“Do your little bit of good where you are;

It’s those little bit of good put together that overwhelm the world”

-Desmond Tutu

As the car pulled to a stop by the side of a narrow and bending street, Lionhead was out of his own car in no time and signaled that we should all disembark as we were about to continue the visit on foot to the point where we will join a canoe to our destination. Although I was struggling with quite a number of anxieties and I was succeeding in masking them up to this point. And all my effort to at least get my friend to be a friend and play down my fears were met with a cold and unhelpful: “you’ll survive it” response several times before now.

So I did a quick take of our surrounding and observed that Lionhead and our hosts: Emmanuel and Benjamin (who doubled as our guides) were headed in the direction of an alley not wide enough to take two people without their shoulders bumping each other’s; and which from where I sat in the car appeared both narrow and slightly muddy. Of course it had rained earlier in the morning. And I grew one more worry.

While (the ever so calm and smiling) Simisola and Rachael quickly alighted from the back of the car, I tarried a bit longer as I motioned from the car for Lionhead to come closer, then asked him if I should change my white pair of sneakers to another pair of a darker shade.

He regarded me with that critical stare that carried a million and one unflattering questions of its own. I could tell he was judging me and trying to suppress what would surely have been an unpleasant response.

“Answer now!” I prodded him with a tone of impatience.

“Why?” He fired back, calmly.

“I don’t want my sneakers to get stained or muddied by the dirty ground”

“It doesn’t matter.” He said and made to walk away.

I held him back by the hand, “of course it does…”

“Really?” he shot back at me.

“ Yes now!”

“Kiki, it’s inconsequential. That should be the least of your worries”. He whispered gently as he turned and walked away to join Emmanuel and the others as they waited for me to alight from the car.

At that point, I was a tiny bit angry. How dare he with his big nose say my concern was “INCONSEQUENTIAL”? I mumbled under my breath as I fumed.

That mini episode would turn out to foreshadow my entire experience on that special day as I came to learn later that we truly worry about INCONSEQUENTIAL things, when there are much more important things to life. And even more, we take “CHOICE” for granted, when being able (or in a position) to choose in the first place, is itself a luxury not accorded so many others.

It was the day I launched my foundation: Stitches of Hope.

Kiki Okewale at the launch of Stitches of Hope Foundation with the Makoko Dream students

It was a most fulfilling experience for me. I had hoped to touch some children’s lives with #StitchesofHope, but I was the one that ended up being touched in more ways than one. I realized that while attempting to help stitch some people’s circumstances, I needed and was getting some stitching myself. In fact, I realized we all need some stitching, whatever our situation or position in life.

Several weeks before while contemplating how to launch #StitchesofHope in a most impactful way, Lionhead had suggested I make and give out school uniforms to some less-privileged; his justification was that it was “back-to-school” season, and some parents struggle to get their kids all the children’s need for school during this time.

I loved the idea and bought into it totally. The challenge then was how do we identify who and who needs our little token the most. So we put the word out on Facebook for people to suggest where to go. And we got lucky: another friend recommended Makoko and what a certain Emmanuel Agunze was doing in the waterside community with the #Makokodream project.

So we made contact; ascertained the needs and it was decided. And after some preparation, we chose a date to visit and donate our widow’s mite consisting of 40 school uniforms for both boys and girls of the Makoko Dream School, in addition to some textbooks and notebooks.

Chief of my anxieties was the canoe ride, but sometimes, when duty calls, the destination becomes a greater motivation than whatever deterrent the journey to get there might represent. I was able to overcome my fears by keeping my focus on the objective of #StitchesofHope while ‘forming’ strong woman with a smiling face to mask the million and one poundings of my heart. Of course I was saying a million and one prayers at the same time.

 

Kiki on the canoe and for once, sitting rather well-behaved

My trepidations regarding the canoe ride was made more easily surmountable when, at what passed for their “port”, I saw children, boys and girls, who were barely in their teens working as canoe-peddlers, standing firm on their feet even as the canoes rocked to the restless rhythm of the mass of water beneath, while masterfully navigating their ‘ferries’ into and out of the small berth-area where a thousand canoes seemed to struggle to access use at the same time.

I saw fearlessness and I bought into it. After all: if the little ones can ride on the canoes, Kiki can! And I was glad and grateful I did. I was moved and inspired by so many of my experience and encounter on that day. And I am a better person than I was before that occasion.

