Welcome to our Women In History series, where we share stories about women in the history of Nigeria
Referred to as the Mother Theresa of Africa, Mama Janet Ekundayo dedicated her life to taking care of orphans.
She projected the meaning of her name, “Ekundayo,” which is translated to mean, “(my) tears has turned to joy.”
Mama Ekundayo had five biological children of her own but that did not stop her from adopting others because of her love for children. Mama Ekundayo enjoyed the company of children and so taking care of them came naturally to her.
In 1969, Mama Ekundayo decided to dedicate the rest of her life to taking care of orphans and abandoned children. She took in the 469th child by 2007. By the year 2008; she had cared for over 500 children.
One interesting thing about Mama Ekundayo was that all the children she cared for were from all over the country, from different tribes and ethnicity.
Located in Isanlu Makutu, a rural part of Kogi State, her orphanage is called Ekundayo Children’s Home.
Although, Mama Ekundayo received donations from kind-hearted individuals and other institutions, she also used her little provisions in caring for the children.
Mama Ekundayo always referred to taking care of the children, a calling she could not resist an she was said to be always full of smiles and also loved to sing.
Unfortunately in 2009, Mama died.
Not many knew of mama until Nigerian singer, TY Bello produced a song titled ‘Ekundayo’ in 2008 in her honour. The song was part of her popular album, Greenland.
TY Bello On How She Discovered Her
In 2003, I took a journey with Toyin Subaiya and Bukola Olaoye. Olaoye had gone round the country looking for orphanages in distress and I discovered this woman called madam Ekundayo. After talking to her about 10 minutes, I just started to cry because I felt so empty, you know there is something about her that is very peaceful, very wholesome. You can tell that she was happy but I felt that my whole life was just about me and my project and the things that I wanted. That feeling stayed with me for a very long time and then one day I wrote a song about it.
Ty Bello’s Description Of Mama Ekundayo In 2014
Holding my camera really close to her…silence fell again..in between her songs of praise she would suddenly pause and look up and out lost in a trancelike gaze at what only she could see. It felt like the earth stood still…then she would fall back into song again.
This must have happened six times while I made portraits of her. The moments were holy… I didn’t interfere but I knew it was fine to photograph. It felt like I came close enough with my lens I could partake in whatever it was that had her transfixed.
Strangely I was never too close… it was almost as if I wasn’t even there… that was exactly seven years ago. A year later, @tosynbucknor and a group of people had taken a trip to see her.. They came back with a gift. Mama had taken time to knit me a green and white ‘oja’, a traditional swaddle or scarf used for carrying a baby on ones back. Mama and I never really spoke about babies… I was also sure she knew I didn’t have any kids so it baffled me that she specifically told them to tell me it was for my son.
Madam Ekundayo passed away barely a year after her gift came. Shortly afterward, I got a call from someone else who had gone to see her before she passed. Mama made a gift for you TY.. She sent it through someone and it’s taken a while to come.
When the gift came, I was brought to tears… she sent a photograph of herself and had knitted the exact green and white scarf she sent a few months before. Five years later, I’m a mother of twin boys.. I stare at her photos and wonder what she gazed at in a distance.. Did she see God..? Did she see the future..? I can say this for sure…. I’m certain she saw my sons…#tybellophotography #photostories #madamekundayo #chrisandchris
Watch the video below: