Hope

Adversity is something millions, and millions of people face each day. Whether it’s living in the ghettos, being in an abusive relationship, or losing a loved one, tribulations don’t discriminate. One key to facing hardship is hope. Hope in change. Hope in happiness. Hope in the betterment of life for yourself and those around you. Hope is what keeps you alive when nothing or no one else will.

The goal with hope is to use it to keep your head held high and your thoughts towards a brighter future. Circumstances may seem as though they may never change, but if you can keep hope alive in your heart; anything is possible. It’s not a tangible form of medicine, but it surely is medicine for the soul.

As an intelligence researcher and author of “The Anatomy of Hope,” Jerome Groopman states, “Belief and expectation — the key elements of hope — can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function.”

In turn, this can create a placebo effect for healing in the physical realm. It can help heal the sick, the anxious, the stressed, the worried, the depressed, and the hurt. Not only is it a healing power, but it is also a force of happiness. In a Gallop poll taken with 1 million people, researchers found that the hopeful laughed and smiled much more often than the hopeless.

In times of affliction, the power of hope will help you whether the storm.

So in times of need, ask yourself these questions: How will I survive this? How do I change this situation? How do I get help? Then, answer them with one word, HOPE.

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ESCAPE VELOCITY

Journey Of  Hope

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What are the chances of growing up in a poor Nigerian village and obtaining a degree from a U.S. College? What are the chances of that same girl flying a plane? What are the chances that she would become an aerospace engineer and becoming CEO of an aerospace company she founded?

Escape Velocity – Journey of hope is the incredible true story of that young woman–Onyema Ajuogu and her inspirational journey of overcoming overwhelming obstacle to make her dreams come true. As a child, Onyema saw an enchanting picture of beautiful flowers on a cover magazine that said “Sweet Home Alabama.” Little could she, or anyone else have imagined that she would attend school in that very same State. Driven by incredible faith and an unstoppable spirit, full of courage and a will to survive. Onyema who has no role model nor support but with the help of information from browsing the internet helped her found her way to United States of America.

When Onyema was about eight years old she saw a plane for the first time in her life, flying over her village and her dreams took flight. She believed that one day she would fly a plane and with tremendous resilience, courage, persistence and unbreakable determination Onyema found a way to go even further than just becoming a pilot.

Onyema’s journey takes her from the villages of Nigeria, to some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States. Her path is teeming with characters, many of whom generously helped her in times of need, and at critical moments stepped up to support her. Others tried to exploit her, even trying to enslave her. However, Onyema never gave up, she faced her challenges head-on and overcame them one by one and made it to the top of founding an aerospace company. She did what was as needed to succeed, even if that meant working four jobs to support herself while taking university courses.

In aerospace terminology, Escape Velocity is the speed needed to pull clear of earth’s gravity. Onyema’s story is about escape velocity of a different kind – Life Escape Velocity. It is the force needed to escape destitution, hardships, gender, socioeconomic and national gravitational pulls that hinders you to achieve a dream, to overcome your circumstances. Onyema’s story is a message of hope for anyone who has a dream, especially one that seems not just unlikely but unreachable. In her life-story she shows what determination and persistence can do. She faced many challenges in her young life and still she believed in her dream and at the end made it because she choose to do so.

Having achieved the seemingly impossible, Onyema is now an inspirational role model for young people everywhere and has founded a nonprofit organization called “Benignant STEM Innovation Foundation” to inspire others, particularly women from less developed countries.

Onyema who’ve seen poverty and known struggle; who have pulled herself up from the shackles of heartache and strife, exhaustion and drain, Onyema rose a heart as open and unwaveringly wide as the ocean itself and still wants to give back to society, still and wants to better the world for other young women and girls around the world. Helping them know their ability in making waves, in shifting patterns with tides and in creating a change.

She brings a message of hope for anyone who has a dream, especially one that seems not just unlikely but unreachable. She want other to follow in her footsteps, to emulate her remarkable achievements.

What are the odds of a poor girl, growing up without a mother or a father in the house; having to hawk snacks to be able to attend school, to buy her text books and to support her family; to pull clear of her life’s gravity? She pulled free from being a house maid in order to go to secondary school; pulled free from circumstances no young child should be faced with. She constantly kept her head high and faced her challenges, facing the difficulty of researching on internet to find a way of being accepted by a U.S. university.

