Crystal Chigbu was devastated when the doctor told her, amputation will be the available option for her daughter. It felt like her life had come to an end, she was distraught and discouraged. She and her husband decided to reframe the situation and make the best of it.This birthed The Irede Foundation, is an NGO focused on lending a hand of love, joy and hope to children living with limb loss knowing there are no limits to their potential.
My name is Crystal Chigbu, Founder and Executive director of The Irede Foundation. I am married to a gentle man fondly called Zubby. We are blessed with two children Beulah (girl) and Eden (boy). I am a “crazy “passionate person, believing there is nothing you set your mind to do that you cannot achieve I like to stand out from the crowd. I know disability is a mind game so I see more abilities in disabilities. I worked for a leading multi-national Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company for over 12years and just recently resigned to work in the social space.I have interests in sustainable development with strong emphasis on economic and social empowerment of persons (specifically Children) with limb disabilities in Africa .My interests have led me to become actively involved in a number of NGOs as well as CSR initiatives focused on children and women.
The birth of Irede Foundation
My personal experience, birthing and raising a daughter with a missing tibia and knee cap inspired the creation of The IREDE Foundation. In addition to this was a desire to pour out my heart by writing out my daily frustrations and concerns as I managed my daughter. I wanted to share the comfort I had with other parents and the abilities in disabilities. The need to reach out with a message of hope to child amputees and families continually spurs me to action. We are out to educate and create awareness on amputation and limb loss reducing stigmatization to the barest minimum. We also have a support group to reach out to the families and the amputees. Thirdly, we empower amputees via provision of prostheses and mentoring.
When the doctor told me my daughter’s leg would be amputated I was devastated. After a few minutes, I thought he must be out of his mind and then I became confused.I started asking questions. To say the least, it was indeed very devastating
Deciding to amputate her legs
The decision took about 2 years and 3 months to make. We (My husband and I) just could not come to terms with making the decision. We has to research and hoped that it didn’t have to come to amputation. I will leave you to imagine how difficult it was.
My daughter is amazing!
Beulah, my daughter is one of the strongest and determined human beings I know in my life. She is bold, daring competitive, loving and just so amazing. Let me tell you a little about our charming beauty, she gets to do everything she has determined to do. She is very active with sports and academics, within six months she learnt to swim excellently. She was once told by an older amputee that she wouldn’t look good without her prosthesis. Her response to her is with or without my prosthesis I am beautiful. Her energy is contagious, should you come in contact with her, you will literally love her.
Beulah and Irede Foundation
In trying to get a solution for Beulah, we realized that there was not much information around in Nigeria on this form of disability. We sought for support and it was literally unavailable. As we saw her transform daily into a child that does all things it became apparent that someone else can learn from us.
This contributed to the establishment of The Irede Foundation. This formed the basis of our day to day process which is to educate, to encourage and to empower. We wanted to create awareness on amputation for the society at large. A self-sufficient child despite the disability, is what I see daily in Beulah .This vision was translated into empowering others. We focus on mentoring the children and providing them with mobility aid. I want to see other children swim, dance, climb without any limitations of limb loss. These are the things I see daily in my daughter. At the Foundation, we offer the same hop
Challenges of running Irede Foundation
A number of challenges show up from time to time and by God’s grace we resolve and come to a place of learning as we fix them .One of the challenges we face is sourcing for the prostheses at an affordable price. Depending on the type of amputation, we do spend about one million naira (and with current exchange rate it’s even gone higher) on a prosthesis. We are working at sourcing locally for the materials used in fabrication of the prostheses as this will help us reach more children.
In order to reach more children and families with this message of hope, we need more sponsorships and collaborations.
Giving it all up?
Couple of times I felt like giving up. Sometimes it gets quite hectic and overwhelming that I do feel like packing it all up and doing something else. One example of when I’ve felt this way, was when I saw many children on queue to get prosthesis and we were not able to reach out to them immediately. In situations like this though, I remind myself of the 28 limbs and over 60 families that we have touched and the community. This encourages me and reminds me that I can’t give up now as we have gone too far from where we started from and we can and will make it.
Creating a balance between career and family
I am still learning balance every day and hope to continually get better at it as my children get older. My balance scheme is prioritization and support systems. I have learnt to prioritize my life, for me it’s my God, family, career and so on. When I am faced with any decisions or daily life’s challenges, I go in that order. Then I also take advantage of my support groups. My support group is my family, friends and the assistance I get from people. Each time I get overwhelmed, I re- evaluate my priorities and reach out to my support group again. That has worked for me from time to time.
Hope renewed in the lives of our children is our greatest reward. When I hear the good news of how the children (Champions) are doing in school, see their smiles, families call in and just pray for me, it encourages me to do more. This is like receiving an award. Knowing that daily these children and their families’ lives are touched and improved daily makes me refreshed. I met a 16 year old amputee in January 2016, she had never walked all her life and she was quite a sad, depressed and unhappy teen. As I talked to her and got her to smile for the first time I felt good. The next time she came into the Irede office, she was all smiling as she fitted her first prosthesis ever. When I came in saw her, all I could do was give praise to God for the opportunity to touch lives.
My counsel to mothers
For mothers going through a similar ordeal, this is my advice, its okay to cry but after crying move on. Today, I want you to know there is hope for your child and for you. A distinguishing factor for children is the motherly support they get and also recognizing that fathers do play a major role too. I am encouraging you to be strong, get information about your child’s ordeal then get help. Often times you do not need to come up with fresh solutions. Someone somewhere has been through a similar ordeal and you can learn from them.
Being a woman is not a reason to be mediocre and dependent. Let’s stand up and join all the other women doing amazing things. Improve yourself, add value to your family, business, community and the nation at large. Women are blessed with multiple abilities. Do not accept the weaker vessel mentality. Get up and impact your immediate environment. See you at the top