, we will restore them.”
She continues: “I believe in what I’m doing, and I’m focused. It’s very discouraging especially in a situation where you don’t have people encouraging you. Everywhere we turn to they tell you, ‘oh no, anything from Nigeria, we don’t want to be involved.’ So, you don’t seem to have sponsors; even when you tell people what you do, they will be like, ‘ah, I’m scared, I can’t go into that.’ You need to have a large heart to do this. You must understand in life that everything you do is one step at a time; you can’t change the whole world at the same time, but you can change one person that can change others.”
REGISTERED with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in 2003, the Foundation, which has an office in Lagos, is struggling to provide the girls with a home.
“Most times, because we don’t have shelter to house some of the girls we’ve been able to pull out, they tend to go back. Sometimes when they go back, they don’t go to their former state, they change location and it becomes more challenging. But then, we keep doing it with the hope that one-day, we will have a hostel for them.”
On the Foundations mode of operation, Ebele informs, “We talk to them and try to bring them out.”
Do you go to them?
“Yes, I go to their brothel myself; I do; I try to be their friend.”
How was the experience?
“It’s not fun at all because you come to talk to someone, who has been smoking marijuana (Igbo) or alcohol; and you are going to disturb their peace, ‘who are you?’ If you are not careful, they will break your head,” she says. “But most times, you go as their friend; you don’t even need to tell them anything. Just keep visiting and after sometime, they will be interested in you.”
Sometimes, she’s attacked.
“I’ve been attacked, but it was not too aggressive; at least someone has once told me ‘stop disturbing my peace.’ But I take it to be one of those challenges.
“For instance, I was in Hearts Exclusive Club, FESTAC, Lagos, three weeks ago, and I was able to get two girls; they gave me their names, but you know they always change names,” she discloses. “Through one of them, I was able to get to their brothel, where I discovered a lot of them. So, right now, I’m working on four of them.”
From her personal savings, Ebele intends to put a roof over the four girls.
“I intend to move them gradually without letting each know that the other is moving. There’s a particular one that is more homely; I intend to move her to my house. I’m planning to get an apartment for the rest, but you still need somebody to stay there and oversee them. So, everything goes down to getting a hostel for them.”
Aside getting the girls our of the brothels, the Foundation is also trying to provide something through which they can earn a living and stay away from prostitution.
“I am trying to get a job for one of them. One of them has indicated interest in singing and since I sing, I intend to take her along while another has shown interest in sewing; I’ll send her to a friend, who has a fashion house,” she pledged. “So, it’s when you get closer to them that you discover their talent. We help them to push on without letting people know what they were –– if they dress well, you will never find out what they were.”
Where does the money come from?
“I deny myself dresses and comfort to keep the girls.”
So, you deny yourself sometimes?
“Of course I do,” she says. “For the past few days, I did… there are things you do and after you ask yourself, ‘did I really do this?’ The money I spent in the past two days, if anyone had told me I was going to spend it, I would not have believed it. But I did it because, someday, it’s going to pay off. Pay off in the sense that you will see the tears of fulfillment coming down your cheeks, then you look and say, ‘oh, I’ve finished this work.”
According to the initiator, her decision to set up the foundation has nothing to do with amassing wealth.
“I’m putting my money; it’s all about my money, there’s no other sponsor. As I’m talking to you now, I’ve not received a Kobo from anyone in form of sponsorship,” she said. “It’s not because people are going to appreciate you; well if you are going to have all that, glory be to God. But because you look at some job that is finished; a life that is headed towards destruction and you took part in bringing them back, there’s nothing as rewarding as that.”
Though music was the last thing on Ebele’s mind, today, it has become one of her major tools in the foundation.
“Sometimes, I play free for students, after which I mentor them on how to avoid social vices. I’ve always wondered how people write songs; it’s like a mystery to me,” she muses. “But how I wrote up to eight tracks for my album, Emio, I can’t explain. In fact, I never wanted to associate myself with anything music. Those days, in the university, I used to see people wake up and go to theatre to dance; and I will be wondering why. But later on, I began to write, and I’ve started jumping on the stage too. But it’s all about the passion I have for the foundation.”