Chikezie Ijeoma Stella, an author, a beauty queen, a philanthropist is many things rolled into one. This young lady who is positively touching the lives of many youngsters through her Foundation is our woman of substance for this week
Her natural beauty combined with her intelligence won her the crown as the United Nations World Habitat Queen. That was while she was still at the university. That feat opened a whole lot of opportunities to her and even helped to quicken the realization of her dream of being of help to the society.
Ijeoma graduated as a medical lab scientist from the Imo state University, Uturu. She had always wanted to do something for the society especially in the area of environmental and personal hygiene. “When I heard of the Miss Habitat, I became interested because it is something that has to do with protecting the natural environment. Perhaps if it had been Miss something else, I would not have been interested, but this is my passion and luckily I won.”
The beauty pageant created a platform for Ijeoma to actualize her dream of helping the society on a larger scale. “Before the Miss UN World Habitat, I was involved in some form of NGO which I called Help Keep Clean Foundation, though on a very small scale. But by the time I was crowned Queen as Miss Habitat, I knew that was an opportunity for me to take the foundation to a higher level.
“As Miss United Nations World Habitat, I was supposed to have a pet project which I was to carry out during my reign. So quickly I decided to make my Help Keep Clean Foundation my pet project. I am very passionate about cleanliness because a clean nation, is a healthy nation.
“One thing I discovered was that every office I entered and introduced myself as a beauty queen, people listened to me. But I was also conscious of the fact that my tenure as Queen will end one day, what becomes of the project when my reign ends?
“What I did was to register it as a non-governmental organization with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to secure it. The Foundation is now two years old.”
Through the foundation, Ijeoma said she has been doing amazing things in her community. So far, the foundation has a list of projects which are focused on transforming the lives and health of women, children as well as orphans in the society.
One of such projects is WASH. “WASH is our headline project, it is the hand washing sensitization awareness campaign, it is supported by UNICEF. We go around primary schools creating awareness on the importance of hand washing with water and soap. We teach the children as well as their teachers the right way to wash hands.”
To get the children to buy into the hand washing practice, Ijeoma devised a creative way by using colourful and attractive illustrations.
“I wrote this book, Tom and His Hand Washing Friends,” she said displaying the book for us to see. “It shows how germs invade the body through the mouth especially when we put dirty hands in the mouth. We used children as the characters because we want children to learn how to wash hands from their friends. We distribute them free to schools.
“We also donate hand washing materials like buckets, baskets and soaps to schools. Each class gets these hand washing package which the class prefect is placed in charge. At the end of every month we go back to check if they are still carrying out the practice.”
The feedback according to her is tremendously positive. “Parents especially thank us because when the children get home, they try to teach their parents hand washing practice, a sign that they are learning fast.
“For us, WASH is a key project because it is helping to eradicate the spread of germs. Available statistics from UNICEF shows that 124 children under the age of five die in Nigeria from preventable diseases caused by poor hygiene. Diseases like Typhoid, dysentery and cholera are easily preventable if only people can adopt simple hygiene.”
The second Key project under Help Keep Clean Foundation according to Ijeoma is ‘School kits for school kids’ which some others call, ‘The back to school project’. It is an educational empowerment project for the less privileged children, especially orphans. The Foundation provides them with school bags, shoes and writing materials. “It’s our own way of increasing school enrolment as well as enthusiasm for education,” she stated while informing that her Foundation also has another project, ‘The community service project’. “We go into the communities to talk to and encourage children who had suddenly stopped going to school due to financial challenges, to return to school. In most cases, we adopt some of them and send them back to school.”
Outside the school projects, the Help Keep Clean Foundation also works in partnership with the Ministry of Health under the Abuja Environmental Board to clean up the streets of Abuja.
“They supply us with brooms, rakes and convertibles to pack dirt and we go into areas where people have indiscriminately dumped refuse and clear them up. We also give the inhabitants talks on how to keep their environment clean as well as how to properly dispose of their refuse.”
Apart from these work with schools and communities, the Foundation also organizes annual conferences on the environment. The 2018 edition which will hold in October, will focus on environmental disasters and hazards.
“For this year’s conference we are expecting the Minister of Health, as well as that of Education, the director general of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and officials of the ministry of the environment to be in attendance.”
Queen Ijeoma, whose parents are Pastors, has this word of advice for her fellow youths, “Look for that inner passion, I believe God has deposited something unique in everyone’s life, that thing that distinguishes you from others. Use it and become great. Don’t wait for government or the society to provide for you because right now the society needs you more.”
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