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A Story of Inspiration and Transformation: Though Living on the Margins, Aisha Okudi Gives Back, and She Nurtures Big Dreams for Her Esha Jewelfire Mission Serving Africa


 

Aisha Okudi with Dell Gines at North O Cultural & Arts Expo

Life is what you make of it, the saying goes.  Attitude is everything, goes another.  Aisha Okudi is living proof  that when these aphroisms are put into action life can take on a whole new meaning and direction.  By being intentional about how she apprehends the world, Okudi is no longer living the self-centered life that led to ruinous consequences.  Her life today is focused on positive self-empowerment through service to others.  That doesn’t mean hard things don’t still happen to her. But she’s much better equipped to handle what the world deals her in healthy ways rather than the destructive ways she used before.  Her inspirational story of transformation and recovery is beginning to get her noticed.  That has a lot to do with her charming personality, high-energy, and humanitarian vision.  She has very little in the way of monetary means or material goods, yet she’s embarked on an international mission that she seems destined to fulfill.  She’s not likely to let anything stand in her way either.  You go, girl!

A Story of Inspiration and Transformation: Though Living on the Margins, Aisha Okudi Gives Back, and She Nurtures Big Dreams for Her Esha Jewelfire Mission Serving Africa

©by Leo Adam Biga

When buoyant, self-made social entrepreneur, visionary and humanitarianAisha Chemmine Mure Okudi reviews how far she’s come in only a few years she can hardly believe it herself. It’s not so much that her three-year old Shea Luminous by Esha Jewelfire line of organic shea butter bodycare products is such a thriving success. It’s more to do with her business being an expression of her ongoing recovery from unfortunate life choices and setbacks as well as a conduit for her African missionary work.

At the base of her products is butter extracted from the shea nut, a natural plant indigenous to the very rural West African provinces she serves.

After years helping poor African children from long-distance by sending supplies and donations, she visited Niger, West Africa for the first time last spring through the auspices of the international NGO, Children in Christ. She engaged children in arts and crafts and games and she enlisted the support of tribal leaders, church-based volunteers, Nigerian government representatives and American embassy officials. She purchased a missionary house to accommodate more evangelists.

She says she’s tried getting local churches on board with her missionary work but has been rebuked. She suspects being a woman of little means and not having a church or a title explains it. Undaunted, she works closely with CIC Niger national director, Festus Haba, who calls her work “a blessing.”

She intends returning to Africa in May. Her long-range plan is to move to Niger. She envisions growing her business enough to employ Africans and to open holistic herbal health clinics. She’s studying to be a holistic health practitioner.

Aisha Okudi

Contrast this with the desperate young woman she was in 2004. The dissolute life she led then found her crying in an Iowa jail cell after her second Operating While Intoxicated offense. Her arrest came after she left the strip club where she performed, bombed out of her head.

“I had to get drunk so I could let these men touch me all night,” says Okudi, who ended up driving her car atop a railroad embankment, straddling the tracks and poised to head for a drop-off that led straight into a river.

The Des Moines native had been heading for a fall a long time. Growing up, her family often moved. Finances were always tight. She was a head-strong girl who didn’t listen to her restless mother and alcoholic father.

“There were issues at home. I was always told no coming up and I got sick of hearing that. I felt I was a burden, so I was like, ‘I’m going to get out and get my own stuff.'”

At 15 she left home and began stripping. A year later she got pregnant. She gave birth to the first of her four children at 17.

“I found myself moving around a lot. I really didn’t know what stability was. I never had stability, whether having a stable home or just being stable, period, in life. I was young and doing my thing. My dad walked in the club where I was stripping. My sister told on me.”

The confrontation that ensued only drew her and her parents farther apart.

“I was trying to live that life. I wanted to have whatever I wanted to have. My mom and dad struggled and we didn’t get everything I thought we needed, so I did my own thing. I danced, I sold my body and I made lots of money from it. I did it for about 12 years. I wanted to have it all, but it was not the right way.”

She got caught up in the alcohol and drug abuse that accompany this sordid life. Stealing, too.

“I was in and out of prison a lot. I used to steal to make money. I was in and out of trouble and the streets.”

She served a one year sentence for theft by receiving stolen property.

That night in jail seven years ago is when it all came to a head. “I just sat there and I thought about my kids and what I just did,” she says.

She felt sure she’d messed up one too many times and was going to lose her children and any chance of salvaging her life, “I was crying out and begging to God. I had begged before but this time it was a beg of mercy. I was at my bottom. I surrendered fully.”

