Modupe Ozolua is a brave woman whose fate has decided that she will help humanity courtesy of her NGO, Empower 54, a charity organisation she started in 2003. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, the lady who made her mark in Body Enhancement Reconstruction Surgeries (BEARS) speaks on the RUTF factory which will supply nutrients firsthand to malnourished children in IDPs and beyond and the defining moment of her life.
What have you been up to lately?
My name is Module Ozolua from the popular Ozolua family in Benin, Edo State. My forefather was a warrior in the Benin Kingdom and history has it that he was once an Oba of Benin. So I am a Benin princess. I happen to be the president and founder of Empower 54, a nonprofit humanitarian organization. We offer humanitarian aid across Africa. We are currently working in Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Why Democratic Republic of Congo?
Why not Democratic Republic of Congo, why Nigeria? People ask me why Nigeria, but home is everywhere, wherever you are happy and appreciated.
Are you concentrating in Nigeria and DRCongo presently?
For now, we are planning on going to Liberia very soon. The activities we have going on here in Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo are quite demanding that’s why we have not gone into Liberia yet but we will go into different countries within our reach also.
Which magnitude of humanitarianism is Empower 54 involved in?
We are involved in a very impactful reasonable aspect. For example in Nigeria after we worked with the Bornu state government, the military to saturate the area and make it conducive for living, they had to create a befitting IDP. The IDPs are faced with a lot of issues and one of which we got involved is malnutrition. We were involved in the IDP in Bama, Bornu State were faced with huge problems of malnutrition. To tackle it headlong, we thought of having a subsidized way of supplying nutrients that will help deal with malnutrition in children. We have now established a factory in Nigeria to produce the medication that is given to malnourished children to save their lives which is called “ Ready-To-Use Therapy Food (RUTF) which we are producing and given for free to malnourished children all across Nigeria. Because as we know, the declared national epidemic is that one out of three Nigerian children suffer from malnutrition. So that already is a huge one and with adequate donations and support, we will produce and give for free and other organizations can then buy from us.
The RUTF, is it like peanuts?
It’s like peanut butter, groundnuts, different medication for different infants so it is that kind of food mixed with vitamins and some ingredients. Our sponsor for the program has been the Australian government, which the Australian ambassador has been fantastic. They gave us money to start up the factory and they have successfully identified suppliers of all the ingredients within Nigeria so it’s one hundred percent ingredient sourced locally and hundred percent produced locally in Nigeria which could boost the business of the local farmers that we buy peanuts from, boost the businesses of retailers that we buy milk and sugar from, it is in rapport with the exchange of knowledge because it is a very technical project. Our partner on this is an American organization which produces RUTF and it is one of the suppliers that UNICEF buy from so it’s based on the same global standard with the ingredients and formulation that we use here so even our production staff comes from America to train. It is a transfer of knowledge to our young Nigerians that are in that state and training.
What informed it?
When we did evacuation, we realized that we needed to do more not just evacuating children. The kind of funding that will give you a measure result, we don’t have that. They are been funded by a hundred and ninety some countries and we don’t have that but we knew that we needed to get the RUTF that’s what saves their lives so money to buy was expensive, we didn’t have that so we were like how do we produce? How do we do this and even production is expensive, even though challenge. For instance, November last year, one ‘mudu’ of groundnut was three hundred naira now it’s about four hundred, four fifty so depending if current inflation of things are not consistent, it’s a bit of a challenge but we know that if it’s more cheaper, we are saving at least more than eighty percent of the cost if we were to buy but if we produce locally like what we are doing now, it’s so much cheaper for us at the same time, it’s impacting our country. We have set up a factory in Abuja and production is about to start. They just fixed in new things. There is going to be a launch.
Can you tell me one scenario that got you emotional?
A family brought their daughter, an eight year old with cleft palette that made eating and other biological chores difficult. We were able to operate on her successfully. Two years after, she came to my office and I could not recognize her again! She jumped on me and I was astonished. She said, ‘Aunt I was the girl that came to your office and you turned my life around. You are my angel!’. I started crying. I could not believe the impact I had made in the life of the young girl and her family. (She started shedding tears too)
So God planned you to start the boobs enhancement and this led to Empower 54?
