Seeking the Light

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

| This is the 203rd story of Our Life Logs |

I always like to imagine how joyous my parents were on May 27, 1988 when they heard my first cry as a newborn baby. In a little town located in the southwestern part of Nigeria, my life started out beautiful and calm. I was the third born and the second boy among five siblings. My parents were not rich, but we had enough to go around. My dad was a businessman, and my mom taught at a primary school. In the absence of her husband who traveled a lot for work, my mom shouldered the burden of raising us and made sure we were all happy as a family.

Me on my first birthday, 1989.

We lived in a rented apartment, a three-bedroom flat. My dad was not always around, but whenever he came home from his long business trips, it was like heaven on earth for me and my siblings. We indulged ourselves in this blissful life we had, until a major business deal that my dad had investment in fell through. For the first time, we had difficulty keeping up with our modest way of living.

In 1999, I was pulled out of the private school I was attending and enrolled in a public institute with far lower education quality. I locked myself in my room and cried for a whole day when I got the news. I remember my mom sat down with me and had to explain why she had to take the decision to discontinue my private education. As much as she tried, she simply couldn’t afford to keep us in the private school while feeding the family with her little income. However, she promised that when things got better, she would send me back there. And the promise was kept; three years later, I was back at the private school.

At 17, I finished secondary school, passed the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), and went off to college. I was one of the youngest students accepted into the Biotechnology Department at my university. I made a promise to myself to do my best and graduate with flying colors.

Last day at my secondary school, 2005.

My first year was amazing, but the subsequent years became tough as our financial situation got worsened again at home. Many times, I would be broke and hungry for days. I knew I had to do something to pull myself through the difficult time to finish college, so I took a part-time job waitering at a café. The pay was meager, NGN 3,000 (USD 8.5) per week, and studying and working at the same time was not easy, but it was worth the sweat to get the education I desired.

I graduated in August 2010, relieved and happy to be finished, but deep inside I knew that I had only scaled a minor hurdle. Now, I’d have to face a more intense level of “hustling” to find success. I there weren’t many jobs to choose from in my field. Since I had no rich relative to lean on and no politician to help me secure a job (sadly, these are the easiest ways to get stable employment in Nigeria), I had a very difficult time.

After a few months of pushing and fighting with no luck, I was beginning to feel I’d never find a job. Then in October that year, I was called to serve my fatherland under a mandatory one-year program called National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and I was posted to the Lagos State to a financial institution as a customer service assistant. I was so happy to finally have a job, even though it was just a temporary.

During my NYSC orientation, 2010.

I breathed a sigh of relief each time I received my monthly stipends. With a real income, I tried my best to send a reasonable amount of money back home to support my family.

As the months went on, I felt less at peace because I knew this comfortable feeling was fleeting. After my 12 months of employment ended, I’d be back on the streets. Knowing this was my fate, I started saving for a rainy day, little by little, so I wouldn’t starve. And so, after the year was up, my youth service was over and I was terminated from the bank.

Back to jobless. Back to uneasiness.

I attended several interviews, but all got turned down. Quite ridiculous, right? A college degree still couldn’t get me a job. I watched as day by day my savings depleted until I couldn’t even afford a proper meal. I walked the streets of Lagos, searching for a job, any job to put some money in my pocket and food in my stomach. It was as if I were a disease and no job wanted to come near me. I plunged rapidly into depression and became desperate to do anything for money. Anything to survive. It was a trying time that I look back on and shudder.

I kept hope alive though, believing that there would eventually be a light at the end of the tunnel. I applied for a Customer Service Executive position at one of the leading financial institutions in Nigeria, Enterprise Bank, through the help of a friend who worked in recruiting at an outsourcing firm. Time passed, and I heard nothing. Just when I thought all hope was lost, ding ding, I got a message telling me I had an interview with them. I couldn’t believe it! I was honored to be given a chance to interview with such a reputable institution. I felt that there must have been a living God somewhere who decided to wipe my tears and revive my hope in life that day. I was also eternally grateful for my friend who gave me a fighting chance to prove myself.

The position would contract me for two years with a salary equivalent to what I had earned as a serving Corps member. Two weeks after the interview, I got the call saying I had the job! I was filled with unspeakable joy.

It was such an encouragement in life that I soon forgot all the hardship I had faced. I worked relentlessly, took training courses, and honed my business skills. I didn’t want to lose focus on becoming a better person. I wanted more out of my life.

At work at Enterprise Bank, 2013.

18 months into my contract, I decided that I wanted to further my education overseas. I approached my father to assist me in raising funds to fulfill my dream. He told me he would seek for a loan and help in the best way he could. Having a family member outside the country could be a golden opportunity to elevate our family out of poverty. We were all so hopeful.

I secured an offer to study International Business and Management in a university in the United Kingdom and started to make travel plans. I saved up for my initial deposit and was waiting on the funds promised by my father so that I could officially make the trip when suddenly, the unexpected happened.

On January 4, 2015, my father passed away, and right before my eyes, my world crashed. The pain of losing a loved one coupled with my plans in shambles, just when the light was beginning to manifest and shine, was unbearable. For months, I was a wreck, lost without hope. My father, like my dreams, were ripped away from me, and the pain was immeasurable. I tried to be there for my family in our time of grieving, but my own pain was too much to bear sometimes to even lend a hand toward them.

My contract with the banking institution was about to end by April of that same year, and with my dreams of going overseas was no longer obtainable, I searched for a new route. I knew I needed to give all that I could to find a solution to still survive, and succeed. It was what my father would have wanted. As I searched for a new path, I remembered a freelancing website that my friend had told me about the year before. I had acquired research skills from my job experience, so I decided to venture into freelancing research jobs. I picked up online projects quickly and by the end of 2015, I was lucky enough to land a contract with a South African security and research firm (Zero Foundation Africa), working as their Nigerian field agent doing some undercover market research and site inspection for a multinational pharmaceutical firm.

I have come a long way from that man on the streets, desperate for a job. Today, I am proud to be a freelancer, working on my own time. I sometimes wish I had found this solution earlier, but I am thankful for the knowledge and work ethic I’ve gained from my experiences. I can now take care of my mother and my siblings and provide for myself. It’s an incredible feeling.

It’s been a journey, an interesting one filled with pains and joy, but I am glad that now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel at last. And guess what? It is shining so bright, brighter than I ever imagined.

This is the story of Victor Akerele

Victor currently resides in Lagos, Nigeria. As a child, Victor lived a comfortable life until his father’s business got challenged, and for the first time, he experienced poverty and wished for a better life. He attempted to grasp that better life as he grew up, but found that without connections, a good job was almost impossible to obtain. When his father suddenly passed away when he had a chance to finally go abroad and seek better opportunities, his world crashed. It was until he almost lost hope that he found freelancing that heightened his motivation again. Victor is a lover of good music and spoken word poetry. He also loves to stay in touch with nature and play soccer. He still has plans to travel outside of the country someday when he is financially more stable. Victor believes it’s never too late to acquire more knowledge, and it’s never too late to find the light at the end of the tunnel. He believes if you keep looking, you will find it.

This story first touched our hearts on November 15, 2018.

| Writer: Victor Akerele | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

#family #poverty #education #connection #loss #grief #studyabroad #motivation

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