To her great surprise and relief the judge didn’t give her jail time. “I told the judge, ‘I will never do this.’ He said, ‘If I ever see you in my courtroom again it will be the last time.’ I burnt my strip clothes when I got out, and I didn’t turn back. I got myself into treatment.” She’d been in treatment before but “this time,” she says, “it was serious. It wasn’t a game because it used to be a game to me. I enrolled in school.”

Seven years later she has her own business and a higher calling and, she says, “I ain’t doin’ no jail time, I’ve paid all my fines, I never looked back, I kept going. I’m so proud that I write the judge and tell him how I’m doing.” She’s learned how to live a healthy lifestyle and not surround herself with negative influences and enablers.

Her life has turned many more times yet since getting straight and sober.

In 2006 she seemingly found her soulmate in George Okudi, an ordained Ugandan minister and award winning gospel artist.  They began a new life in Washington DC and had two children together. Then she discovered he was still married to another woman in Africa. The couple is separated, awaiting a divorce.

“He didn’t treat me right — the way he should have,” she says. “Facing that really hurts. God, I wasted these years with this man. But my kids are a blessing. I love them. They’ve really kept me focused. I try not to be bitter, I’ve forgiven him. I’m friends with him. We do have kids”

If there’s one thing she’s learned in her own recovery journey, she says, “You’ve really got to forgive, forget and let God, and He will move you in ways you can’t even believe.”

But she’s only human, therefore doubt and self-pity still creep in when she considers her sundry “trials and tribulations.” Even though she’s forgiven her husband, the betrayal still stings. “I’m going through that, too,” she says.

“Even though I’ve grown,” she says, “sometimes it feels like, When is it going to end?’ But to much is given, much is required. You’ve just gotta consistently stay on track. No matter what it is, stay focused.”

The last three years have been equal measures triumphs and tests. The difference this time around is that when good times happen or adversity strikes she doesn’t get too high or too low, she doesn’t feel entitled to act out.

She claims she experienced an epiphany in which God spoke to her and set her on her Esha Jewelfire mission.

“When I had that vision and dream I was pregnant with my youngest son. I was living with my grandmother (in Des Moines). I was newly separated from my husband. I said to my grandmother, ‘I don’t know if I’m going crazy or what, but the Lord said I will build like King Solomon and go and help my people in Africa.'”

 niger, africa, hut, home, house, mud, straw, village
 A typical rural Niger village mud hut

Since childhood Okudi’s cultivated a fascination with all things African, including a desire to help alleviate poverty and hunger there. Her visit to Niger last spring and the overwhelming reception she received confirmed she’s meant to serve there.

“It was immediate. I was able to blend in wherever I went. I’m a true African and I know that’s where my calling is. It’s natural. I cook African, my children are African, my friends are African. It’s just a natural thing for me.”

She even speaks some of the native dialects.

She’s long made a habit of sending clothes and other needed items to Africa. But a call to build was something else again.

“Where am I going to get the money from to help these people in Africa?” she asked her grandma. “I didn’t know.”

Then by accident or fate or divine providence a friend introduced her to shea butter, an oil extracted from the shea nut that grows in West Africa and is used in countless bath and beauty products. “And that’s how the idea for my business came up,” Okudi says.

shea nuts Stock Photo - 8442686

 

Shea nuts

In its gritty, foul-smelling natural state, sheer butter held no interest for her. But, she says, “I researched it and found that it moisturizes, it cleanses, it refreshens, it brightens, it just makes you shine. So figured out what I needed to do with it.”

She experimented with the substance and developed organically sweet shea butter products and began marketing them under the name, Esha Jewelfire, which means to empower, serve and honor the almighty.

She gets the raw shea in big blocks she breaks down by chopping and melting. She incorporates into her handmade products natural oats and grains as well as fruit and herb oils to lend pleasing textures and scents. She presses the fresh fruit and herbs herself. Nothing’s processed. “All this stuff comes from God’s green earth — oils and spices and herbs, organic cane sugar,” she says. Nothing’s written down either. “I have it all in my head. I know every ingredient in everything I make. Everything is made fresh to order and customized. I hand-package everything, too.”

Esha Jewelfire Products

Selling at networking events, trade shows, house parties, off the Internet, the small business “started really growing and taking off for me,” she says. “It was prophesied to me I will have a warehouse and be a millionaire one day and I believe that. Getting prepared is all I’ve been doing.”

