Learning from the life of a social worker par excellence

A review of Febisola Okonkwo’s book, Roses of My Passion, by Ademola Akinbola.

This book is made up of 16 chapters, with the first focusing on the early life of the author. This chapter delves into her lineage, giving us valuable insights into both paternal and maternal families. It also gives a vivid account of the writer’s birth and upbringing, telling the reader the meaning of the name “Febisola”, which, as explained by the author’s father, was derived from the fact that she born among many siblings and relations.”

In the second chapter, the author takes the reader on an interesting journey into her childhood and early years in school. She relives fond memories of life as a student and a chorister. Her early childhood experience of grief, especially at funerals, were recalled by the writer in this chapter. She also recalls the salient core family values that were imbibed into her, even at that tender age. The chapter also talks about the author’s relationship with her father.

The third chapter focuses on marriage and family life. Just like the two previous chapters, this chapter talks about the personal and family life of the author; how she met her husband, Lawrence, his support for her vision, support from children and siblings, among others. She takes her time to eulogise her departed heroes, explaining significant roles each played in her life. In the fourth chapter, the writer reminds us of the vanity of life, as she shares some of her experience as volunteer at various homes, orphanages, rehabilitation centres, etc. She concludes by stating that “true happiness is neither in physical possessions nor material wealth, but in interactions with loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care and are able to identify with us.” True happiness is also “when we learn how to die that we learn how to live.”

Subsequent chapters focus on her social work.  She leads us into the days of little beginning of Help Initiative and Tabitha Home. The vision, mission and core values of Help Initiative were explicitly explained by the author. The fact that Tabitha Home is dear to the heart of the author has never been in doubt, and she uses the opportunity presented by the book to talk about the vision of the Home which is to “to erase the stigma attached to orphans and vulnerable children, thereby creating a leverage of equality for the children among their peers irrespective of their circumstances and situations.”

The author talks of how the Home has steadily grown from having just three occupants in 2014 to 25 as at today. The author captures her joy and satisfaction in these words: “Today, what I feel about Tabitha Home can be compared to a woman who had been heavily pregnant, subsequently in labour and eventually delivered of a healthy bouncing baby! Tabitha Home is the satisfaction for all my years working for Help Initiative.” According to her, the concept of “love in raw form” is fully in practice at Tabitha.

The impact that Tabitha has created in the society has not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by the various letters of commendation and goodwill messages that the author published in this chapter.

However, another chapter is dedicated to the challenges in social service, as attempts to reform the society, revamp certain norms, values, and turn things round always attract criticism, whether they are fair or not. The author, in this chapter, shares some of her challenges and frustrations with the reader, not with a view to discouraging other social reformers, but as an early warning signal that change, in any form and at any level, is usually greeted with initial resistance.

Some of the challenges the author highlighted are the increasing number of women and children who are in need of support, the societal belief system, ignorance of the work of social services entrepreneurs, civilization, negative perceptions of NGOs, funding, etc. But, the author has not allowed these challenges to kill the vision. She writes: “On several occasions, there were instances of discouraging moments; periods of lack and urgent needs of funds for important and official needs like paying salaries, school fees, feeding, medicals and other running costs for our projects. There have been periods that could have prompted my giving up but the vision led me on. Interestingly, no matter how tough, stressed, challenging and fierce these situations appear, it has never occurred to me to give up”.

There is also a tribute section for  Chief (Mrs) Victoria Oni, who was one of the influential figures in Ile-Oluji and who positively influenced many people’s lives, including that of the author who deservedly devoted this Chapter to acknowledging the leadership and motivational qualities of Mrs. Oni, a renowned educationist who served meritoriously as the Principal of Holy Saviour’s High School, Ile-Oluji, while her husband, Dr Olumide Oni held sway at Gboluji Grammar School, also in Ile-Oluji.

The author appreciates the role Mrs. Oni played in her life and traced her early belief in the ethos of hard work and her conviction that success is for women, as much as it is for men. In the section on Giving, the author opens this chapter with this powerful anonymous quote: “‘Love never reasons, but freely gives like a thoughtless prodigal. Love is giving, yet it fears that it has not given enough”. Indeed, it could only have been selfless love that has motivated and sustained the author in her social services entrepreneurship projects. Although giving is usually associated with physical donation of cash or material items, the author observes that giving is much more than that.

According to her, “Quality giving is much more than what can be seen with the eyes. It is embedded in qualities like commitment, responsibility, desires, considerations, and many more. Giving does not have to involve your wallet but it is a conscious effort to put in your time and energy and get involved in things for a worthy and noble cause”. She advocates for selfless giving and goes ahead to list renowned personalities such as Mama Ekundayo, Bill and Melinda Gates, Mother Theresa, Andrew Foster, Mary Slessor, etc. who gave their all. She refers to them as “angels of mercy, men and women, dead and alive who lived for humanity.”

In Success Stories, the reader is given an insight into the inner workings of the mind of the author, in terms of her personal philosophy, value system, and world view. While success is narrowly defined by many as attainment of material wealth or a status in life, she sees success as “the ability to add value and make worthwhile positive difference in other people’s lives.”

However, the author strongly believes that every child, no matter his background, situation, circumstance and status, deserves a home and all other forms of child protection support. This is the crux of her campaign and the fulcrum of Help Initiative’s activities culminating in the Tabitha Home project.  The author also discusses parenting, emotional intelligence,

teamwork, health and safety, the myth and reality of child adoption and the place of compassion and empathy in social service.

The book, Roses of My Passion, is a well written book; a commendable effort by Mrs. Febisola Okonkwo to give the reader an insight into her background, and the factors or influences that define her personality today as a celebrated social services entrepreneurship. The book is recommended for both the young and the old, irrespective of educational background. It is a book that teaches various aspects of care giving.