Hope for African child, as Okorocha partners Zuma on education

The students in group picture with President Zuma, Okorocha and other dignitaries at the event.

Available statistics show that thousands of African children are affected by armed conflict and outbreak of deadly disease; they are confronted with physical harm, violence, danger, exploitation, fear and loss. While many children are forced to flee, some witness the death of loved ones; others are forced to pull the trigger themselves.

In a strategic move to ensure that poor African children from war torn countries and nations ravaged by deadly disease such as HIV and Ebola, get quality education, the Rochas Foundation recently signed a partnership deal with the Zuma Foundation, which will see more less privileged African children join their counterparts at the Rochas Foundation College of Africa, Owerri, Imo State capital.

Aside from the initiators Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, the official signing ceremony, which was held at the school’s auditorium, was witnessed by notable dignitaries, including Mr. Pascal Dozie, Leo Stan Ekeh, Saminu Turaki, Jerry Chukwueke (Germaine Motors), Senator Magnus Abe, Prof. Maurice Iwu, Chief Chibudom Nwuche and a host of other dignitaries from both Nigeria and South Africa.

In his welcome speech, Emmanuel Yaha from South Sudan, who spoke on behalf of the students, commended both foundations for taking up the challenge of caring for suffering African child.

“I’m one of the students of Roachas Foundation College of Africa; we are the few lucky children chosen from our countries, among millions of African children, who are not going to school due to poverty. Most of us here came from the motherless homes, while some of us are children whose parents and relatives died of ebola, war victims and HIV. But today, we thank God almighty that through Rochas Foundation, we are no longer counted as less privileged children,” he said.

Emmanuel noted that, “poverty has brought us together as African children and we have resolved to fight poverty when we leave here. While we are waiting for our other brothers and sisters from countries across Africa, we are excited that this integration will redefine the African unity. We thank you President Zuma for collaborating with Rochas Foundation to ensure that every poor African child has access to education. This is all that we ask of our leaders; we promise that we shall not fail. Thank you and long live Africa,” he assured.

Ernest Nwantu, a saxophonist and former student of the Rochas Foundation College of Africa, who played at the event, could not hold back tears, as he narrated his journey from being an orphan to a graduate.

“My case was this bad that there were no uncles. You know some people are orphaned and they have people to call uncles; I had no uncle. But God had plans for me. Right from primary school to secondary, our daddy here Rochas Okorocha gave me a scholarship. I never met him before then; I never knew about the foundation but someone linked me to them and I got a scholarship,” he said.

Sharing his six years experience in the school, Ernest said, “Someone once asked me how free it was and I said, ‘it was freer than free itself.’ I didn’t have to buy even a pen for the six years I spent there; I was fed for six years, I was housed for six years and I was given a quality, standard education; it wasn’t substandard. In fact, we had a policy, it was fail and fail out and our daddy will always talk to us about hardwork,” he hinted.

He continued: “Throughout my university days, I spent five years in Abia State University and he (Rochas) didn’t turn his back on me; each year, I would come and take the cheque for my school fees. I can never be able to show my gratitude towards what he has done for me through the foundation. I thank God for this new partnership that will help more children to have the kind of opportunity we had through the foundation,” he said.

Addressing the children, Okorocha said, “you are the very reason why President Zuma would come here. He has not come for any social interactions, he’s not here for any political reasons, Zuma is here for a humanitarian reason.”

Recalling the early days of the Foundation, Okorocha said, “Many years ago, roughly about 17 years, this dream came to me like a wild wind, devastating my spirit, as I desire to touch lives of the less privileged children in this part of the world. First, for reasons of my background that I almost could not go to school due to poverty and I took a spiritual oath between God and me. I said, ‘God bless me that I may bless others. Honour me that I may honour others; give me that I may share with those who don’t have. That was my contractual agreement with God, but it didn’t come without some challenges,” he said.

He continued: “So, today, I feel fulfilled that that, which my God had said of me has come to reality,” he enthused.

