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Canadian, Nigerian charity looks to expand to United States

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OGDENSBURG — A Canadian and Nigerian charity is looking to expand into the United States as its mission grows.

Founded in 2004, Project Obioma, meaning “good heart” in Nigerian, is a micro-lending organization that doles out $500 loans to women in the state of Imo, Nigeria.

The loans are put to use creating small businesses, paid back and then given out to other women.

Project Obioma is a registered charity in Canada and Nigeria, and an attempt is being made to register it in the United States.

“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up,” said Dr. Christopher Williams, an Ogdensburg physician who helped start the organization and is on its board of directors.

Kenneth J. Williams, a Canadian accountant and brother of Dr. Williams, is the president of the organization and lives in Forest, Ontario.

“In 2004, on Canada Day (July 1), we met a parish priest from Nigeria,” Mr. Williams said. “We got to chatting about Nigeria. Everything we had ever heard about Nigeria was negative.”

The two brothers and the parish priest, the Rev. Tony Onyenagada, decided to change the perception by giving women in Nigeria a way to better their surroundings.

“Women are more reliable at spending the money on the right thing,” Mr. Williams said, explaining why the loans are focused on women.

Using Father Onyenagada as the point man in Nigeria, the charity has issued 77 loans of $500 each to women there. Of those, 37 were issued in 2012.

“It was a wild success,” Mr. Williams said.

The first batch of 40 loans, issued in 2006, has been repaid and given to others.

“Success breeds success,” Mr. Williams said, adding that the organization has an accountant on hand who gives the women financial advice.

“We work very closely with our Nigerian colleagues to ensure the money goes where it should,” Mr. Williams said.

He said he traveled to Nigeria earlier this year to ensure the money was being put to good use. Businesses created with the loans include small vending operations and palm oil factories.

“It has been successful, but we don’t want to rush it,” Dr. Williams said.

So far, Project Obioma has been funding not only the $500 loans, but also administrative fees in Nigeria that run to roughly $10,000 a year.

It hopes that business revenue will be able to pay for that, enabling all donated money to go directly to new businesses.

People interested in getting involved in Project Obioma can call Dr. Williams at 393-9268 or go online to www.obioma.org.

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