Her business has been based at various sites, including the Omaha Small Business Network. Production unfolds in her mother’s kitchen, in a friend’s attic or wherever she can find usable space. She’s placed her products in several small stores but having a store of her own is attractive, too. Earlier this year “an angel” came into her life in the form of Robert Wolsmann, who within short order of meeting Okudi wrote her a check for $10,000 — as a loan — to help her open her own shop.

Wolsmann of Omaha is not in the habit of lending such amounts to near total strangers but something in Okudi struck him. Besides, he says, “I could see she needed help. She showed me what she made and I was so impressed that I presented her with that money. I couldn’t resist investing.”

“He’s an awesome person,” Aisha says of Wolsmann. “We’ve become great friends.”

She says her dynamic personality has always attracted people to her. She feels what Wolsmann did is evidence that “things work in mysterious ways — you don’t know what’s going to happen, you’ve just got to be prepared.”

Her Organically Sweet Shea Butter Body Butter Store at 3019 Pinkney St. opened last spring after she returned from Africa. It was a labor of love but it proved a star-crossed venture when after two months her landlord evicted her.

Her reaction was to ask, “What is going on God and why does this keep happening to me? I didn’t have nowhere to go. I was seeing myself back living from place to place like I’ve always been, still trying to take care of my kids and do my business.”

Stripping’s fast money tempted her before she rejected the idea. Then she found a haven at Restored Hope, a downtown transitional housing program for women and kids.

“Restored Hope has been stability for me. It’s a year program. It keeps me focused on my mission. I’ve been called to be that missionary, so I’m not so upset anymore about why I’ve been bounced around or why things have happened the way they have. There’s a way bigger purpose. If you just be really humble and wait and be patient to see what God’s doing, He’ll turn things around.”

A Restored Hope residence

It’s why she doesn’t dwell on the past or worry about what she doesn’t have right now.

“Nothing matters when it comes to material things. The only thing that matters to me is my health and just doing what I know is right in my heart to do. Even though I live the way I live, basically homeless, I realize I am very blessed. And I’m grateful.”

She’s aware her ability to stay positive and keep moving forward amid myriad struggles inspires others. She says some of her fellow Restored Hope residents tell her as much,

“It reminds me who I am and that when I don’t think people are watching me they are. I’ve always been a happy person. Even when I’m going through something, I pick myself up. I’ve always been a giving, loving person. Even my father said, ‘Because of you my life’s changed. I’ve seen where God has taken you through and you still hang on. If you can be changed from where you came from, I know there’s a God.’ Now he’s stopped drinking. He’s reborn.”

Her own rebirth would be hard for some to believe. “People who knew me in my past might say, ‘Oh no, not Aisha, with what she used to do?'” She doesn’t let skepticism or criticism get her down.

“I just get up knowing I gotta do what I gotta do, and I live one day at a time. I don’t let my financial and emotional path haunt me. I’m not in control, God’s in control. There’s nothing you can do but do what you need to do every day and be a part of hope.

“Too many people are hopeless. You can see it in their facial expressions and the way they do things. There’s no light in them. I’m not about that, I’m about life and living to the fullest and being happy with what I have and where I’m at because I know greatness will come some day for me. I’m a very favored woman in all things I do.”

She suspects she’s always had it in her to be the “apostolic entrepreneur” she brands herself today. “Sometimes you don’t discover it until things happen to you. I think I had it but I didn’t embrace it then. I heard so much negative in my life coming up that it turned me away…I said, ‘I’ll show you,’ and I made wrong decisions. What the devil meant for bad, God turned it for good.

“I’m a natural born hustler but I hustle in the right way now.”

View Aisha’s entire product line and read about how you can help her African mission at eshajewelfirellc.homestead.com.


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Aisha Okudi shares the mission of Esha Jewelfire



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  1. May 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I found your post comments while searching Google. It is very relevant information. Great work. Regularly I do not make posts on blogs, but I have to say that this posting really forced me to do so. Really awesome post. Really fantastic and I will be coming back for more information at your site and revisit it! Thank you.Dell Gines.

    Like

  2. drichi dominique
    May 19, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    V.Good and interesting story if GOD want to bless you he make you to suffer first and gives you want ever he wants for you ,such story happens to many people

    Like

  3. drichi dominique
    May 19, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    V.Good and interesting story if GOD want to bless you he make you to suffer first and gives you want ever he wants for you ,such story happens to many people

    Like

  4. drichi dominique
    May 19, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    V.Good and interesting story if GOD want to bless you he make you to suffer first and gives you want ever he wants for you ,such story happens to many people

    Like

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