Madam Lara Okunubi is intangibly alluring to many people in the community. Whether she is participating in a fundraiser, knocking doors in support of a political candidate, rooting for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, or hosting a weekly Friday Bible session with friends, she’s she does so with genuine enthusiasm. On Saturdays she’s at one function or the other supporting a community member and having a good time with friends. Sunday mornings finds Lady Okunubi at the door-step of her church as a Greeter, welcoming people into the sanctuary for service. Yet, this mother of four who runs two successful businesses (Monday through Saturdays) still finds time to undertake the charity of feeding the homeless on scheduled days. Chike Nweke, Publisher Life and Times Magazine sat down with Lady Okunubi to talk about “Compassion Without Border”, a charity she founded and supports, her dreams for our Community and her hopes for Nigeria…
Q: Of all the volunteer work that you do which one are you most excited about?
…Ans: Without trivializing any of them I feel more privileged to be able to participate in the homeless outreach. For me it is not just about handing out a meal, it is about making each one of them feel like an individual, that they matter, that there’s hope for change even if they don’t see it now……that’s why we go to minister to their external needs, to let them know that they are not forgotten. It’s a relationship I uphold with passion and steady commitment.
Q: You have been feeding the homeless for quite some time now, Why and how did you get started and what has kept you going for these past twelve (12) years?
Ans: It was shocking for me to discover that there is homelessness and poverty in America, the supposed “land of milk and honey”. After interacting with some of the people on “skid row” and listening to their stories I realized how issues like anger, depression, hopelessness, low self-esteem can easily spiral into chronic stress, loss of confidence, mental illness, poverty and even homelessness, when there’s no support or intervention. They are not ordinary people, amongst them are veterans who have sacrificed their lives for others, some of them were professional at one point of their life and some are mothers with children. I grew up with this benign motive to contribute whenever there’s a need, whether it is money, time, ideas or resource. So, it is difficult for me to walk away from such provocative situation without the desire to want to be part of the solution. Anyone could fall into such predicament but for the endless Grace of God, so I am very appreciative of the privileges I have enjoyed in life. Do you know that there are 131,000 homeless people in California alone? The population has dropped by about 3.5% because some people are doing something about it. The passion to engage in this outreach started in fulfillment of a college requirement for one of my children but it soon escalated into a project when I realized the magnitude of this crisis. We have encountered children, some people from Nigeria, Ghana and other foreign countries that came to America in search of a good life yet ended up in the homeless community. It hits home for me when I see these faces that the privileges I enjoy is not by power, hard-work or education but the mercy of God. So, why should I not lend a helping hand when much has been given to me and so little is expected? I am motivated to go on because I want to impact lives, to be that helping hand desperately needed, without condition or expectation, to spread the good news. We all do our share of good deeds but it’s beyond that. It’s about having sincere irritation about things that are not right and could be done better. We have to make it count and meaningful. There are many situations that need community assistance and we cannot ignore them. Yes, you can’t be everything to everybody but we can do those simple things within our control. If we define your goals and desired outcome then identify the road map to get there, people and resource(not those that will criticize or discourage you). I tell my children “there are many ways to skin a cat” so do it your way as long as you get it done.
Q: Where do you presently get the funding for the work of “Compassion without Border”?
Ans: Currently, it is funded with personal resources from Okunubi family, Ibraheem’s, Saliu’s, and Omotayo’s who are members of the executive committee and have adopted this project as part of their annual family budget. We get occasional support from other families and friends for example the Nweke’s, Aladesuru’s, Anakwenze’s, Fashola’s etc I want to seize this opportunity to thank all of our volunteers that made the work easier to accomplish. 1. Damilola, Busola, Folashade and Yemi Okunubi, 2. Ibukun, Tobi and Ife Ibraheem 3. Lolade, Femi and Fola Saliu 4. Hakeem, Christine and Rasheed Omotayo 5. Uche Nweke 6. Eze and Odera Anakwenze, 7. Rukayat Abdulraman 8. Sis Shade Aladesuru-Dosunmu, 9. Seun and Wahab 10. Elite Foundation – Mr. Sobowale, Fashola, Adebowale and Akinshilo The help of these families and dedicated volunteers have helped us to move from feeding 100 to over 500 people at a cost of $2 per person for each event. The people we feed are homeless they don’t have a kitchen so we have to serve hot meals. At every feeding event, many people leave disappointed because we ran out of food. So, we see a growing need and therefore motivated to do more
Q: What are your plans of reaching out to the larger community and corporate donors to help you in this onerous task that you have embarked on to help the homeless?
