LOUD WHISPERS: Tears For The Victim. Cheers For The Survivor.

As she lost consciousness on the doomed Sosoliso flight on December 10th 2005, Kechi Okwuchi went into a deep void. She did not know exactly what had happened till she woke up in her hospital bed in Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg. Her condition was so bad that she had to be placed in an induced coma. For years, she fought to get her life back. Every time she thought about her classmates, the children  who perished in the plane crash, alongside so many others, she was determined to forge ahead and make the best of the second chance she had been given.  It took four years for her to return to school and finish her education. Today she is about to got to Graduate School for an MBA. She has a lot of scars, an everlasting reminder of her ordeal and a harsh introduction to strangers. Yet when you listen to her speak, the scars vanish and all you are left with is the strength and resilience of this awesome young woman.  Recently, she sang Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ on America’s Got Talent. Please Google it if you have not watched her performance.

If you do not have tears in your eyes (regardless of your gender) I suggest you prick yourself with a needle to check if your blood is still red. Many people who have watched the clip of her performance were moved to tears, and from my own reaction, I know they were tears of joy and gratitude.  To have survived a plane crash, dozens of surgeries, unimaginable pain, long years of rehabilitation, and go on to become a successful young woman full of passion and dreams, is truly amazing. Not only has Kechi done very well academically, she has a great singing talent. According to her this is how she got through her long period of convalescence, when there was nothing else for her to do. I watched a TedxEuston talk she gave in 2015. She is not thirty yet, but Kechi is very clear on what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She wants to help people. She wants to encourage her peers. And she wants to sing. Kechi’s fascinating story features the love and strength of her family and friends who never left her side, and who moved heaven and earth to get her the help she needed. Her strong faith in God and the mercies she has received serve as a strong compass for her. Kechi continues to thrive because the people in her life, as well as strangers she met along the way cared enough to hold her hand and see her through her long, arduous journey, which is still very much in progress.

Kechi Okwuchi

Hajara felt very weak and her head hurt. She could barely walk, and Mariam, her neighbour’s wife had to hold her steady. Even though she was in so much pain, Hajara thought what she was feeling was normal, after all, she had just given birth to a baby. Then corrected herself. She had given birth, but there was no baby. She was going home with nothing. Just her pain. Mariam helped her into bed and asked if she wanted to eat anything. She could not bear the thought of food so she shook her head. Mariam had to go and look after her family, so she left Hajara and promised to be back soon. Hajara stared at the ceiling of her small room, and all of a sudden she did not feel anything anymore.  She wondered why. She thought about her dead mother Fatima and how her life went from bad to worse when she died. Fatima had received no formal education herself, and she had Safi her first daughter when she was fourteen and Hajara when she was sixteen. She kept praying that somehow, her  daughters would fare better than her. Fatima’s husband had no formal schooling either, and he worked as a steward in the home of one of the big men in the city. Fatima believed that when the time was right, he would let their daughters go to school. After all, the children of the big man he worked for went to school, including the girls. She heard that some of them even went to school in London. A girl, going all the way to London to be educated by white people! Sadly for Fatima, she fell ill and passed away.

Shortly after, Hajara’s father withdrew his two daughters from school. Safi, got married to Jimoh who was a butcher. He seemed to be a kind man, and Safi did not appear to be unhappy. Hajara did chores around the house for two years and then she too got married at her father’s insistence to Bello, who was a primary school teacher.  Hajara did not want to get married, she wanted to go back to school, but her father told her that he could not afford it and she could go from her husband’s house. When she asked Bello if she could go back to school, he gave her a funny look. After a while he said , ‘We shall see’. Hajara saw nothing.

