The Sholly Serenity Place, a home offering accommodation and multifaceted support to survivors of gender-based violence, is one of the roughly two dozen women’s shelters in Nigeria.
In recognition of its enormous work, the Lagos State Government recently awarded it the “Most Responsive NGO” in the state in its Governor’s Award. The ceremony and award was part of the climax marking the ‘Domestic Violence Awareness Month’ by the state’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA).
The Shola Adefolalu Gaska Foundation aka the Sholly Smile Factory which runs the shelter is a not-for-profit organisation set up in honour of Shola Gaska who passed in 2016. It was set up by her sister, blogger, podcast speaker and author, Bola Salt Essien-Nelson.
According to the nonprofit, its objective is to bring smiles to the faces of people in need (especially women and children) by providing financial, emotional and spiritual support.
“Our goal is to make the world a happier place, one smile at a time and since April 2017 we have done that in different ways: providing monthly allowances to vulnerable ladies and families for period ranging from six to 12 months; the rehabilitation of a wheel-chair bound beggar from the streets of Lagos Island back to his family home in Abeokuta and the provision of Covid-19 relief packages to several families in need every month since September 2020 to date. We have also awarded two academic scholarships”, said Mrs. Essien-Nelson.
In June 2021, the Foundation opened the doors of the Sholly Serenity Place, a safe home for vulnerable women and survivors of domestic abuse/violence. The shelter also known as Sholly’s Safe Home provides temporary accommodation and feeding totally free of cost for its residents. It seeks to create an enabling environment where residents feel loved and cared for in a way that re-ignites hope in them for their future.
‘We pour out God’s love over our residents and as we take care of them, slowly but surely, their hope is restored. They are now able to think and work out their next steps with the NGO or Church that referred them to us. It is a thing of beauty to see the power of God’s love in action and while it is very emotionally demanding, the smiles we see on their faces after being with us for a while make it all worth it, she added.
Betty Abah, Lagos-based women and children’s rights activist commended the work of the foundation which she described as God-sent.
“The Shola Gaska Foundation has been of tremendous benefit to many of our women and children from day one. The support is indeed unquantifiable”, she said.
According to Abah, besides financial support and donation of food items, clothings and other forms of support to communities across Lagos and several other states, the shelter she also administers, Hearts of Hope has also benefitted in so many ways from the foundation.
“Madam Salt has been one of our major pillars of support. She continues to be an amazing symbol of someone who took her lemons and turned to lemonade, benefiting countless people in the process. The award from the Lagos State Government is very much deserved. Our world is certainly better and more beautiful with people like Salt,’ said Abah.
“I am deeply appreciative of this recognition by the Lagos State Government especially the DSVA. Their support and collaboration have been amazing. We look forward to greater collaboration as we continue in our service to the vulnerable members of our society, God helping us,’ added Mrs. Essien-Nelson.
This piece is to celebrate this unique initiative in light of the globally commemorated “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” (November 25 to December 10).