Ans: Our strategic plan for 2014 is to feed 750 to 1000 people in Los Angeles and about 500 in Nigeria. But we also need tools to encourage entrepreneurship, such as sewing machines, bicycles, money to purchase crops, beauty supplies, hygiene supplies, hair clippers for door-2-door grooming service, etc. We have a team working on the cost and capacity of these needs which we hope to post on the website by December 2013 www.compassionwithoutborder.com to solicit for partnership. We will also host the traditional fundraiser or solicit support through some other creative ways.
Q: Where do you see “Compassion without Border” 10, 20, 50 years from now?
Ans: The vision is to impact lives by creating a Support System that is sustainable and measurable. Some people need their hands held longer than the other so in addition to feeding millions of people, to teach apprenticeship to those who desire it and support those who have limited abilities with daily living skills. There are many people in Nigeria scavenging the dumpster for food or recyclable containers to convert to money. These kinds of people are trainable if a proper structure can be put in place. These are examples of lives we hope to impact in 10, 20 or more years. With adequate partnership, accountability and relentless focus we should not only have measurable results but also have success stories from those who have benefited from this program, then moving on to do the same for others, kind of a ripple effect if you like. The Book is Gold project initiated by Dr. Femi Saliu (President of CWB) and the Leadership Series sponsored by Dr. Laja Ibraheem(Treasurer of CWB)are some of the commitments we hope to see grow in the next 10, 20 years with adequate funding.
Q: How do people who are interested in the work of “Compassion without Border” join hands to support?
Ans: Every act of generosity goes a long way, whether you are giving of your time, money, products or clothes. Our philosophy is if you’ve ever received help or an act of kindness from someone else turnaround and Pass-it-On! The need is real, the work is huge you cannot do it alone. Join us at www.compassionwithoutborder.com or start your own small group of making a difference.
Q: You are involved in a lot of Community causes. You are a fervent believer and active within our Christian Community, you are the Vice President of the Nigerian American Political Action Committee(NAPAC) that has set out to mobilize our people to effectively participate in the political process here in the United States and has given active support to a number of political candidates recently. You are active within the Social Circle and serve as patron to a number of cultural/social organizations within the community. What are your dreams for unity and progress within our Community?
Ans: You wonder how I find the time to do all these, well where there’s a will there’s a way. I believe there are two columns in life. In one column are the things you can change and the other, are things you cannot change. The defining factor for me is my relationship with God and His expectations of me which includes loving and helping my neighbors. In my numerous engagements, I have discovered that service to God and others is the bedrock of fulfillment in life, nothing else can do it for you. That’s why I am driven by the emotion and mandate to make a difference and giving my all to achieve it by getting involved with various groups. Growth does not happen in isolation, neither can unity. It takes a relationship and connectivity with one another. My dream is that someday, every Nigerian in America will come together and work together for the good of our community either here or back home. Technology unfortunately has driven us even further apart. In the world of texting, tweeting or bb many people are content in isolation while some don’t want anything to do with Nigerians. Yes, one person can make a difference but imagine what the effect will be if we have more people making the effort? It took fifty years for some of Martin Luther King Jr.’ dreams to come true (Obama) because people did not relent. The same for us, that day will come when Nigerians are ruling the world all over the globe. But first we have to work on putting our house in order and work together in love and truth. I believe we will have tangible unity and progress because we are fundamentally good people, we just have to appreciate our strengths and respect our differences.
Q: You still have very strong family ties in Nigeria and visit home quite often and have plans to extend the work of “Compassion Without Border” to Nigeria. Based on your observations during your visits back home on the level of poverty and lack, what are your hopes and dreams for Nigeria?
Ans: There’s a quote I learnt a while ago that “if you change the way you look at things, the things you see will change”. Nigeria has many challenges ranging from health care, security, poverty, exhaustion, diseases; while lack of statistics might have dwarfed the prevalence rate of these pandemics, they are nevertheless not invincible. There are many skeptics who think the situation in Nigeria cannot change but I am very optimistic of a better day. a greater Nigeria! I saw a population of resourceful people, focused on making a living, striving to have a sense of worth. So people should not wait till someone they know is kidnapped to understand the security issues in Nigeria or for someone you know is stricken by cancer, die of malaria, cholera, muscular sclerosis, heart disease. Diabetics, etc. before you support the cure for these problems. On individual level don’t wait till you are able to make huge impact, start with little ones within and outside your family scope, reach out and touch anybody.
I hope that your readers or listeners sense of service will be heightened and spurred into action because we need everybody’s help particularly those of us with international exposure (America, Europe, Asia) who have experienced higher standards and quality than what people back home have. We must not discount the impact of our help of time, resource and talents. Compassion without Border is working on collaborating with other existing organizations who organizes Medical missions to Nigeria to achieve for bigger impact and minimal cost. This is definitely, when we need more community support both here and Nigeria to make it happen. Nigerians are endowed, beautiful and great achievers but we need more of us coming together to focus on moving our community forward, from dreams to reality.
Weldone ma. This are the kind of people we need in our society