Why ESPACE OPOKO matters for the rural youth of Bambama.

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Christmas, throughout the world, is often a time for celebration with family members. During Christmas, all children want to spend with their parents. However, for the students from Bambama who study in Sibiti, that is not always the case. In reality, they leave their parents 165 miles away to attend high school in Sibiti. Once in Sibiti, they do not have the money to buy gifts for themselves, nor do they have money to travel back to their families and spend Christmas with them. Worst, they can’t even call their parents to wish them happy Christmas.

To remedy this problem, this past Christmas, ESPACE OPOKO organized a “Christmas party” especially for them on December 24, 2014. During the party, the students were able to come together, eat and dance in celebration of Christmas. We closed the event with a motivational moment, with students watching the movie, “Akeelah” to encourage them to move past their social circumstances.

The main goal of this celebration was to provide crucial support the students who could not spend Christmas with their parents. Finally, our long-term goal at ESPACE OPOKO is to provide those students with a van that will transport them to their family during Christmas time so they can spend quality time with their families.

WHY THE NAME OPOKO?

I was born while my parents were still attending high school.  Both were working on getting their high school diplomas. Both my mother and father lived a long distance from each of their own parents.  They decided to send me to live with my grandmother when I was just three months old.  I end up staying with my grandmother, Opoko Emilienne, until the age of six.

After turning six, my parents made the long journey to my grandmother’s to pick me up and bring me back to live with them; this, as I was preparing to continue my education attending primary school.  My first year with my parents was very difficult due to the fact I really did not know them.  After about three years, I decided to go back to live with my grandmother. The school I attended was five kilometers from the village my grandmother lived in; that was not easy for me. At the age of nine, I would have to leave the village very early in the morning, at about 5 am, with other kids around the same age, to begin the long walk, through the dark rain forest, to get to school.

When the sky turned dark, a sign of coming heavy rain, teachers would often release students from class early to avoid a possible catastrophe, knowing we had a long trip back to our village.  For those who lived closer to the school, they could usually make it home only partially wet, but for those of us who lived farther away, we would return home very wet.  I remember one day our teacher told us to leave early due to the menace of the coming heavy rain.  I and my friends ran back to our village as fast as we could, but unfortunately the heaviest of the rain caught us just a few minutes after leaving the school.  We all got extremely wet along with our books and later that night I developed a high fever; I was very sick.  The next morning, due to my illness, I did not want to go to school, however, my grandmother, Opoko, persuaded me to go.  I told her something I’ll never forget, “I am going back to school but you need to know that I am tired of this kind of life.  I dream for a better life.”  She replied with every day saying, “He who wants the rain must love the mud.  If you want things to change, you have to go to school because there are only you and yourself who can change it.”

Many years later my grandmother died before I got my first job.  I never got a chance to thank you her and give her something back.  In 2010, I became the head of communications for a local mining company.  In 2014, I resigned from my job to follow my dreams.  I used the money the company gave me upon separation to create a non-profit organization which I named after my grandmother, Opoko.  The only way to honor her was to name this newly created organization after her, and that’s exactly what I did.  This non-profit organization carries the name of this brave woman who gave me everything I have.

Please join me and Espace Opoko, on the big stage of hope, to celebrate those people who have positively impacted our lives.  Let’s make good from their unconditional love by helping underprivileged kids get a better education and help lead them to a better future.