Monday, August 18, 2014

17 August 2014


We met Eric one day while at East Cape Midland College helping a lady investigate one of their programs. When we concluded with our fact-finding-excursion, we asked her if she would like a ride back to KwaNobuhle; that question resulted in our first introduction to Eric who just happened to be walking down the hall past us when we asked the question. Upon hearing the question, he paused and asked, if we were going to KwaNobuhle, could he please have a ride?
Eric is not what I would call a handsome man but for some reason he captures ones attention through his demeanour, countenance, his mannerism;, I cannot put words to what it is. When he speaks it is with a clear and penetrating voice, neither is it raised nor soft and muffled, but rather in a manner that demonstrates confidence. When he speaks to you, his eyes are fixed on yours unlike many others in South Africa that came out of the Aparthied(?) era where a black man was not allowed to look directly at white man.
So after the few seconds that it took for me to evaluate his integrity, I responded that we would be glad to give him a ride. We first dropped off the lady at her place and then asked Eric where he would like us to take him. After a mile or two through the KwaNobuhle Township, he asked me to stop. I thought it was a strange place to stop because along the side of the car, a few feet removed from the street’s edge, was located a tin storage shed such as used to transport goods by ocean cargo ships. Located in front of the shed was a small table with 6 or 7 shoes on it.
“Is this where you live?” I asked. “We can take you to your home if you want us to.”
“This is where I live,” he responded with no additional elaboration.
“Are you a shoe repairman?” I asked, referring to the shoes on the table.
The man now had my attention. He was going to college which was at least 8 to 9 kilometers (5-6 miles) away from there. If that was indeed his home, it was sweltering hot in the summer and miserable in the winter. He obviously did not have a car for transport. And if those few shoes were his source of income, how did he survive? How could he afford to go to college? What was he studying? How could he afford food, and, and, and? So many questions tore through my mind but before I could ask them, He politely said “thanks for the ride,” and turned to leave. But before he could leave, I asked him, “Eric, do you have a church to go to?”
“Yes, I am a member of your church (he could see our missionary tags) but I haven’t been to church for a long time.”
“Do you know where the church building is located?” I inquired.
“No I don’t,” was his response.
I didn’t want to do too much prying into this stranger’s life when we had just met him but neither did I just want to just forget about him. So I asked, “Eric, would you mind if we asked the missionaries to come by and see you? Perhaps they could get the gospel light rekindled in you once more, would that be alright?”
“Yes, that would be ok.” was his answer.
Again, what impressed me was he never wavered from his gaze at me. There was no dodging the question, no attempt to be elusive, just short, concise, well formulated responses.
“I am just curious, Eric, how do you get to school” I asked?
I either walk or, if I make enough money repairing shoes, I take a taxi,” he answered.
Incredible, I thought. He walks to school and then obviously, walks back home. “How long does it take you to walk to school?” I asked.
In a short, straightforward manner he said, “Two hours.”
“How often do you have enough money to get a taxi?”
“Not often.”
That was the last time we saw Eric for a number of months. And then one Sunday we saw him at Church. It took awhile for him to register in my mind but as our eyes met, he beamed a smile and recognition was established. As we embraced, questions again flooded into my mind. I was happy to see him, to know that he was going to church, that he was still in the area and living. We talked briefly until I had to go to another meeting.
Shortly thereafter, the same lady who was instrumental in creating the opportunity for us to meet the first time, asked us to help her again with her registration at Eastern Cape College. Eric again was within hearing distance and asked if he could ride along as he had a couple things he wanted to do there.
The day dragged on much longer than anyone one thought it would but it allowed Angie and I to have an extended opportunity to speak with Eric – to learn his story. I wanted to know where he came from, why he was here, how he paid for his education and what his desires were. As the story unfolded, it was hard to imagine the determination, commitment and personal sacrifice to get himself to where he was. As I listened, the idea formulated in my mind to use him as a motivational speaker to the youth groups we work with to help them to understand the importance of getting the type of education they need to have to be successful in providing for themselves and their family beyond their school years.
We extended an invitation for him to go with us to our next presentation and he eagerly agreed. However, an unexpected school paper assignment pre-empted his ability to go so I asked if he would mind writing his story so that we could share it with the group. We have attached his story exactly as he presented it to us. We think that you, as we did, will marvel at what an individual can do if they really have the commitment to do it.