Yes. You people are fascinated about boobs but it is body enhancement and reconstructive surgery. I didn’t know God was setting me up why I started BEARS. I stopped it in 2014, four years ago. I had started BEARS in 2001 while living in America and it was fulfilling helping women to gain their confidence and glow back.
Is this the focus for Empower 54 now or you are involved in other things?
In Nigeria it’s the RUTF production and one of our partners have given us some medications to deliver our humanitarian aid, some vitamins and there are different projects we’ve been doing across different states, for us as an organization, these are the projects that we are focused on. We are open to section of partnerships from different related programs with this approach.
In Congo, we’ve sent containers. We’ve been reducing the flu and given medications for six hundred adults and twenty thousand children. Last year, we actually bought a container worth over three million dollars for IDPs in Bornu state which were vitamin supplements, nutritional meals and other items. We have some special programs we are doing with the funds that we get but of course based on what partners want us to work with them, then we come to the table and cost what we can do and analyze them.
How easy was it getting partners?
The wonderful thing about that is that, in addition to being a Nigerian nonprofit organization, we have also registered it in American as a nonprofit organization and the good thing is that it is under about international projects. What we do is look at your past activities and know if they want to work with you or not, your credibility. So it has not been difficult at all, people are always wowed when they visit our sites and they ask how they can help so it makes this a piece of cake. For example, you may have an organization, lots of food but you are not on the ground but we are on the ground so they give us, we give them out and return to them with reports of what we are working together but when they see your incredible history, they even offer you to come on board.
It seems your company is the first NGO building a factory in Nigeria or are there others?
Yes, this is the first in Nigeria. it’s in Abuja, a very safe location.
How did the NGO start, what inspired it?
It started in 2003 as at the time, it was for BEARS foundation. What led to it was that when I started my private business here in Nigeria in 2001 for the enhancement which pioneered cosmetic surgery in West Africa because we were offering reconstructive surgery to private clients. There was a day a northern couple came into my office, the wife had some fire burns and they wanted to know how much it will cost for the surgery. At first we found it more expensive than the cosmetic surgery because we are putting together damaged body parts so they told me they couldn’t afford it and how they have been to different people for financial assistance but no success and I honestly didn’t understand why nobody could help them. I remember that fateful day, the husband looked at me and said ‘madam, why don’t you help people like us?’ he said, ‘when you speak people, they would listen.’ I looked at him after giving him the bill and left my office. As soon as they left, I picked up my phone and called my head plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and said “ I’m about to start a nonprofit organization and we would be doing free surgery for underprivileged people that are deformed’. To make money in Nigeria, we meet a lot of people, people suffer. They asked ‘when do you want to do this and I said now”, I immediately registered it at that time it was for BEARS Foundation, the body enhancement and body reconstruction project. So we registered the organization and the first program we had was also in 2003 with the free surgery for children with cleft lip. That was how we started. And I never saw that couple again. They didn’t come back. To me, I just saw it as God brought them into my life and kept me on the part that I was to work. Then the name changed years later. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is my patron till date and he advised that we do more than the cosmetics surgery because people need help.
How do you cope with the numerous surgery cases and you not getting adequate help especially when you started?
It was very difficult especially with the role that I played. I was the magnet that holds it all together. I deal with the doctors, the medical practitioners, the patients, the press, government officials, I had to make everything come in synergy and successful and at the same time, I had to look at the cases and ensure they are good cases because when you have for example a medical mission, you are there for a short of time to work so you only have some days to help people. I speak with the doctors, prior to that, I look at all the cases so when people come to the office, we give them particular forms to fill and look at them one by one to select the good ones in terms of their bad cases but would need multiple surgery which is also free. The challenge is if we start the stage one how soon can we help the person to stage two and three?
How many are you in your family?
I am the youngest of four children. I am a Bini Princess by virtue of my fore father, Ozolua who was a warrior in the Benin kingdom. History has it that he was once an Oba of Benin. So I am royalty and it shows in all I do.
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