Following are some of the telling life lessons and inspirations from Mak-town in no particular order.

  1. There’s More To Life Than What You and I Know Or Can See

Most of us go through life with “tunnel visions”. We restrict the whole of existence to what we can see, or that we know and thereby limiting what we believe is “real”.

The visit to the challenged waterside community opened my eyes to some new realities I was hitherto oblivious to, and now I appreciate people, their circumstances, and their perspectives much more than I did before.

A typical way of life in Makoko

I mean, I witnessed people practically living on water! Stepping out of their doors everyday is literally stepping into a body of water that is a part of the Lagos lagoon. Thinking of how much this is “restrictive” and challenging alone makes me tremble in appreciation of their fortitude to survive.

So I implore you to once in a while step out of your comfort zones and explore those different worlds that are unfamiliar to you. It might just help make the world a better place for all of mankind.

  1. Imbibe Empathy

This follows from the point made above. By exploring the world beyond what we know, we will have a better and greater understanding of other people and why they are the way they are as we make new discoveries on a human level.

This new discoveries will foster deeper connections borne out of deeper understanding. And we become better humans and more humane. It might just inspire in you an idea to make a contribution or intervention that will bring a positive change to others or to mankind in general.

  1. Joy Is Wherever You Are

Wait a minute: why do you wear a frown? You think you are having it bad? Oh, life is too tough? Things are not working out for you? Do yourself and the world a favor and find some joy in your situation. Look on the positive side of life and you will find reasons to be cheerful. I know that things are bad, but see… they could be worse.

But if you are finding it hard to do this, look to the beautiful children of Makoko and learn some deep life lessons. Their amazing spirits made our mission a lot easier and much more pleasant. We did not arrive to meet people wearing long faces and looking sullen just because their circumstances were dire.

 

Students of the Makoko Dream School

The children reinforced my earlier belief that happiness is a choice. Regardless of our situations, we can make things better for ourselves and the people around us just by displaying the spirit of happiness. Their joyful hearts were the biggest pleasure of the day and they made me feel the beauty of their souls. And all my earlier worries and fears disappeared, as I felt fulfilled in that instant.

If they can smile, sing, and dance through their pains and problems… and their watery circumstances, then there is Joy wherever you are!

But you alone can find it for you. I cannot help you as I am busy counting my blessings. (More on this lesson in #10)

  1. We Worry Too Much About Trivialities… Inconsequential Things

When it rains a little and the streets are flooded, we rave and rant, while some people cannot even tell the difference.

God please forgive us.

Imagine me worrying about getting my sneakers dirty only to discover that most of the children I was visiting don’t even have a pair of slippers talk less of school sandals or sneakers.

Aaah. That put me in my place and now I know better

  1. Choice Is A Privilege, Therefore A Luxury

Closely related to the above is that for the first time, I had a deeper understanding of the simple matter of the many choices we are able to make everyday.

However small it is, every time we are in a position to “choose”: from what food to eat to what drink we take; from what dress to wear to the color of the dress; from the brand of car we buy to the television station we watch… we are better off than several others.

Being in that position is a privilege and the choices we make are little luxuries we enjoy in life. Not everyone is that fortunate.

Just so you know.

  1. You Are NOT Always Architects Of Your Circumstances

It is said that we are the architects of our circumstances; this is not true for everyone and definitely not in all cases. For example, children couldn’t have been responsible for where and in what circumstances they find themselves.

Children of Mak-town

So most children like those of Makoko, are victims, not architects, of their circumstances. That is the situation they found themselves in, and there is little or nothing they can do about it as long as they are kids.

Even most unfortunately, is that those same hostile circumstances limit their access to education and other opportunities. Hence, they are trapped in a vicious self-perpetuating cycle of lack, illiteracy, child labor, teenage pregnancies and all hopeless conditions that keep them victims for life.

Really, some of us are just lucky by birth!

And seeing those helpless children who cannot even easily “walk” to school broke my heart. I just pray God help put the flames of hope in their hearts so they can work towards a better tomorrow.

  1. Dream Where You Are; You Can Make A Difference Now

A lot of us wait for things to get better for us before we can make a contribution to society. This is a wrong approach to helping humanity, as there is oftentimes futility in delay. What we should follow are the wise words of the great Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are; It’s those little bit of good put together that overwhelm the world”.

