The sun blazed angrily over the city. Obviously it was still unhappy with the morning clouds that made it work so hard to get noticed.As the air quickly warmed up, it felt strangely quiet. This was not the regular Lagos weekend.
While the rest of the city revelled in the unusual experience of a super-long, four-day weekend, a tiny group of otherwise everyday young people made their way from all over the city to the venue.
Sweating mildly on the final descent, a smile crawled up on me as the group busied itself with the day’s task. There was no time to waste.
“Ah, you made it”, she beamed as we parted.
“Yes o. Sorry I’m a bit late. So straight to business. How can I be useful?”
“Okay. Right now we’re packing the hampers so just take an item from each box and add to the bag.”
That was Ayomide, the ‘unofficial’ leader of Free Hands- an interesting network of friends involved in charity projects and volunteer work. Rather than bask in the warmth of the weekend morning sun, these friends converged under a bridge at Cane Village, Mende, Lagos for one purpose- to give residents a surprise Independence weekend treat of hampers and a decent meal.
It was a busy yet fun-filled day (yes we’ve got pictures) and as the team packed up the last empty coolers, every sweaty face wore a joyful glow- Free Hands had pulled it off again. I had a chat with Mide to learn more about Free Hands and this is what I discovered about the power of friendship, kindness and this exceptional team. Enjoy!
Thanks for being with us today. So may we meet you, please? Tell us about Ayomide.
Okay. My name is Ayomide (Mide) Fawole. I’m a girl. I’m an Electrical Engineer. I make wedding accessories and other crafty stuff. I sometimes coordinate weddings too. Plus I do charity work.
Interesting bundle you have there. How do you cope?
I’m tired and sleepy 72.53% of the time. But I have learnt how to postpone sleep. Maybe not completely successful yet, because I still doze off at unplanned times.
*smiling* okay… I’m sure you’ll stay awake through this interview.
Alright. Let’s talk about Free Hands. What IS Free Hands?
A few years ago, a friend of mine invited me to attend a charity ‘thing’ he was doing. He called it Soup Kitchen. I teased him about being too American but I attended anyway. We met up at a popular bus stop in Apapa, rented a few tables, set up kerosene stoves and cooked about 5 cartons of noodles.
We served the noodles in takeout packs, with boiled eggs and sachets of water. The response was phenomenal!
One of the guys that was served, probably a teenager, came for seconds. I scolded him but gave him anyway. When we were done, the young guy came up to me and said “Auntie, God bless you”. My heart melted. I remember thinking “I have to do this regularly”.
I later joined a charity organisation that hosted this and other charity events but after some time, I had to start doing them on my own.
I didn’t intend to create an organisation. Infact, I didn’t want to. Anytime I felt like hosting an event, I’d put up a notifier on all my social media outlets and the support would come pouring in. I remember thinking “how come all these people trust me to do these things? They’re sending so much stuff and they believe it will get where it needs to go”. I felt like I had a responsibility.
Then I met two awesome guys- Dafe and Paul at one of the events we hosted at Ajegunle and we remained friends. We talked about doing big things with our charity work but I kept dragging my feet.
But why? It all seemed to be lining up.
You see, charity organisations don’t necessarily have the kind of reputation that they should in this country. It’s not easy to convince people that we’re not making money off of this. They believe we run like most others.
Yeah I recall talking with a few beneficiaries. They just couldn’t believe that a group of friends, not a church or political group could get together to do this with no strings attached.
Exactly. I am very concerned about letting people understand that people are being kind, just because (they want to be).
One time I went to one school official in charge of some government schools in Makoko to request permission to use the school premises for an edition of the soup kitchen. He gave me a very hard time because he believed that I made a lot of money for myself while claiming to do charity work, and here I was asking to use their school grounds free of charge.
Even at the areas we visit, the area boys ask us to give them their cut of the money ‘made’ from doing this so they can maintain peace and quiet and ensure cooperation (orderly behaviour) from the people.
Anyway, my friends and support systems have insisted that we get serious. So we sat down, decided on a name and are now working to formalize everything.
When you say ‘formalize’, you mean….?
Register. Create social media outlets, publicity, serious growth and the like.
Sounds like a great plan. Now it’s obvious you do this 100% free…how do you get volunteers to work with you? How do you ‘recruit’help?
We have the usual suspects. And the ones that are always asking for the next date.
So getting hands hasn’t been hard.
We try *laughs*
So when we start talking about upcoming outreach programs, the help comes pouring in. People take it upon themselves to raise money and contributions, and recruit hands to help. They make it so easy.
On the actual event days, I hardly get to do anything because so many people want to get involved. They want to be the ones who touched lives.
The items put up for distribution that day were quite impressive.
And you noticed we needed more than we had, yeah?
Yes. We couldn’t give to all. Ran out of items actually.
Happens all the time.
One time a guy claimed that his wife didn’t get a hamper. He brought out a weapon. We had to run away.
Even if we had 500 hampers, we would run out. Nothing beats freebies. People take it personal when they don’t get. They believe you singled them out and planned against them to make sure they didn’t get.
Talking about ‘memorable’ happenings at these events, what 2 or 3 memories stick out for you?
I’ll always remember the people who pray for us.
One time the children got really rowdy because we were about to cook the last box of noodles and they didn’t want to miss out. There was a lot of queue shunting, pushing and shoving and general rowdiness. Next thing, you know, there’s a pot of noodles on the floor and we’re fighting a fire. ‘Fun’ stuff.
There’s a part of me that sees good in everyone. Maybe I’m naive. I let myself believe that we’re safe anytime we go to these sometimes scary places. So this one time I parked the car where I thought was alright, because it was right in front of the people we were serving. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised the car name had been removed.
*laughing* car name… I don’t get
The letters that spell out the kind of car ‘Camry’, ‘Rio’, you know.
Are you serious?
Yep. It was my mum’s car too. Thank God she loves me.
I’m sure every mother would be proud to have a daughter like you.
Okay. It’s been inspiring hearing these stories. To someone out there who’d love to get involved with Free Hands, maybe to provide material or financial support, or possibly to volunteer, is there any room for that? How can they get involved?
Yes please. We have an email address. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the starting point.
Well, there’s a volunteer event in November. I don’t have all the details yet but a lot of hands will be needed. There’s also a big outreach event coming up in December. We’re setting up a blog soon. All the info will be there.
Finally, looking ahead, where do you see Free Hands in say 5 to 10 years?
Ah. 5 years. Let’s get to the end of this year then you’ll ask me that again. *laughs*
Thanks for sharing your incredibly inspiring story. Grow360 hopes to hear more great things from you. Keep those free hands engaged in good works.
Thank you. This was fun.
And now, some photos from the day.
….and so much more!
Hope this inspires you. Start Something Positive TODAY.
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