Then she got pregnant. She was horrified, because she knew that it meant she could not go back to school. She however knew that it would please Bello, so she played along and pretended to be happy with the situation. She was in labour for two days. Bello could not afford to pay for an operation for her at the hospital. He had not been paid a salary for six months. Hajara had heard over the radio that it was supposed to be free for those who could not pay, at least that is what the man they called the Governor said. She did not know who or what to believe. Eventually she delivered the baby by herself but it was too late. The baby was stillborn. Hajara did not cry. When Bello came to see her, she turned her face away, He did not know what to say to her so he left. As Hajara lay on her bed, she thought about her father, and what she might say to him if she saw him again. ‘Father, see what you have done to me. Why did you not send me back to school? You know I wanted to go. I want to be like that Hajia Mairo who is a Doctor, I always see her on television.  Why am I here suffering father?’ Then she heard her mother’s voice. ‘Don’t worry my child. You are safe now’. She turned and there was her mother, smiling, with her arms outstretched. Hajara clung to her and said, ‘I knew you would come back for me mother’.

When Mariam finished her chores, she went back to check on Hajara. As soon as she saw her, she knew.  She sat next to Hajara, holding her hand which was still warm. Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun, she whispered. As the gravity of what had just happened fully dawned on her, Mariam let out a piercing wail.

The story I have just told is ‘faction’. A real life Hajara died last week. No great things accomplished. No Tedx talks. No audience of millions enthralled by her talent. She died in penury and pain, just a few days after the baby she had struggled to bring into the world was born dead. There were no second chances for Hajara, just the finality of death. Who knows what she might have become? A Doctor? A  Professor ? A  Lawyer?   It is so unfair. Hundreds of women and girls across Africa die of complications from childbirth every day. Enough to fill a plane. Can you imagine, a plane full of women and girls crashing every day.

Kechi has a new lease on life because people around her cared enough. Her family was not very rich, but they leveraged the resources they had to help their daughter whose life had been spared so miraculously. People rose to the occasion to support Kechi and her family. The story about the plane crash will always be told, yet there is a new story. A star has been born. Hajara was not so lucky. Her own journey to the grave began the day her mother died. I shed tears over Hajara’s story too, but they were tears of sadness, anger and frustration. We are all diminished when the vulnerable amongst us end up this way. We should all feel a sense of outrage. Patriarchy and poverty are such a toxic combination, they leave nothing but devastation in their wake.

Two girls with very different stories. One of them almost died, and with the love and support of family, friends and strangers, she is well on her way to becoming a phenomenal woman. The other lived a life of sadness and despair, and those who could probably have helped failed her. If you have the power to change someone’s story for the better, please do it. Please do not let someone’s dreams and aspirations die on your doorstep. Look around you, take a look at the young people you see. Where are they headed? To life or to death?

Rest in peace Hajara. Kechi, three hearty cheers to you.


Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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22 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Tears For The Victim. Cheers For The Survivor.

  1. Femi Diipo June 12, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Two tragic stories, one surely with a happy ending and the other just totally tragic. Poverty is tragic, and no matter how rich some people are in this world it’ll always be a collective tragedy as long as some people still find it almost impossible to basically just live due to financial constraints. Will poverty ever end in this world?

  2. Dom Dom June 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Such emotional narratives. A lot are happening in this world and for many it’s just eroded with tears, sadness and poverty. I think what made the difference in these two stories is that one had able people to fall back on and the other not so much. There’s a lot to be done to totally rid poverty from this society. May Hajara rest in peace, or whatever was her real name

  3. Julie June 12, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Oh my……. double tragic stories. R. I. p. Hajara.

  4. Princess June 12, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    This write up really got me all emotional and I just can’t hold back the tears from my eyes. Am glad Kechi is Hale and hearty, I promise to always be of help to those who are in need even if it takes a whole lot of pecuniam from me.

  5. Kes June 12, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Thank God kechi is a living testimony of a fatal accident. Thumps up to you kechi for not allowing your condition water down your talent, R. I. p to you hajara till we meet in Glory.