How is it possible that a poor girl, arriving in the USA, with absolutely no money, stranded at the airport and knowing no one, would still realize her dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer?

For people like Onyema, the odds just don’t matter. For some people, faith is more important than probability, resilience and persistence more important than chance, belief more than constraints.

For Onyema Ajuogu and those she is helping, it is more than possible. It is happening!

 

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Who I Am

IMG_8763I grew up in the 1980s with the Igbo tribe in the village of Umudihe in Orlu, Imo, in Nigeria. I am certain I would be nothing more than a local market woman by now if I had not been able to escape from Umudihe.

The City of Orlu has a population of about 420,000 and is well known to humanitarian relief agencies because of its status as headquarters for relief agencies during the Nigerian War.

Umudihe is a very small village of about three hundred people. There is no way to compare it to even the poorest ghetto in America. There are no luxuries. Water had to be carried from about ten miles down hill for some families. Electricity required a substantial outlay of money just to get a power line to one’s house and some families didn’t have electricity in their homes. However, people were content and happy. Perhaps they just didn’t know any better.

Umudihe is a Christian village; Nigeria is evenly split between Christians and Muslims, and most of the Christians are Catholic. The church is a cathedral with a bishop in residence and serves as the center of Catholicism for the district. The church means a lot to me. It has a huge influence on the development of my character and integrity. There is an African proverb that says, “When you follow in the path of your elders, you learn to walk like them.”

I was born in the lowest of houses in the poorest village contained in a deprived district of one of the poorest countries on earth. We had no electricity and no running water in our home. It was a mud house, and that can cause problems when it rained. Our little family barely had enough money for food.

They say anything is good when you don’t know any better. But I knew in my heart and soul that there must be better things for me and my family. Although I didn’t even knew then what my wish would be, I knew I had it in me to reach for whatever I dreamt about, and if I put my mind to it. I can make it! I will persevere!

I was born out of wedlock, at a time when there was a huge cultural stigma attached to illegitimacy. When a woman had a child outside of wedlock in my culture, the child was raised by the mother and the father had no legal responsibilities towards the child. Mother faced the daunting task of raising my sister and me without any support.

Never having had a father only contributed to my independence and resilience. In a way, this disadvantage may have pushed me forward and upward. I was determined not to live this way for all my life.

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A DREAM IGNITED

 

 

 

Sweet Home Alabama. These words caught my attention and jumped at me from out of a magazine’s front cover. They were emblazoned above a photograph of a flower-strewn meadow. How lovely these flowers were! I thought wistfully, as I flipped through the magazine, which Mama had brought home from the hospital where she used to work.

That was the moment the longing to visit Alabama was ignited in me. That, after all, was the place I would see such beautiful flowers up close. Of course, there were flowers in the modest compound where I lived with my family members. But, there was something heavenly about the ones in the photograph.

Thus, going to Alabama –even when I wasn’t sure where it on earth was – became an obsession and my secret goal. How long I could keep this precious secret of mine, I didn’t know. But I had to keep it to myself. This I knew so well. Besides, what good would it do to share it with anyone else? I would simply be made a laughing stock.

Years later, that memory of flowers would be my beacon to the future. It became a catalyst in my quest for a university education. But, my real world was a far cry from the one this dreamland dangled tantalisingly before my mind’s eye. I was just one of the many nondescript village children in my derelict primary school.

Talking about that school, “primitive” best describes the conditions in it. We, the pupils, had to bring our own seats to school. Poverty stalked me even to this place. It didn’t permit me to enjoy even a moment of reprieve.

Thus, you could imagine how socially difficult school was for me. Indigence and having no one to look up to made me reticent. I was afraid to speak out and turned my gaze inwards to my dreamland. Yet, somewhere in the inner recesses of my being lurked this fear of something I didn’t know about. Thus, I became the most reserved child in my class.

Though passionate about my education, my family’s penury kept obtruding itself into my consciousness. Yes, my family was always close to my heart. Sometimes, the many problems at home kept haunting me and made me miss my classes. Sometimes, I would be late to school. And both situations were unacceptable!

Perhaps, the only spurt of illumination the school offered me was the fact that I was the teachers’ favourite. I owed this first of all to my quietness. Then, there was also the fact that they loved my Christian name Benigna, which they thought was unique and hence chose to call me by it. They were always nice to me. And that included even when they had to kick me out of class for being unable to pay my fees. They must have sensed that beneath my indigence lurked my determination and insatiable appetite for learning.

