By Gift Samuel, The Sight News
Abuja-Growing from grass to grace is one thing and giving back to those in similar situation you used to be is another thing. It is said that one should never forget their roots and that is exactly what the Founder of the Israel Ibeleme Foundation has been doing for the past 11 years-remembering the less privileged and the widows in his immediate Community.
Mr Isreal Ibeleme, who spoke to The Sight News in an interview, narrated his ordeal on the streets of Port Harcourt but emphasized that it has brought him to where he is today and so he decided to give back to the society through the Israel Ibeleme Foundation.
See Excerpts from the Interview below
May We Meet You
My name is Israel Chibueze Ibeleme; I am from Isiala-Oboro in Ikwuano Local Government area of Abia State.
How did you come about Israel Ibeleme Foundation?
Well the foundation has to do with my life story, it all started 11 years ago when I was living on the streets of Port Harcourt and at that time there was no opportunity for me, I was driven out of the house so I found myself on the street of Rumuomoi opposite the transformer. There was a young man that sold electrical parts that always gave me carton to sleep whenever he closed from his shop. In my life, there was no opportunity for me to eat good food. I lived on N20 food per day and I used to eat rice N10, beans N5 and I use the extra N5 as pocket money and there was no time I was hungry that I was able to find what to eat at that time. Eating was only when I got that stipend.
I usually took my bath by around 12:30 AM or 1:00 AM because I slept close to the road so I had to wait for vehicles to reduce before bathing. I wore one clothe for six months, life was miserable, people didn’t want me around them and there was no opportunity for me. Though I had a home I could go back to but I made up my mind that I wasn’t going home and in this whole process, I joined photography and started street photography and I was making around N20, sometimes N40 per day and then photography was N30, that was the way I lived my life
There was a time in my life that I was asking God that I am not looking for mattress, pillow, clothe or wrapper to lie down, but just a roof to feel safe and secured but there was no opportunity like that so I had to struggle. The first wardrobe I had to keep my clothe in was inside a transformer along Rumuomoi road and I kept it there because I know no body will enter there and steal and my first box was that N20 polythene bag but I didn’t have anything inside it.
People called me a mad man, demon and all, coming from afar they already knew I was the one because of the one shirt I had. Sachet water was like bottled water to me because I couldn’t afford it and I always trekked to anywhere I was going to until God used somebody one day to change my life story. And after my story changed, I always reflect about what my life used to be and what I have gone through and I know that there is someone somewhere who is currently going through what I have gone through. I made a vow to God that if ever he removes me from that abject poverty, that I will do anything possible to help those who are in need so that is why I initiated Israel Ibeleme Foundation.
Why didn’t you go back home?
Because I believed that I could make it. I didn’t tell my family what I was going through but when it was over I told them. It was a difficult moment in my life, I was known as Eze the photographer. I didn’t give up because God revealed what I was going to be in future to me in a revelation and I knew that going back to the village, I will likely not return back to Port Harcourt.
What date exactly did you kick off?
It started by 2006, I started with my hands and idea but not with money and I wasn’t paid for the service because it was selfless. When it all started, I never dreamed that it will become a foundation. I have passion to do things for people so I was washing the clothes of the elderly women in Port Harcourt, from there I started cooking for them and they always blessed and prayed for me and after one year and some months, God blessed me and changed my story and I realized that I am coming from somewhere so I decided to go back to help those in similar situation with the little I have. With time it started growing bigger and it’s now getting much bigger than me and that is where we are today.
Now it is a foundation, what is your main Focus?
My main focus is to eliminate poverty. In 2013, 750 Widows were empowered in Ikwuano Local Government area and some of them were given sewing machine, cassava grinding machine and those whose businesses weren’t going very well were given N50, 000 each and also food items were given to them. I did the same thing in 2014 but it was more of food items. In 2016 we did a programme in IDP camp and I discovered that there were people who are hopeless in IDP camps. Also we visited charity organizations and motherless babies’ homes. 2017 we focused on education from November and we reached out to above 900 students in Gosa Junior Secondary School along the Airport road and gave them school bags, writing materials and text books and we gave out scholarship to six students.
How do you get funded?
For the past 11 years no organization has funded me but I have nice people around me, encouraging me but I have not met any organization for funding. Well, anytime I get my salary I divide it into two and if people give me money I divide it in two and use the money for the project at the end of the year. I don’t live any reckless lifestyle so I rather save the money because there are more important things to do with it. That is the legacy I want to keep. That was how I was able to save. I have a student in Final Year in a Nigerian university who has been funded by the foundation from first year.
Do you have plans to meet Organizations for funding?
Yes I have plans to do that now because the thing is getting bigger and it is almost bigger than me and I can’t really fund it again. It is bigger than me honestly and it is something that I cannot fund alone.
Do you have people working with you?
Yes, I have people working with me.
You said you learnt photography and someone picked you up and brought you where you are today, what did you do differently that made the person pick you?
Nothing, I was just hardworking and I like to work with passion, I don’t pretend, not looking for praise, I work for people like I was working for myself and I put all my energy in that job.
Presently, there are Nigerians that faced similar thing; some have gotten money and forgotten their roots but some have not been able to make it, what is your message to such people?
Let me start from those who have made it, I don’t want to be a seasonal rich man who has a big car but buys little fuel, that is a poor man. Giving is in the mind, remembering where you are coming from is in the mind and you cannot force people to give. There are some people who have everything they need but they can’t give out because they don’t have it in the spirit to give.
I started giving when I was very small at age 7, for those who have made it, they have to go back and remember people because the only way to sustain what God gives to you is by giving, so you have to give. For those of them struggling, I was once like you. It is a time when people will forsake you, I suffered a lot but in all I didn’t give up on God. God is watching you and will remember you one day.
I will try as much as possible to help to alleviate poverty not just in Nigeria, my state, not just my state but my local government and even all over the world. We have to do that, everybody has to contribute. I don’t have much money to give because am not a rich man but I have been giving.
How do you intend to celebrate this festive period?
On the 27th of December 2017, I have made up my mind to go back home to appreciate Pastors that prayed for me and my boss, celebrate the less privileged and widows. I am expecting over 500 widows, less privileged almost 100 plus and I am going to give 100 widows wrapper, 100 Pastors T-Shirt and other packages and food items for the less privileged and the widows, they will go home with it for Christmas and new year from my heart.