  6. Olakunle Olajide June 13, 2017 at 8:13 am

    I’m moved to tears sincerely. The story of Kechi is one to be told continuously to give hope to people in distress and to show the will to live. God bless the people that were around her and not giving up as well. I wish Kechi all the very best in her endeavours. May she become a testimony all over the world.
    RIP Hajara. I hope your death would give light to people surrounding you for them to live aright.
    Touching stories​ i must confess.

  7. Matilda June 15, 2017 at 1:20 am

    So many things happen and ends in a sad way. Kechi is happy because her parents gave her the support. Loads of people have a lot of things hanging on ther neck because they have nothing to lean on. Let’s support those around us

  8. Olushola Aderanti June 15, 2017 at 1:22 am

    I love this comparison. I like this and it’s the reality we have in our society. I hope we don’t just read and shift it off our memory. We should move on to make things better even as we read this inspiring article.

  9. Oyebanji June 15, 2017 at 1:28 am

    I don’t know why we love to stretch the hands of ownership as Nigerians when we see something buoyant. If she didn’t have good parents and support system, she would have died. It was a national disaster but I am not sure the government kept tabs on her, Now, everyone is forming teary eyes and claiming that she’s Nigerian.

    If she didn’t have the necessary aid, she would have ended up like the other lady. Please let’s try to be more responsible as a nation.

  10. Funmi Cole June 15, 2017 at 1:28 am

    God bless you Kechi. God keep you strong.

  11. Omolola June 15, 2017 at 1:30 am

    Hmm… This is quite emotional.

    I cheers to Kechi and I also cheers to other women who have gone through hell and never got back from it.

  12. Akpes June 15, 2017 at 9:19 am

    This is quite lugubrious. R.I.P to those that lost their lives in the crash and double cheers to Kechi. You are a rare gem, i’m glad you got talent. Keep it up!

  13. olanrewaju June 15, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    There are thousands of Hajaras out there and just a hundred of Kechi out there. We must balance this up.

  14. Shola Ademide June 15, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    We like attaching to greatness in this country. No remembrance whatsoever for the victims. We neglected them and now, we are forming attachment to someone who survived against all odds.

  15. Solomon Nkechi June 15, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    This is very extensive and we wish we would do something. I respect the inner strength that Kechi has and the family bonding. I mean, we often run away from our extended families but we can see that the strength derived was pulled from every member of the family.

  16. Wilson June 16, 2017 at 7:54 am

    May we really understand what life is in this country and the importance of it.

  17. Daniella Martins June 16, 2017 at 7:57 am

    I was watching the news about the fire outbreak in london and how people have started donating and giving their home to those that were affected in the fire, and I thought to myself, can we be this compassionate in this land? Do we have an idea of what Compassion is? I don’t think so but we totally love to magnet with success. That’s what I am seeing now.

    If kechi didn’t talk about the crash would she be accepted?

  18. Bolanle Olatan June 16, 2017 at 8:01 am

    This is an inspiring piece. A call for us to be our brother’s keeper. A call for parents to understand what companion is with their children. We can see the clear difference here. there’s nothing like having a good companion in one’s life no matter the level one is in.

  19. Buchi June 16, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Cheers to Kechi for staying strong. You are indeed a miracle.

  20. Vivian. June 16, 2017 at 8:04 am

    I respect this analogy a lot. Lots people die in their situations because they have no place of refuge. We have failed to understand that Famliy is refuge, before you seek one outside there, there must be one at home.

  21. Oluwatosino June 16, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Waoh………… Two tragic stories. One ended well because she received overwhelming Love, support, care, assistance, words of encouragement, shoulder to lean on and the other lost her lift because she lacked all of these. Life is indeed a misery. Cheers to Kechi for not giving up on life and for staying strong. Rip Hajara….. And to many Hajara out there, please stay strong. God loves you and cares for you.

  22. DSEED June 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Such a bitter experience. So touching and heart breaking. May hajara soul continue to rest in peace. And to our sister kelechi more strength.


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