That year, even before I stumbled upon the magazine photograph, I heard an airplane rumbling through the sky over my house. I remembered looking up and how, from that moment, everything about my life seemed to change.

Such flights over my locality were uncommon. I had already lived here over a decade without ever seeing a single airplane fly over my village. My heart cartwheeled with excitement at the sight of tons of metal flying high overhead.

“Airplane, airplane, bring money to me!” Funny, how this line from a popular ditty among the village children of Umudihe suggested itself to me. This ditty probably dated back to the time of the Nigerian civil war when the military tried to keep food away from our village.

I remembered waving frantically at the tiny dot in the sky, dancing and singing with sheer delight. This marvel of an airplane was a revelation to me. Just watching it kindled the desire to, one day, fly one in me.

An uncontrollable excitement gripped me. My heart was pounding, as I began imagining the pilot in his cockpit, guiding the plane through the clouds. I also wondered how the wings held it up and how its engine drove it forward through the air.

As I sang the song over and over, I dreamed about being up in that plane, flying away into the blue sky. I believed that I could do anything. Literally anything… The more anything sounded impossible, the more likely it was that I would try to do it. Now, it could be anything from a new advancement in science or mathematics. Above all, because I desperately wanted to know how that airplane could fly, I dreamed about becoming a pilot.

But I came from a poor family! And not a single family member had ever been known to have got a degree or certificate beyond primary school. Then, I knew that I would have to go the extra mile to achieve my dream. But I was ready to make whatever sacrifice was necessary.

Eventful years flitted by and my primary school education was soon over. My attention shifted to secondary education. I knew that enrolling in a secondary school in an urban centre would offer me a better chance of getting a refined, quality education. This would put me on a different level and catapult me to the kind of life I wanted.

But, I was not content with just dreaming. I also began to plan how I hoped to achieve these dreams.

Every holiday, I would travel to Onitsha all by myself to visit my mother’s other sister, Dee Bridget. Because my only brother Charles lived with her, it was an opportunity to spend some time with him as well.

Being in Onitsha also offered me the opportunity to make money for my education. In this commercial city, I sold oranges to earn this money. I would buy them cheap in the dirty city market and would sell them in front of Aunty Dee Bridget’s snack shop.

The market was a filthy place. But you could buy cheap fruits and food items there and resell them elsewhere to people who did not want to go into the market. I would buy oranges in big quantities, wash them thoroughly and then resold them for more money. I developed my own little sales pitch, offering to peel the oranges for customers as an extra service.

My aunt baked snacks, which I also sold out in front of her store. In addition, I became a barker for her snacks. Through me, she made more money.

This made her always look forward to my visits. This was understandable. After all, she was guaranteed to make more money with me around. For that reason, I would spend two or three months in Onitsha during my long vacations or even when there was no money for my schooling.

I lived frugally and carefully saved every little change I had. Thus, I was able to substantially contribute to my family’s income as well as save money for school.

It wasn’t long before I became a regular breadwinner for the family, just as I had predicted. I began going on my own to the market to buy food for the family and books for my education.

For now, education was my priority. My being educated would ultimately give my family a new lease of life and stability as well as move me up the social ladder. As I said, education was not free in my part of Nigeria. So, I decided to make money to pay for my secondary school education.

Even before I could achieve that dream, I was already dreaming of a university. Despite being among the least expensive in the world, my family could not afford to pay for my education in any of Nigeria’s universities.

In Nigeria, high schools and secondary schools are often referred to as colleges. Nigerian colleges are called universities. The secondary school is more of a college preparatory school.

One day, my aunt Agnes (not her real name) came visiting Umudihe from Owerri. Her mission was to ask my grandmother to allow me to live with her as her house help. That would be the second time I would ever meet her. I only knew her as a distant relative.

She was not only well educated and intelligent, one of the most powerful women in Nigeria.

She told me I could go to secondary school in Owerri and get a better education. That was all that was needed to convince Grandmother to let me go.

As for me, I didn’t hesitate for a second when she asked me if I wanted to go. I knew the secondary schools in Owerri were better than the ones in my village. I quickly packed my few belongings and went with Aunty Agnes to start a new life.

