Tonye Cole’s Uncommon Birthday Celebration with the Needy

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Cole (middle, smiling) cutting his birthday cake with the blind

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Tonye Cole, founder, Sahara Oil Limited, celebrates his birthday with children of Bethesda Home and slum-to-school, at Agege, Lagos, in order to call attention to needy in society

By Fidelia Salami  |  Feb. 16, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IT was an uncommon way of celebrating a birthday. With his kind of personality and stance in the society, Tonye Cole, founder of Sahara Oil and member, board of trustees of Volunteer Corps, could jolly well take his guests to any five-star hotel or a choice relaxation centre, and treat them to both sumptuous continental and local cuisines with assorted drinks supplied in abundance. But Cole, on January 3, took his guests to Bethesda Home for the Blind and the physically challenged. He has done this for the past six years.

Cole’s guests came in droves, resplendent in their gorgeous dresses to the Bethesda Home at Agege Motor Road, Mushin, Lagos. The presence enlivened the usually quiet and serene environment where children who are physically challenged set the celebration alight with their performances such as songs, cultural dances and drama. Some of them, neatly dressed in their white and black uniforms, matched round the Home. It was, no doubt, a beauty to behold.

Ohakwe, founder, Bethesda Home for the Blind
Ohakwe, founder, Bethesda Home for the Blind

Cole decided to celebrate his birthday with the children in Bethesda and some children from slum-to-school to encourage them because their parents could not afford to pay their school fees. His interest in the children was because he wanted to give them hope of a better future just as Otto Orondaam set up the Slum-to-School Africa Foundation, which provides scholarship for children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school.

“I have been supporting these children for a couple of years. I think that God blesses many of us so that we can bless others. The more you get in life, the more you should give. And when you are in a place you can impact lives, you have to make sure that you do so,” Cole said, adding that one of his motor is that every single day he must impact a life. “So, if I am impacting some lives today, I am happy about it….  Everybody has challenges, and I think our challenges either make or break us. The challenges I went through made me. In some cases they would have broken me, but they made me. I am grateful to God for it. Whether that has a part to play in what I do today, I do not know. But I always feel a desire that if I can help and make things better by touching lives, I am happy.”

One of Cole’s friend Akin Fatunke, manager, public and government affairs, Mobil Oil Nigeria plc, described the celebrant as a man of many parts. “I thought I should come and celebrate with him on the occasion of his birthday by honouring the blind. This home is an excellent place, cool and serene environment. It is a superb atmosphere and neatly adorned. And I see some of the inmates here. I think it is something we should continue to support in this country. Mobil have always supported the Pachaelli School for the blind and in due time we will also support this home,” he said.

Akin Fatunke
Fatunke

Similarly, Clare Omatseye, managing director, JNC International, said she came to support Cole for being a very good friend and on a fantastic course. She said it was quite heart-warming to know that someone of Cole’s stature in the society would spend the past six birthdays with special needs people.

“For me, this is a fantastic course. I can see the special needs people happy who are in good spirit. So, whatever the founder is doing is a very good job. We in the society can only do our best to support this worthy course.” Omatseye said.

Supporting this view, Bassey Oden, a chartered accountant and first lady board manager, Nigerian Ports Authority, said that God always used needy people in the lowest cadre to improve humanity.  “We need to talk to these inmates and make them feel happy. Even if you do not have money, you can come and counsel them. Give them your time. We are what we are by the grace of God. God has blessed us, let us also be a blessing to other people,” she said.

The occasion also provided some of the inmates to share their success stories. Awiri Emmanuel Onyeabuchi, a partially sighted inmate, who has been in the Home for two years, said:

the home has been of great assistance to him. “I am presently at the University of Lagos, studying Mass Communication. At Unilag, while my co-students write with their pens, if I need to write for the lecturers, like my tests and exams, I use my typewriter or my laptop.”

Clare Omatseye
Omatseye

Like Onyeabuchi, Obinna Aneke, from Enugu State, who was a driver before he became blind after an eye operation in a hospital at Otuko Ozara to remove glaucoma and cataract said he learnt a lot of craft work here. “A teacher comes here to teach us how to make flower vase. I am a drummer too. Madam Chioma is really helping us. The food is okay and we wash our personal clothes. Moabioyeney is my challenge,” he said.

Toyosi Banjo, field manager, Slum-to-School Africa, Hope for Every Child, explained to Realnews how they get some of the children at the home, saying the organisation usually goes into several slums, like Makoko, Aiyetoro, Epe, and other slums to get vulnerable children and orphans in order to educate them.

Also, Chioma Ohakwe, founder, said the idea to set up the Home arose from the fact that she and Bernard, her husband, had siblings who are visually-impaired. This provided her with firsthand knowledge and understanding of the difficulties the blind go through and the need to give them compassionate care and protection. Bethesda Home for the Blind emerged informally in the late 1990’s when a few people brought their blind relatives to join siblings of the founders who were being taken care of. By 2001, a home to take care and address the needs of the blind had been formed. Bethesda Home for the Blind formally commenced operation in January 2005. It has changed the lives of so many special needs people and is still playing critical roles in the society.

Onyeabuchi, with his craftwork
Onyeabuchi, with his craftwork

“We provided health care services, free learning, feeding and accommodation in the Home. We have hostels taking care of 52 persons between the age of 15 and 52 years. During the last festive periods, we got bags of rice, oil, clothing, etc from well-meaning individuals. God is raising people, NGO’s, individual families and churches to help us. Our staffs are few because we cannot afford to pay them well. We send our inmates to school, both secondary and tertiary institutions,” she said.

The Home also hires teachers to teach students to learn how to read and write as well as arts and crafts instructors. “The Lord has been helping us to give them hope and making them to realise their God-given abilities. We teach them morals and make sure that they do not go beyond our control. The Home is presently funded from contributions from members of the executive council and trustees; gifts and donation from good spirited members of the public, including food items and clothes; and proceeds from sales of works of arts and crafts produced by the students,” Ohakwe said.

Apart from that, she said the Home had some financial needs because in 2015 as 30 of the inmates would be sitting for JAMB but the home had only five laptops for them to use. “It is quite challenging and we can only depend on God because this is my ministry,” she said.

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