The first Rochas Foundation College in Owerri opened with 200 children. Today, the school has expanded to other parts of the country, with over 15 thousand children and four thousand graduates.

“May I announce to you, Your Excellency, that today, I have lawyers, I have doctors, I have engineers, I have police officers, I have army officers…I have them in different walks of life. I once asked my children, what would you want to do for me when you grow up and become successful, 95 per cent of these children said they would buy me an aircraft; can you imagine me flying 17 thousand aircrafts in this world? But I know surely, one day, I shall fly these planes, whether in this life or life beyond,” Okorocha said.

While attributing the success of the Foundation to God, the Governor said, “I dare say that I boast not of the sustainability of this project because God has been the chief sustainer of this project. I’m not the richest, but I’m simply privileged to have the heart to give. As it stands today, I’ve dedicated 75 per cent of my wealth to a service to charity. So, all my income and whatever I make in my life, as a successful businessman, 75 per cent of them have gone to charity. And I have dedicated certain assets of mine in life, never to be inherited by my children even if I’m here no more; they have been dedicated to Rochas Foundation for life,” he declared.

Though with no form of grant or support from both home and abroad, Okorocha thanked women, who have supported the vision with their widow’s mite.

“I’ve had few old widows, who come around with some baskets of oranges and bananas to support this mission. And to those people, I remain grateful. Every child here is a story and that’s the story that moved me to start this foundation. Recently, we have children from Guinea and Sierra Leone, whose parents died of ebola; the survivors are the ones in this school; the same with the story of the ones from Ethiopia, Liberia and others countries. Few months ago, these children were not what you see today, but these are my privileged children and they share the same right with my biological children,” he said.

And to the children, he said, “These ones will go nowhere anymore until they finish their university. Then, we shall send them back home where they will contribute to the economic development of their countries. I believe that God has not created any human being as a waste material; every child has a purpose on earth. All they seek from us is to give them the opportunity to showcase who they are.”

Meanwhile, in the new partnership between the Rochas foundation and Zuma Foundation, it was agreed that all the southern countries and those that applied for this institution, would henceforth be scrutinized through the network of the Zuma Foundation.

“We have more than 5000 applicants online across the whole world, but we have a concern that most of the time, children from privileged homes also disguise as less privileged to get admission here. This is why we trusted the Zuma Foundation to be able to screen those, who applied and make sure they are children of the poorest of the poorest in the society. And we trust that your Foundation will live up to expectation,” he said.

In his emotional speech, President Zuma said, “If you don’t have education, you don’t have the tools to fight this war. You can’t say that you want Africa to be in charge of their continent and dream about it, you just declare it and tomorrow, it’s done, no. They must understand it; they must have the tools to do it. If they start now, they can do it tomorrow. To me therefore, the idea of the African University and the reality of the idea that I see here, firstly, as I engage with my brother, I understood that this is an African, one among many, who has understood the problem of our continent and has been able to work and understand what must be the solution. For us to fight wars in the continent, we are actually perpetuating our own exploitation,” he said.

He continued: “If you are an Africa and you are recruiting children like this to be soldiers to go and fight and die, I always say your knowledge is very little; you don’t understand yourself. And that’s why you are killing not just yourself, but the future of yourself. Because these children are supposed to be exposed, but you give them guns to go and kill and to be killed; that’s the problem of the African continent.”

To the students, Zuma said, “at times, people get surprised, because I never went to any school, why am I a president? You, having gone through this school, you cannot just be presidents; you can be something more. I’m convinced and having seen you and heard you, you have given me more hope. You are going to be joined by other students, who will come from South Africa and it’s going to be wonderful to be part of this initiative,” he said.

Impressed with the works by the Richas foundation, President Zuma has taken it upon himself to lobby other African leaders to key into the project.

“From now, I’m going to say to other presidents, ‘let us have a replica of this university almost in every country. If possible, let’s have a percentage of the levies that we pay to AU that goes to this type of school.’ To me, it’s not juts the unity that the Kwame Nkrumahs started in 1963 to have the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), this is doing unity not talking unity,” he concluded.



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