Really, those little bit mean a lot more than we think.

 

Mr. Daniel, Emmanuel Agunze and Kiki Okewale

An inspiring example is Emmanuel Agunze: a graduate of the Covenant University and that alone has given him a passport to escape his community. But here is a man who has returned to effect a positive change through the Makoko Dream project with the overwhelming goal of getting the children of the community educated, thereby, reducing the negative incidence of illiteracy and child labor.

His noble mission is diligently supported by Mr. Daniel, Benjamin and other volunteers who have committed to “doing something” however little for their community.

Besides Emmanuel, his colleagues are not the best educated or privileged, but they are dreaming where they are… on their straw beds with thatched roof instead of waiting for more comfortable mattresses in air-conditioned rooms. And they are committed to making a difference.

They are doing something. And they are doing it NOW!

DO SOMETHING TOO! And DO IT NOW!

  1. Change What You Can. Do Your Best And Leave The Rest

My initial intention was to do a lot more than we did for the Makoko children. But other commitments ate away at my resources and I found myself pushing forward the occasion until we finally decided to start with the little we can as long as we are able to get textbooks and stationeries along with the few uniforms we can make.

Up until we reached the kids, I was apprehensive that what I was able to do would be too little for the children. But I was pleasantly surprised at the huge impact the little intervention made on the kids. Especially to the few amongst them that wore the uniforms to ascertain fit.

So I learnt that often we hold thinking little of what we have to offer, but sometimes that little means so much to those at the other end. Therefore, we should always do what we can and leave the rest in the hands of God.

It really was a positive encouragement for me: if my little token could generate that much joy and excitement, #StitchesofHope is definitely going back to do MORE! Soonest we can.

N.B:

Plans are underway to host the Makoko children to a special Christmas experience this December.

  1. We All Need Stitching

Life is far from perfect for everyone, but the visit to Makoko made me realize that being better off is not about material things or wealth or position. Being better off is a state of mind.

How much peace and joy we have in our lives is a function of our mental and emotional well-being. And to find the peace and joy we all desire, we all need some stitching… financially, emotionally, mentally etc.

I had a lot of stitching done for me just by interacting with those beautiful kids who thought me a lot and inspired a lot in me.

Kiki with Makoko dream students

And my prayer is that almighty God will help each one with the best stitching we need to live with peace, joy and fulfillment in our lives.

  1. Life’s Best Lessons Are Not Taught In The Classroom

An aunt once told of a well-to-do lady whose teenage kids were in secondary schools abroad. At every long summer holidays, she would have them come home to Nigeria and work as volunteers at one of the Motherless Babies Homes in Lagos.

When confronted that her actions were unkind on the children, especially at a time their mates were flying around the world on some fun vacations, the lady explained that she wanted them to learn more about life.

She reasoned that only by experiencing “that different world” she was subjecting them to would they be able to grow up into better people. She wanted them to learn to appreciate life that little bit more and appreciate the little mercies they enjoy: wealthy parents, comfortable homes, choice education, fancy clothes, latest gadgets etc. She wanted them to not take life or anything for granted.

That woman for me is a hero. And I implore more of us to do same because by going into “a different world”, I have learnt lessons that surpassed whatever I could have read in any book or learnt in any classroom as I have since developed a greater level of understanding of mankind and the conditions that shape who and what we are.

I have realized that giving back is neither charity, nor doing anyone a favor; we are only performing our duty to mankind.

I have come to appreciate that sometimes the tiniest smile is a victory over impossible pain.

I have come to believe that we humans are, and can be bigger than our circumstances either by birth or environment.

And the biggest of those lessons I learnt on October 18, 2017 is to make ‘gratitude a lifestyle’.

Yes, I have learnt (again) to be more thankful for the smallest mercies I enjoy and so should you.

Look inside and around you. Look more closely and you will find a million reasons to be thankful and joyful… your parents, your siblings, your family, the friends you have, the school you attend, the education you have, the spouse beside you, the business opportunity you desire, the dream in your heart.

Even if only for the fact that you are alive, and well, and able to hope…

And the most interesting part was that my teachers were a bunch of happy children and their peculiar environment.

Very soon… I will be happily going back to class because the more we know of and understand the world around us, the better we are able to make it for each and everyone of us.

And I look forward to having some of you join me.

Thank you. Stay blessed and stay happy.

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