Today, I bring to you all, the concluding part of the true life experiences of Emeka Golden Ikezu. It is a story that is full of lessons for our youths who are desperate to travel overseas. Emeka travelled to Europe through the desert but survived to tell his story...
I will also help them to go to school and give them that opportunity to play football. So, if they have the talent, they will be scouted here, instead of letting them go through the experience I had all in the name of survival. So, when I successfully made it to Switzerland, I knew it was by God's grace considering all the people that died on the way as we journeyed. Even while in Algeria, we heard a lot about people who died because their boats capsized. So getting to Europe was like a dream come true but it is an experience I would not want another person to go through. That was why I decided that I will return at the right time and start this project. So after I arrived Switzerland in 2003, it took me ten years to become a Swiss citizen and I decided that even though I didn't really have much, I refused to forget the vows I made in the desert. It was through the mercy of God that I became a citizen. I know that being a Swiss citizen in spite of my background is not my making. It's not because am the right or smartest person or the best but God gave me the opportunity in order to fulfill the vow I made in the desert, that I will go back and tell others, 'look, this is not the way, there are better ways to do this.
When you finally arrived Spain, your people sent you money right? What happened? Did they let you go or did you escape?
Yeah, they sent me money. You know, when they took us, we were put in a camp, they take information and they have to keep you there. So the contact I had was in Switzerland, so most of my friends were telling me that instead of taking asylum in Spain, I should come to Switzerland. So, I left Spain and took political asylum in Switzerland. I settled down there and after two years, I got married which is the only way you can stay there. So, I started building my life and because of the vow that I made, I didn't want to go into crime so as not to spoil my record. I had to keep a clean sheet because I knew that one day, I would come back here to be a good example because I played football. After my playing days, I didn't really play in the highest league in Switzerland like I dreamed, but I played in the 3rd league in Switzerland which was enough for me and my age mates and I felt that I have gotten enough experience. After my playing days, I went into coaching, did some coaching courses and youth development courses under the Swiss FA and also the Referee Association. I did all this and I decided that the knowledge I had been able to acquire was already enough. I didn't want to wait till I became Morinho or the best coach in the world to be able to make an impact and give back to the people that will never have the opportunity like I was, so I decided to come back. I just came back and I started my project. It's called GoldenChild Football Academy.
How has it been with the football academy?
Ever since then, I have been doing it my way. I create awareness. I tell some of my friends in Europe what I do. Most of them that know my story, so I told them I was trying to fulfill a vow I made to God and I really want to go into it. From the beginning, it was really difficult because my family didn't support me. Nobody gave me the chance, nobody wanted me to go back because for them, people in Africa want to come to Europe and am in Europe and want to come back to Africa. it's a strange feeling, but for me I knew the feeling that I was having inside, I know that my dream in life, what I am at that time is not by my making that God gave me that opportunity that am able to give back, so I just felt I have to give him everything and just come back and start the project and I have been in this journey since 2013 till now. As for the project, there have been challenges but God is keeping us and what I do is, I go round the communities and around the streets and watch the kids that I see. If they can play football, I will just take them, talk to their parents and say, 'this is the reason why am doing this. Your son is not the best. I just want to give him the chance to educate him and to give him the opportunity to develop and I also want them to know my story, and learn from it. I don't want them to start seeing Europe as a platter of gold, where they will go and be sleeping and manna will be falling from heaven and if you want to go to Europe, you have to go to Europe as a good Ambassador to represent your roots well and not to go there and roam round the streets or to try to go through the desert like I did because it is hell. It is death. It is not even a fifty-fifty thing or a seventy-thirty thing. There is no chance of survival. If you move in, there is no going back and that is even the worst. You must die or you make it. So I want to really discourage young sportsmen and women from taking that plunge. There are so many ways to make it. I know that there are less opportunities here and they believe that if they get to Europe, opportunities are waiting for them there but the reason why I came back is that I want to be part of those certain opportunities that we are lacking here so that these guys when you are telling them not to go, at least you will have something to show to encourage them not to. If you tell them that charity begins at home, you have to show them the way, that what they are going to see in Europe is what they are bringing back here better still the main motivation like bringing back the European standard of talent development and education closer to them here so that those things that they watch on television they will see that they have it around them. So when you tell them, look there is nothing you will see there that you don't have here. All you really need is to work hard and be dedicated in dedicated in what you're doing and you'll make it. That's basically what I have been doing.
Ok, you are a very lucky young man and I still want to know, how do you feel right now? Do you feel fulfilled? Do you feel that your dreams have come true?
Yes, when I look at it from 2013 when I started, I will say that I'm moving on and when I watch on television for example what is going on in Libya and what is going on with the irregular migration of youths from Africa, how they died in the desert, how they died in the Mediterranean sea, how they are being used as slaves in Libya and then I see the government is interested in encouraging people to come up with ideas to stop this, to put an end to it and bring about a lasting solution to this and then I tell myself that this is exactly what I have been doing since the past ten years. If I feel this fulfilled, it means that what I'm doing is right even though I'm not doing it because I want to be recognized. I'm doing it because this is a vow I made to God. I am really fulfilled despite the challenges I face.
What are some of these challenges and how do you even fund your academy?
Yes, like I told you, I've had some ups and downs since I returned but when I decided to leave Switzerland to come down here to start this project, I spoke to some friends. Some are Swiss while some are Nigerians also leaving in Switzerland with me who are Swizz citizens. I told them what I was going to Africa to do. They knew it wouldn't be easy, but what they do is whenever they have the opportunity to help out, they do. I run a residential football Academy. I have a house where I keep those kids. Some of them are hopeless. I offered them the opportunity to go back to school because some of them dropped out from school. I get the support from some of my friends that reside in Europe. I also run the Academy from my own savings because sometimes, you don't expect people to do everything for you. I try my best to see that I keep the Academy going
So, if you have to make a request to the state government, what would that be?
What I learnt in Europe is that talent development has to be done in a good environment or an atmosphere that offers the kids an opportunity to combine both their studies and get their talent developed. If it's combined with education, then it will bring about the best results. So, if I have the opportunity to seek support from the government, or even well-meaning Nigerians, I will want to ask for a place where we can build the school because where we are now is a rented place. So, it would help if we have space to build a school where every talented child would have the opportunity to reach their full educational and sporting potentials.
Any last words for our young men out there who still have this bloated dream that it's all a bed of roses out there?
Yes. Europeans work hard to earn every cent and they helped to make Europe what it is today. Nobody sleeps and food comes. So, in those 13years I spent in Europe, I learnt that you can work hard wherever you are. If you sell yourself as a slave just because you want to be somewhere that is not meant for you, then people would treat you the same way that you sold yourself. I want to encourage our youths out there to start developing the mentality of charity begins at home. What you can't achieve here would be very difficult for you to achieve in Europe. Mikel Obi, JJ Okocha, Iheanacdho, Kanu Nwankwo, all went through the Nigerian professional league before making it in Europe. Some of them that did not play in the professional league in Nigeria, were scouted through the Youth National Team, either the Under-17 or Under-21, so they have played in the international stage and people have watched them play. If you go to Europe as a nobody. You'll find it tough. Start now to develop whatever you want to achieve in Europe or America. What you do now will speak for you tomorrow. That's my advice to them.
Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your life experiences.