Last Friday, CIS of Atlanta’s CEO Frank Brown had the privilege of meeting with Ms. Gozie Udemezue, an alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The IVLP, run by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, brings nearly 5,000 exchange participants to the U.S. every year with the goal of strengthening ties between the U.S. and other countries and generating relationships between foreign leaders and their American equivalents. Ms. Udemezue was selected as one of six IVLP alumni to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program’s Gold Stars’ Tour: Alumni Connecting the World.
Ms. Udemezue, lawyer, human rights activist, and soup cook, is an inspiration to say the least. As the founder of Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation (HHWSF), she helps widows who are neglected, shunned by society, and stripped of basic human rights after their husbands pass away. She also cooks and sells Igbo soups. “The widows help to cook and the children serve,” Ms. Udemezue says. Since she was a mere eight years old, Ms. Udemezue has been caring for widows and has never understood the harsh way they are treated in their culture. She established her foundation in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2013 when she lost her own husband that she experienced the true pain and suffering of widowhood. Ms. Udemezue now dedicates her life to HHWSF, which provides free medical aid, free legal aid and spiritual counseling to widows. However, she still faces many challenges. “The biggest challenge we have is [lack of] resources,” she says. “We need a shelter.” Widows and their children often are forced to vacate their homes. In addition, Ms. Udemezue wishes to purchase project vehicles to transport them to and from outreach centers, train widows who have gone through the program to be paralegals who are capable of helping other widows, and find an effective way to help the children, who often have to drop out of school to provide for their widowed mothers.
Throughout their discussion, Frank Brown and Ms. Udemezue were able to brainstorm an abundance of ideas and inspire each other through their steadfast dedication and passion for their work. “Impact, revenue, and strategic partnerships” are the key to creating a self-sustaining organization, says Frank Brown. He asked Ms. Udemezue to consider what she wants her organization to look like in five or even 25 years, when she’s unable to run it “because all of her work means nothing if it’s not around in the next five years.” The two discussed how they were capable in their individual roles because they identified with the people they are fighting for. Just as Ms. Udemezue has struggled with widowhood, Brown suffered with his own battles growing up, allowing him relate to the children he spends his life helping. He reassured Ms. Udemezue that because she had experienced the tragedy of losing one’s spouse, her determination and connection to the widows who go through her program is beautifully strong and resilient.
“I think in America we take things for granted,” Frank said in awe of Ms. Udemezue’s commitment to her work. “For you to come in and tell me you made something out of nothing, I can look at my team and say there is no excuse.”
At the end of the meeting Ms. Udemezue said, “This was my last appointment on this trip, and it was like saving the best for last. I am proud to say it was the most impactful. It didn’t just address the work I do, it provided an opening for me to share some personal challenges and Frank’s words of encouragement provided the spring board I needed to take off, again.”
CIS of Atlanta is truly moved by and eager to witness the impact Ms. Udemezue has in her own community, and we’re more than thrilled to help make an impact on a global scale.
Ms. Gozie Udemezue sent good news from Nigeria. In less than a year after visiting our offices, she was able to implement CIS initiatives in Nigeria. Now a young boy has food to eat and is attending school. The future looks bright! Read more of the story under 'What People Say'.