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THE FIRST FLIGHT

Declaring my independence!!! I boarded my flight to United States of America on the first of October 2004. I don’t believe in coincidences, but it’s the same day as Nigeria’s Independence Day.   On 1 October 1960, Nigeria became a self-governing country, free of British control. A parliamentary form of government was established, it only lasted for six years before the first military coup overthrew the civilian government.

There were many republics and military interventions before General Abdulsalami Abubukar became head of the new military administration in 1998. Nigeria was crumbling, but Abubakar succeeded in restoring the country’s credibility and status.

It was very symbolic to me. I was claiming my own independence from a life of poverty, qualor and from going nowhere. It was one small step to get on the plane and one huge leap toward achieving my dreams.

Many Nigerians are still not truly free, they are trapped in lives of grinding poverty.

Why am I so fortunate? I am Onyema Benigna Ajuogu, a child raised under extraordinarily impoverished conditions. A girl who (like so many before her in the village of Umudihe) would be destined for a life of oppression and despair, living day to day, never veering from the routine. I was a girl with a dream, but more than that, I chased my dream and with persistence made it come true. I was getting my freedom. I Onyema Benigna Ajuogu will no longer be trapped by circumstances.

As I sat on the plane, flying for the first time in my life, I felt certain that my personal Independence Day was coming, too. I had a powerful sense of freedom and a hope like nothing I had ever felt before.

Numbers are significant to me – I always see numbers as a connection in nature. My leaving Nigeria on October 1, it being Nigeria’s Independence Day, this was more than a coincidence. It was on this morning that I realized that this Nigerian Independence Day, was actually the day of MY departure for freedom!

I remember looking out of the window of the plane at the vast Atlantic Ocean. It seemed endless as we passed above it: forty-one million square miles of water covering 20 percent of Earth’s surface. It was amazing to see from thirty thousand feet above its surface—so free and flowing, just as I envisioned the rest of my life to become.

I smiled, knowing that in the United States of America I would have freedom to dream and freedom from limitations that held me back before. Freedom to achieve my dream of flying, freedom to go beyond planet Earth.

I arrived in America at the Atlanta airport on October the 2nd, 2004. What a feeling when I disembarked! It was more than another country. It was a whole new and different and exciting world. I can’t tell you how wonderful I felt getting off the plane and looking around at what seemed like millions of people and planes taking off and landing every ten minutes.

I gathered up my bags and went through customs. My joy and cheerfulness suddenly turned to a harsh reality. As I stepped out into the airport and onto American soil, I realized I have a problem. But I also did not want it to alter my excitement.

“It’s not a problem,” I said silently. “All right, it is a problem, but it can be fixed.”

“How?” I asked my inner self.

“Not sure. Let me think,” I kept saying to myself.

The problem was, there I was, stepping out of customs totally alone and with no plan or means of going any further. No one was meeting me at the airport. I had no money for a bus or cab fare, and my university was in another state, hundreds of miles away. I was stranded at the Atlanta airport! I know it’s really brave for a young girl my age to travel for the first time to a country she only heard of, and without any money, contacts or support. I faced reality and although the picture didn’t look to great I knew I came this far and I would make it.

Perhaps I should have been afraid to be alone and far from my family, but in my mind I had conquered the biggest obstacle—reaching America. In contrast to Nigeria, the opportunities in America appeared so much greater. My excitement was almost overwhelming in spite of the mess I was in.

The fact is that my excitement about coming to United States of America meant that I needed to minimize the predicament I was in now, and my fervent belief that God would help me deal with whatever circumstances I faced. I was so excited just to be going to a place where I could discover so many things, I hadn’t even thought about leaving Atlanta for Tuscaloosa. Some more solemn reflection might have made me avoid the plight I was now facing. But in some ways this is a metaphor for my life: my faith and passion comes first and overrides practical considerations. Sure there is a downside to that, like arriving in United States of America and having no money. The upside was that I reached United States of America, I have to live my life to the fullest, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. A few difficult hours at an airport were nothing compares to living out my dreams.

I also have to admit that there is a part of me that enjoys stepping into the unknown. It is one of the reasons I love the concept of spaceflight. The way I see it, arriving in Atlanta with no money is nothing compared to landing on Mars, or any planet for that matter.

I had no idea how much trouble I was in. I kept rolling ideas over in my mind, trying to develop some scientific equation that would get me from here to where I needed to be.

Huh.. Scientific equation? please be sure to grab your copy of “Escape Velocity- Journey of hope”. We all share the same hopes and dreams and I respect that.

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