It is my wish to deliver this presentation personally but unfortunately I am not available today.  I came to South Africa in 2010 during the FIFA WORLD CUP to search for a job and to better my education.  After being in the country for three weeks, moving around, I found that there was a lot of opportunities and that I can better my life but I needed to go to school.

I am Eric Aboagye and I come from Ghana. I come from a family of 5 of which I am the only son, I live with my mother and 3 sisters. My father passed away last year. I grew up in an area where education is not the main priority for people but rather on  how to get money quickly.  There are many spots or drinking bars as well as criminal activities taking place there.  Most of the schools are private but I went to public school because it was the one that my family could afford.

When I came to South Africa, I did not have money, clothes to wear, no food, no place to stay and no qualification. But I thought to myself, that with all these problems and circumstances, I can better my life here because there are many opportunities.  I started repairing shoes to make money to survive. I then enrolled at Phaphani Abet Centre (Adult school) in 2011, after completing, I was awarded General Education and training Certificate (GETC).  I was the top achiever for the year and during our farewell year, I received 7 awards.  1st position in 4 subjects that is Ancillary Health care, life orientation, mathematical literacy, human and social science and 2nd position in two subjects that is travel and tourism, English first additional language. I was the top achiever for the year 2011.

Because of the confidence, determination, perseverance, focus, humbleness, faith and God Almighty, I know everything is possible in life.
The following year 2012, I enrolled at Eastcape Midlands College to continue my higher education. I was happy to study at the college.  I am doing office administration and I am in my final year.  My first year (level 2) I got 5 distinctions out of 7 subjects, My 2nd year(level 3) I got 4 distinctions and I am aiming for all 7 distinctions in my final year at college. I know I can do it because everything is possible. My objective is to go to university next year 2015 to continue my studies.

My vision is to get my PHD OR DOCTORATE DEGREE and to become a lecturer at the university.
I have managed to pay for my own expenses such as tuition fees, clothing, food etc with little money I earned from repairing shoes.  I only spent 2 to 3 hours at work every day after college. The road that I’m travelling is a rocky one but that’s life.  What keep me motivated is my long term vision and how much I really want it.

My brothers and sisters, your parents and families are here, there are many bursary and training opportunities from the government as well as the private sector. PEF at church is also there to assist you.  Take these opportunities to develop yourself because a chance comes but once.  Associate yourself with good and God-fearing people, have faith and humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up.

My brothers and sisters take 100% of your life into your own hands by developing it through studying, learning skills as well as training because life is about you.  You can do it because the bible says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)

I am doing this and I’m moving forward.  You too can do it.

 Ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years time starting from today.
Thank you and God bless you all.

Update: we saw Eric at church today where he told us that he got a letter informing him that he will be receiving an award for being among the top 10 nationally in scholastic achievement. He will be presented his award in October.
 I am caught in amazement each time I review his story.  Here is a man who got up one morning, pulled on his boots and struck out for a land over 1,000 miles away from his home not knowing what was at the end of the road for him. He only knew he wanted to provide a better life for his mother and siblings. By gathering up a few broken down shoes, he began to climb out of his hole of darkness, constantly grasping for the light he could see somewhere on the horizon. Here is a man who has achieved what he has - what others in a much more affluent circumstance and better education opportunities have not - without any family support or financial assistance. He is quite a man. I wonder, what gives individuals like Eric the drive, the determination, the vision to reach for the stars and not stop?
There is a statement that I have read and reread many times that I think answers, at least in part, that question. “The learning process is endless. We must read, we must observe, we must assimilate, and we must ponder that to which we expose our minds. I believe in the evolution of the mind, the heart, and soul of humanity. I believe in improvement. I believe in growth. There is nothing quite as invigorating as being able to evaluate and then solve a difficult problem, to grapple with something that seems almost unsolvable and then find a resolution.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)
Individuals like Eric have, consciously or unconsciously, uncaged the drive to conquer the seemingly unconquerable. Does everyone have that ability stored up within their makeup? I think they do. However, many have neither the desire nor the determination necessary to do so. There are others who are “…incapable of dictating and devising for themselves; they are not able to develop the talents and ability that are within them.”  It is this last group that each of us have the responsibility to “teach them how to live.” (Brigham Young)

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